Like so many seventh sons of seventh sons, Ralph Lewis’ life was distinguished by all sorts of surprising and momentous turns. He was raised in Madison County in a musical family, and his older brothers Blanco and Erwin were touring professional musicians. When Blanco lost his life in World War II, Ralph, at the age of fifteen, joined Erwin on the road. They traveled around the country playing a music they called boogie, a country-rock-n-roll hybrid that predated many of the famous bands who made such a fusion widely popular.
In the 1940s another pair of brothers, Bill and Charlie Monroe, heard the Lewis Brothers on the radio. Bill Monroe was immediately taken with their music, and drove to Madison County to meet them, beginning a long friendship between the families. Monroe was a mentor to young Ralph, and in the mid-1970s Ralph became a member of the Bluegrass Boys. By this time Ralph’s two sons, Don and Marty, were young children and bluegrass prodigies. Sometimes they shared the stage with the Bluegrass Boys at the Grand Ole Opry.
In his later years, Ralph Lewis and his sons, along with Steve Moseley and Ozzie Orengo Jr., played together as The Sons of Ralph. The Sons of Ralph bring in other styles of music—rock-n-roll, country, Cajun—much as Lewis and his older brother did a generation before, but at the core they are a bluegrass outfit. Art Menius has written, “Ralph is a master of traditional bluegrass. His sons, Marty and Don, have been playing since infancy. They live on the cutting edge of progressive bluegrass.”
The Sons of Ralph was voted “Best Band in Western North Carolina” by readers of the Mountain Xpress for four years in a row. Ralph Lewis performed with The Sons of Ralph at Jack of the Woods and other Asheville-area venues.
Ralph Lewis passed away on August 5, 2017 at the age of eighty-nine.