The Oak Ridge Boys and Joe Bonsall’s 6 Most Heartwarming Moments in Recent Years

The country music world and its fans suffered a staggering loss Tuesday morning when The Oak Ridge Boys‘ vivacious, jubilant tenor Joe Bonsall lost his battle with ALS.

Bonsall joined The Oak Ridge Boys in 1973, and the group landed its first No. 1 hit, “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” in 1977. The group went on to earn 26 Top-10 country hits, of which 17 went No. 1.

The vocal group’s most enduring songs include “Elvira,” “I’ll Be True to You,” “Thank God for Kids,” “American Made,” “Bobbie Sue,” “Fancy Free” and so many more.

The Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2011 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Here’s a look at some of the Oak Ridge Boys’ most heartwarming moments and memorable career highlights with Bonsall front and center in recent years.

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The Grand Ole Opry Inducts The Oak Ridge Boys

In 2011, the Oak Ridge Boys strolled on stage at the Grand Ole Opry for a performance they thought would be like any other Grand Ole Opry appearance. They finished “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” and then Little Jimmy Dickens walked out dressed like William Lee Golden, with a beard hanging to his waist.

Bonsall laughed heartily and told Dickens his outfit might have been the funniest thing he’s ever seen.
Dickens delivered the statement – that come August, they’d be the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. Allen hugged him, but Bonsall seemed to freeze.

“I want to let something process for a moment,” Bonsall said. “He just said we are the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry. This is a brotherhood and a sisterhood that is unlike any other. We have been around a long time. We have been friends of the Grand Ole Opry for a long time. It’s going to take a little while to process. We’re about to single ‘Elvira’ here. So give us a moment. We’ve been a friend of the Opry for a long time. I’ve got to admit to you folks, with changing times and all the great young folks in this business who are holding country music high, we’ve not been singing to you for years.

We’ve been singing to you for decades. I kind of thought that Opry thing wasn’t going to happen. Thank you.”

Becoming Members of the Country Music Hall of Fame

In 2015, Brenda Lee revealed The Oak Ridge Boys would be the next members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The band’s members –  Bonsall, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sturban – lined up behind Brenda Lee as she hosted the press conference announcing them as inductees. When the event was over, Bonsall, always vibrant with an undeniable excitement and zest for life, bent his knees to accommodate Lee’s 4’9″ height, opened his arms wide, and she rushed into his embrace for a congratulatory hug.

“Our children’s children’s children’s children can see that,” Bonsall said of the group’s commemorative marker that hangs in the Country Music Hall of Fame. “Even when we are gone, we’ll still be here.”
The night they were inducted into The Country Music Hall of Fame, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Jeff Hanna, and Allen’s daughter and her family band Rockland Road sang their hits back to them.

“This was high school for me,” Brooks said of the Oak Ridge Boys’ music. “‘Y’all Come Back Saloon,’ that’s that whole record that changed everything. They’re also the group that did ‘Callin’ Baton Rouge’ first. It all goes back.

“‘I’ll Be True to You’ was not a duet,” Yearwood added. “But everything the Oak Ridge Boys did was four-part harmony, so it was easy to figure out and make it into a duet.”

Country Music Hall of Famer Kenny Rogers inducted the band in the modern era artist category.
“In a lifetime and in a career of incredible things, this is the most incredible thing that’s ever happened to the Oak Ridge Boys,” Bonsall said. “We run our group as a family, trying to be honest, like our parents taught us. Treat people right. I really think that’s why we’re here today.”

The Oak Ridge Boys Team With Blake Shelton

In 2016, The Oak Ridge Boys teamed with Blake Shelton for his cut “Doing It to Country Songs” from his “If I’m Honest” album. At CMA Fest, Shelton took the Oaks everywhere, making sure to expose them to a new generation of country music fans. That week in June, The Oaks went with Shelton to his exhibit opening at The Country Music Hall of Fame and played with him stage with him at the CMT Awards.

“I tell you, it’s going to be epic,” Bonsall said at the time. “It’s going to be really cool. We’re actually stripping,” he joked.

 Then, the band surprised fans at Nissan Stadium when they joined him to sing “Doing It to Country Songs.”

“Only in Nashville, Tenn., do you get something like that, man,” Shelton told fans. “That cost me a lot of money. You’re welcome. They’re very expensive. I have to take a moment now and soak that in. That just happened. Moment of silence, everybody, please, for The Oak Ridge Boys.”

Kept Promise To Sing at George H. W. Bush’s Funeral

Before he died, George H. W. Bush wrote that he wanted the Oak Ridge Boys to sing “Amazing Grace” at his funeral. To ensure they could keep that promise, the Oaks spent months traveling with suits and ties so if they got the call that Bush had passed, they could hop on a plane and show up in time.

It turned out they needed them. Following a show in Spokane, Wash., in 2018, the men boarded an overnight flight with suits in hand to fly to Houston to perform at his funeral.

“Cheers To You” Joe Bonsall and The Oak Ridge Boys

It was the end of June 2020 when up-and-coming country group Essex County was fighting against the pandemic to be seen and heard when, like the rest of the music industry, they’d lost the opportunity to play live. The men, a U.K. brother trio, and their manager devised a plan to release an EP, record videos for the songs and then release the videos on CMT. The project would make them the first act to release a video EP on the network, and the network agreed to play each video in rotation.

The concept for the trio’s “Cheers To You” music video was that the group would ask other country music acts to make cameos in the clip or submit videos of themselves toasting with cocktails. The Oak Ridge Boys – already Grand Ole Opry members and Country Music Hall of Famers – agreed to appear in the music video.

Essex County met The Oak Ridge Boys in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where they filmed a television appearance and spent an afternoon filming video footage together. Bonsall and the rest of the Oaks, learned lines to the song and played along with the afternoon of hijinx, even toasting with flower vases when they had nothing else to use.

“We were so privileged to have made a music video with American legends, The Oak Ridge Boys,” singer Nate Bass said. “They were amazing and so kind to us newbies. Joe told us to stay together and keep pushing, and something like the music industry was tough, and we had to be tougher. Thank you, Joe.”

The Oak Ridge Boys Join Alabama To Play June Jam, the First Since 1997

Country Music Hall of Famers Alabama are still touring, and in recent years, they reached out to The Oak Ridge Boys to tour with them. That ask extended to June Jam in 2023, the first time Alabama had hosted its iconic festival since 1997. The Oak Ridge Boys wouldn’t miss it.

Bonsall’s health was failing. He had to be helped to the stage and played the show perched on a stool.
Dressed in a bright green button-up shirt, jeans, and sneakers, Bonsall anchored his side of the stage, tapping his foot, clapping his nads over his head, and leading the fans with every ounce of energy he gave when he was still able to play standing up.

More than 11,000 people danced and sang along to “American Made,” “Elvira” and more. Other than the fact he was seated, Bonsall looked healthy. No one knew it could be the last time they would see him on stage.

(Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

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