R.I.P Joe Bonsall: Oak Ridge Boys Legend Passes Away at 76

Joe Bonsall, known for his role as the tenor in The Oak Ridge Boys, passed away on Tuesday due to complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), according to an announcement by the group on their website and social media. He was 76 years old and passed away in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Earlier this year, Bonsall had announced his retirement from touring.

Joe Bonsall, known for his role as the tenor in The Oak Ridge Boys, passed away on Tuesday due to complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), according to an announcement by the group on their website and social media. He was 76 years old and passed away in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Earlier this year, Bonsall had announced his retirement from touring.

The Oak Ridge Boys, consisting of Bonsall along with Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban, initially gained fame as a gospel group. They transitioned to country music in 1977 with their hit “Y’All Come Back Saloon,” marking the beginning of a successful career that included 34 top 10 hits on Billboard’s Top Country Songs chart.

In addition to Grammys, The Oak Ridge Boys received accolades from the Country Music Association (CMA) and the Academy of Country Music (ACM). They won CMA’s Vocal Group of the Year in 1978 and Single of the Year in 1981 for “Elvira,” and secured four ACM Awards, including Top Vocal Group, Album of the Year for “Ya’ll Come Back Saloon” in 1978, and Single Record of the Year for “Elvira” in 1981. Their enduring impact on music was further recognized with the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award in 2007.

Milestones Achieved

The Oak Ridge Boys achieved significant milestones in their career, including 17 chart-topping hits on Billboard’s country chart, making them the third-highest among groups and duos, trailing only Alabama (33) and Brooks & Dunn (20). Their crossover success was notable with two songs, “Elvira” reaching No. 5 in 1981 and “Bobbie Sue” at No. 12 in 1982 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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They also secured three No. 1 albums on the Top Country Albums chart, with “Fancy Free” peaking at No. 14 in 1981 and “Bobbie Sue” at No. 20 in 1982 on the all-genre Billboard 200. Their musical prowess earned them five Grammy Awards, initially in gospel categories and later in country for “Elvira,” recognized as the best country performance by a duo or group.

Joe Bonsall, a member of The Oak Ridge Boys for over 50 years, was honored with inductions into prestigious halls of fame, including the Grand Ole Opry, the Philadelphia Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015. His contributions to music, spanning across genres and decades, solidified The Oak Ridge Boys’ place as icons in American music history.

“For 50 years, Joe Bonsall was the Oak Ridge Boys’ sparkplug,” Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement. “He was as exciting a performer as any who ever hit a gospel or country stage. His tenor voice was high and clear, and his jovial spirit always provided a jolt of energy, immediately rousing audiences to come on in and take a load off. He certainly lightened our cares every time he sang.”

“When I think of the Oak Ridge Boys and their place in country music history, the image of Joe with his huge smile and boundless energy comes to mind so clearly,” Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO, said in a statement. “His commitment to serving others while developing country music into a worldwide sensation will never be forgotten and our industry has been made better because of him. Today, we lost an incomparable energy and voice in music. He will be missed greatly by all who were fortunate to know him.”

Author Of His Memoir

Joe Bonsall, in addition to his musical achievements, authored 11 books, including his upcoming memoir titled “I See Myself,” scheduled for release in November. Per Bonsall’s wishes, there will be no funeral arrangements. Instead of flowers, contributions can be made to The ALS Association or to the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Ann; daughters Jennifer and Sabrina; granddaughter Breanne; grandson Luke; great-grandsons Chance and Grey; and his sister, Nancy. He is preceded in death by his parents, Joseph S. Bonsall Sr. and Lillie Bonsall. Bonsall’s passing occurred just eight days following the death of William “Rusty” Golden, a musician, songwriter, and son of The Oak Ridge Boys’ member William Lee Golden. Rusty Golden, aged 65, passed away on July 1 at his residence in Hendersonville.

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