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On Tuesday, Oak Ridge Boys member Joe Bonsall died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at 76 years old. In the midst of the tenor vocalist’s death, his longtime band members mourn his loss.

The Oak Ridge Boy’s posted on Instagram, notifying their fans of Bonsall’s death.

The caption said, “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.”

The post said that Joseph S. Bonsall leaves behind his wife, Mary Ann, daughters Jennifer and Sabrina, granddaughter Breanne, grandson Luke, two great grandsons, Chance and Grey, and sister, Nancy.

At this time, the family is requesting privacy.

“Joseph is also the author of 11 books including his latest, a memoir entitled I See Myself, which releases in November,” the caption continued.

“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.”

The band members said that at the request of Bonsall, there will be no funeral.

Instead of flowers, they ask fans to donate to the ALS Association or Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center.

Bonsall was a singer, author and father who lived in Hendersonville, TN.

A Philadelphia native, Bonsall became the 30th of 35 total performers to join the Oak Ridge Boys. Bonsall joined the group in 1973 and was a 50-year member of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Joe Bonsall announced his retirement from the group in December 2023.

In a press release, he said, “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,” he continued.

“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. The Oak Ridge Boys will finish the Farewell Tour without me, but rest assured, I am good with all of it! God’s Got It!!!”

He was replaced by singer Ben James upon his retirement.

The Oak Ridge Boys formed in 1943 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

They grew to popularity in the ’50s as Southern gospel music gained momentum. Later, they shifted to country music.

Over the years, they’ve had approximately 35 members come and go, both as short-term fill-ins and long-term band members.

The current Oak Ridge Boys members are baritone William Lee Golden, lead vocalist Duane Allen, bass singer Richard Sterban, and Ben James, who replaced Joe Bonsall.

Golden joined in 1965, Allen in 1966, Bonsall in 1973 and Sterban in 1972.

Who were the past Oak Ridge Boys members?

The quartet has had many singers join them onstage in since ’43, and the current three members are only a small fraction of the long list of Oak Ridge Boys.

Here are some of the members thoughout the years starting in 1956, as documented by Oaks Discography:

  • Smitty Gatlin (lead, baritone, tenor), 1956-1966
  • Ronnie Page (baritone), 1956-1962
  • Hobart Evans (tenor), 1956-1957
  • Bill Smith (bass), 1956-1957
  • Herman Harper (bass), 1957-1968
  • Bobby Clark (tenor), 1957-1957
  • Willie Wynn (tenor), 1958-1973
  • Gary McSpadden (baritone), 1962-1964
  • Jim Hammill (baritone), 1964-1964
  • William Lee Golden (baritone), 1965-1987, 1996-current
  • Duane Allen (lead, baritone, 2nd tenor), 1966-current
  • Noel Fox (bass), 1968-1972
  • Richard Sterban (bass), 1972-current
  • Joe Bonsall (tenor), 1973-2023
  • Steve Sanders (baritone), 1987-1995
  • Ben James (tenor), 2023-current

Who started the Oak Ridge Boys?

The quartet formed in 1943 as a group called Wally Fowler and the Georgia Clodhoppers. They began recording music in 1947.

The original quartet was comprised of Wally Fowler, Lon “Deacon” Freeman, Curly Kinsey and Johnny New.

The quartet shifted to calling themselves the Oak Ridge Quartet and in ’62, started calling themselves the Oak Ridge Boys.

‘Elvira’ and the Oak Ridge Boys’ biggest hits, accolades

The Oak Ridge Boys are known for songs “Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue,” “American Made” “Y’all Come Back Saloon” and “Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight.”

The band was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015 and has won three Grammy Awards, several Dove Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards.

Audrey Gibbs is a music reporter at The Tennessean. You can reach her at [email protected].