Joe Bonsall

Joe Bonsall, the tenor singer in the Oak Ridge Boys and one of Country Music’s most enthusiastic entertainers, passed away from complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis on July 9, 2024. He was 76. Bonsall was born on May 18, 1948, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a teenager, he sang with a gospel group called the Faith Four, and befriended Richard Sterban, another gospel singer from the area. Sterban joined the Oaks in 1972, followed by Bonsall a year later. After making a minimal impact on Columbia Records, the group switched to ABC/Dot, where they finally broke out with 1977’s “Y’All Come Back Saloon.” The Oaks received 1978 ACM Awards in the categories of Album (for Y’All Come Back Saloon) and Top Vocal Group. 

Bonsall brought an infectious energy to the quartet, which had deep roots in gospel music yet still appealed to country listeners. Between 1977 and 1991, the Oaks charted 34 Top 10 singles, with 17 of those reaching No. 1 at country radio. They performed one of their most eloquent singles, a rendition of Rodney Crowell’s “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” on the ACM Awards in 1980, the same year it reached No. 1. 

The Oaks’ visibility soared with 1981’s “Elvira,” a Dallas Frazier composition that had been cut several times before the Oaks turned it into a smash for MCA Records and a pop crossover hit. Their irresistible performance netted a Grammy Award and an ACM Single of the Year trophy. With that momentum, they racked up chart-topping hits like “Fancy Free,” “Bobbie Sue,” “American Made, “Gonna Take a Lot of River,” and “No Matter How High.” Bonsall also recorded “Out Goin’ Cattin’” with Sawyer Brown, with the peppy single rising to No. 11 in 1986. 

In recognition of their exceptional career, the Oak Ridge Boys received the 2007 Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award. They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2011 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015. Bonsall’s book about the band, On the Road with the Oak Ridge Boys: Forty Years of Untold Stories and Adventures, was published in 2015.