November 8, 1944 – May 2, 1974 Remembering Roy Lee Centers

Remembering Roy Lee Centers born, November 8, 1944 Jackson, Kentucky, (died May 2, 1974, Breathitt County, Kentucky) Centers grew up in Breathitt County, an area noted not only for its bluegrass music but also for the lawlessness resulting from various family feuds. A fine vocalist, he learned to play guitar and banjo and after relocating to Ohio, he began singing with Fred Spencer as the Lee Brothers and also played as a member of Jack Lynch’s Miami Valley Boys. After Carter Stanley died Ralph Stanley was forced to reorganise the Clinch Mountain Boys and he eventually hired Centers as a replacement when his lead vocalist Larry Sparks left to pursue a solo career. The uncanny resemblance of Centers’ vocals to those of the late Carter Stanley even caused brother Ralph to comment ‘He sounded exactly like Carter – I couldn’t tell them apart.’ Center’s career with Stanley lasted for four years and was ended when on a visit to his home area, he became a victim of some of the lawlessness there. Whether he was involved or merely an innocent bystander is unclear but Centers’ most promising career ended as a result of a gunshot on 2 May 1974. Seemingly his murderer escaped punishment.
During his years with Stanley, he made countless recordings with the group singing lead on albums on the Rebel, Jessup and King Bluegrass labels. He also recorded with other artists including Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs, Curly Ray Cline (with all of whom he had played in Stanley’s group), Frank Wakefield, and also his old friend Lee Allen, who later wrote and recorded his tribute ‘In Memory Of Roy Lee Canters’. In the 70s, Vetco Records issued two albums featuring live recordings of Centers with Fred Spencer and Vernon McIntyre. He left a wife and three children; his son Lennie followed his father into the bluegrass music scene for a time and played with the groups of Lee Allen and the Goins Brothers.

About the author

I enjoy researching Bluegrass, Bluegrass Gospel, and Country birthdays, anniversaries and interesting trivia dates. I am a piano/organ performance major who has taught privately and served as church accompanist since 1968 in North Carolina and Central Kentucky. Although classically trained, I appreciate all genres of music. My mother, who was also a church musician and taught public school music grades K-12, knew that Bluegrass music was the purest American music. She always introduced her students to this fine genre and began my musical studies with her at age 2. Bach to Berachah Valley, Mozart to Jimmy Martin, Sibelius to Stanley Brothers, the list goes on, I hope you find some moments of enjoyment and learn a few interesting facts along the way.
I am thankful for the many resources we have at our fingertips including Google. FaceBook and BluegrassBios by Wayne Rice. It was he who inspired me to tackle the task of trying to pass on knowledge about Bluegrass music. Thanks Wayne~!
Lou Ellen Wilkie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.