Joe Bonsall, 50-Year Member of the Oak Ridge Boys, Dies of ALS Complications

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photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Joseph S. Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys passed away on July 9, 2024 from complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. He was 76 years old. He leaves behind his wife, Mary Ann, daughters Jennifer and Sabrina, granddaughter Breanne, grandson Luke, two great grandsons, Chance and Grey, and a sister, Nancy. He is preceded in death by his parents Joseph S. Bonsall Sr. and Lillie Bonsall.

As a 50-year member of the American music group The Oak Ridge Boys, Joe was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and inducted into the Philadelphia Music Hall of Fame, the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and the prestigious Country Music Hall of Fame.

Joseph is also the author of 11 books including his latest, a memoir entitled I See Myself, which releases in November. Joe loved to sing. He loved to read. He loved to write. He loved to play banjo. He loved working on the farm. And he loved the Philadelphia Phillies. But Jesus and his family always came first.

At the request of Joe, there will be no funeral. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The ALS Association or to the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center.

The family is requesting privacy.

The Country Music Hall of Fame  released the following statement:

“For 50 years, Joe Bonsall was the Oak Ridge Boys’ sparkplug,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “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.”

About the Oak Ridge Boys

The history of the Oak Ridge Boys stretches back to the 1940s. Wally Fowler, who came to be known as “Mr. Gospel Music,” changed the name of a singing group called the Georgia Clodhoppers to the Oak Ridge Quartet, because the Knoxville, Tennessee, group performed regularly in nearby Oak Ridge.

Fowler moved the Oak Ridge Quartet to Nashville, where, in 1946, the group became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. Singing in a four-part harmony style, they made frequent appearances on the Opry’s Prince Albert Show, broadcast nationally on NBC Radio, from 1939 to 1957. Fowler also popularized “all-night singings,” concerts that lasted from Saturday night until early Sunday morning, during which several gospel groups would perform.

Fowler sold the rights to the Oak Ridge Quartet name in 1957, to concentrate on hosting a popular syndicated TV program. In 1962, the group began experimenting with calling themselves the Oak Ridge Boys, a change they made permanent in 1966. Alabama native William Lee Golden, a baritone, joined the group in 1965. The following year, Duane Allen, from Texas, became lead singer. New Jersey native Richard Sterban, who sang with Elvis Presley as a member of gospel group J. D. Sumner & the Stamps, took over as bass singer in 1972. One year later, when tenor Joe Bonsall from Philadelphia signed on, the group’s long-running, best-known lineup was set.

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