Joe Bonsall, Oak Ridge Boys Singer, Passes Away at 76

Music icon Joe Bonsall leaves behind a rich legacy

by Zain ul Abedin
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Joe Bonsall, Oak Ridge Boys Singer, Passes Away at 76
© Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Joe Bonsall, the tenor and a crucial part of the Oak Ridge Boys, died at 76 on July 9. Bonsall, who was famous for his energetic voice performances, later in the year retired in January due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is a neuromuscular illness.

The Bonsall family’s representative confirmed his death, thus ending a period of mourning, which has just been followed by the death of Rusty Golden, another famous personality associated with The Oak Ridge Boys. Both these musicians had a working relationship with Hendersonville, Tennessee and contributed their musicianship to the town.

Signed with Oak Ridge Boys in 1973, Bonsall provided tenor singing that helped define the group and move songs like "Elvira" and "Bobbie Sue" to the mainstream. Originally playing bluegrass, the band changed its focus to gospel and ultimately to country music and has a rich history of sales over 41 million records and five Grammy Awards.

They sealed their legacy with a 2015 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In addition to his musical accomplishments, Bonsall was a beloved mainstay at the Grand Ole Opry and was posthumously inducted into several halls of fame, such as the Philadelphia Music Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Joe Bonsall's Lasting Legacy

In November, fans can look forward to getting a hold of Bonsall’s memoir "I See Myself", which will join other literary creations of Bonsall, such as children's books and a touching book dedicated to his parents.

His hobbies included writing, reading banjo, sports, especially Philadelphia Phillies and above all, he loved his faith and family. The Bonsall family expressed their enduring affection for Joe: "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." At the time of his retirement, Bonsall shared his challenges and gratitude: "Many of you know I have been battling a slow onset (over four years now) of a neuromuscular disorder.

I am now at a point where walking is impossible, so I have basically retired from the road. It has just gotten too difficult. It has been a great 50 years, and I am thankful to all the Oak Ridge Boys, band, crew, and staff for the constant love and support shown to me through it all.

I will never forget, and for those of you who have been constantly holding me up in prayer, I thank you and ask for you to keep on praying." Ben James, chosen to take over from Bonsall, has also been well received, and the blessings of the old man are with him and the new chapter of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Joe Bonsall has been left behind by his wife, Mary Ann, and his two daughters, Jennifer and Sabrina, granddaughter Breanne, grandson Luke, great-grandsons Chance and Grey, besides a sister, Nancy. His life will be remembered quietly, according to his wishes, however, donations could be made to The ALS Association or the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center in his honor.

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