Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys dies aged 76

Tenor had been a part of the country/gospel vocal quartet since 1973

Inga Parkel
New York
Tuesday 09 July 2024 17:17
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Joe Bonsall has died at the age of 76 from complications with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
Joe Bonsall has died at the age of 76 from complications with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) (Getty Images)

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Joe Bonsall, a longtime member of country/gospel vocal quartet The Oak Ridge Boys, has died. He was 76.

Bonsall died on Tuesday (July 9) from complications with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), according to a statement from representatives of his family.

“Joe loved to sing. He loved to read. He loved to write,” the statement read. “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.”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a disease that damages nerve cells and connections that are necessary to control muscles for movements such as walking, talking and breathing. Most patients die within three to five years of a diagnosis. The illness became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the star baseball player was diagnosed in 1939.

Born Joseph Sloan Bonsall Jr in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1948, Bonsall had been an integral part of The Oak Ridge Boys for 51 years, joining the group as a tenor in 1973.

He announced his retirement from touring with the quartet in January this year, citing his illness. The group continued with their farewell tour despite Bonsall’s absence.

“I am now at a point where walking is impossible, so I have basically retired from the road. It has just gotten too difficult,” Bonsall said at the time of his retirement. “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.”

Joe Bonsall (far left) had been a part of The Oak Ridge Boys for 51 years
Joe Bonsall (far left) had been a part of The Oak Ridge Boys for 51 years (Getty Images)

The Oak Ridge Boys are best known for their 1981 hit “Elvira,” which topped the country music chart and landed as No 5 on the pop chart. Throughout their career, the group had a total of 17 No 1 country songs.

Bonsall and his fellow quartet members were inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2015. In 2000, they joined the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

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Founded in 1943, the “Leaving Lousiana In The Broad Daylight” group started out in Southern gospel music, but found success beyond the genre in the 1970s when they shifted to country music, with Bonsall joining in 1973.

That same year, they appeared on Johnny Cash’s single “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup” and were signed to Columbia Records with the help of Cash.

However, it wasn’t until they signed with Dot/ABC and released their 1977 song “Y’all Come Back Saloon” that the group found more mainstream success.

William Lee Golden, from left, Richard Sterban, Duane Allen, and Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys in 2016
William Lee Golden, from left, Richard Sterban, Duane Allen, and Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys in 2016 (2016 Invision)

The Oak Ridge Boys have released a whopping 31 studio albums and 56 singles. Their 1981 album Fancy Free became their most successful and was certified double-platinum.

Besides his musical career, Bonsall was the author of 11 books, including his forthcoming memoir I See Myself, scheduled to be released this November.

In I See Myself, Bonsall reflects on “the contrasts and the crossroads of his life,” a logline reads. “From growing up in the inner city of Philadelphia to sitting on the front porch of his log home in rural Tennessee. From hanging with a street gang in his teens to surrendering to Christ at a youth camp. From working as a short order cook to headlining sold-out arenas,” it adds.

“And now – from running across the stage each night to being sidelined by a neuromuscular disorder that has stolen his mobility. However, despite the changing circumstances of Joe’s life, two things have not changed. His unwavering faith in God. And his ability to inspire others.”

John Rich of country music duo Big & Rich shared a remembrance on X. Country music is crying today,” he wrote. “Joe was a real friend, and someone I looked up to not only as an artist, but as a man. He’s left a legacy of incredible music, and endless accounts of his kind heartedness.”

Country musician Travis Tritt also posted a tribute to Bonsall on X, writing, “Joe had amazing talent and a wonderful personality and he will be missed terribly by everyone who knew him.”

Bonsall is survived by his wife Mary Ann; daughters Jennifer and Sabrina; granddaughter Breanne; grandson Luke; great-grandsons Chance and Grey; and a sister, Nancy.

At Bonsall’s request, there will be no funeral. In lieu of flowers, his family has requested that donations be made to The ALS Association or to the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center. His family is requesting privacy.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

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