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Beloved Oak Ridge Boys Member Joe Bonsall Dies At Age 76

Beloved Oak Ridge Boys Member Joe Bonsall Dies At Age 76
(Background photo: Daniel Tommasino/ Circlr photo: CMHOF)

Joe Bonsall, a cherished member of the Oak Ridge Boys, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 76 due to complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Bonsall had been a key figure in the legendary country music group for 51 years.

Joining the group in 1973, Bonsall became a familiar face and voice, providing tenor harmonies that helped define the band’s sound. In January, he announced his retirement from touring due to his illness, though he had still planned to record a new album with the group this year. The Oak Ridge Boys have continued their farewell tour in his absence.


The Oak Ridge Boys achieved mainstream success with hits like “Elvira” in 1981, which topped the country charts and reached No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Their 1982 hit “Bobbie Sue” also saw crossover success, reaching No. 12 on the Hot 100. Throughout their career, the band amassed 17 No. 1 country songs and 34 top 10 hits.

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Joe Bonsall, pictured far left, with the Oak Ridge Boys during filming for a performance for Country Rebel in 2021.

In 2015, Bonsall and his fellow Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The group was also honored with an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

The origins of the Oak Ridge Boys date back to the 1940s, with the group adopting their name in the mid-1960s. Initially known as a gospel act, their major breakthrough came after Johnny Cash helped them secure a contract with Columbia Records. Their 1977 song “Y’all Come Back Saloon” marked their transition to secular success, reaching No. 3 on the country charts. Hits like “Trying to Love Two Women,” “I’ll Be True to You,” “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” and “(I’m Settin’) Fancy Free” followed, solidifying their place in country music history.


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The band’s final No. 1 country hit was “No Matter How High” in 1989, but they continued to be a popular touring act and appeared at various country awards shows and special events. They also gained recognition among Paul Simon fans for their vocal contribution to his 1977 hit “Slip Slidin’ Away.”

Bonsall authored 11 books, with a memoir titled “I See Myself” scheduled for publication this November. His death notice highlighted his passions, stating, “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—and we will see him again on the Promised Day.”

Joe Bonsall is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, daughters Jennifer and Sabrina, granddaughter Breanne, grandson Luke, two great-grandsons, Chance and Grey, and his sister, Nancy. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph S. Bonsall Sr. and Lillie Bonsall. Per his wishes, no funeral will be held. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the ALS Association or the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to Joe Bonsall’s family, friends, and bandmates during this challenging time. May he rest in peace.

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