The Oak Ridge Boys’ Joe Bonsall, Dead At 76; Music Industry Reacts

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (CelebrityAccess) — Joseph S. Bonsall, a tenor vocalist and longtime member of the country/gospel group The Oak Ridge Boys, died on July 9, 2024. He was 76.

His passing was announced by his publicist, who said that Bonsall died from complications of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

A native of Philadelphia, Bonsall joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1973 and continued as a tenor with the group until he announced his retirement from touring in early 2024.

Bonsall recorded numerous top-ten songs with the Oak Ridge Boys, including seminal hits such as “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Bobby Sue,” “Dream On,” and “Ozark Mountain Jubilee.”

Bonsall, along with the other members of the Oak Ridge Boys, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Along with music, Bonsall was the author of eleven books, including his most recent memoir, I See Myself, due in November.

He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, daughters Jennifer and Sabrina, granddaughter Breanne, grandson Luke, two great-grandsons, Chance and Grey, and a sister, Nancy. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph S. Bonsall Sr. and Lillie Bonsall.

At Joe’s request, there will be no funeral. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The ALS Association or the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center.

After news of his passing became public, friends and colleagues from across the industry shared their thoughts on the late country star.

“I was sad to hear about Joe today. He was such a great singer and entertainer, but above all, he was a wonderful person! I shall always treasure the great laughs we had and his words of encouragement to me very early in my career. Jamie and I send love and prayers to his family and friends during this time. We love you, Joe!” – John Anderson (Country Music Hall of Fame Member Elect)

“I’ve known that this day would be coming sooner than later. The Oaks have had their share of sorrows and pain the last few months with the passing of Dwayne’s precious wife, Nora Lee, Bill’s recent loss of his son Rusty, and now the passing of our dear friend Joe. It’s been a lot for all of them to deal with. My prayer is that we, as a music community and fellow believers in Jesus, would pray for and reach out to the Oaks. The winds of change have blown really hard against them, but I know too that they are men of faith, and they will get through this. ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.’ (2 Corinthians 5:7-8, NKJV.)” -Ricky Skaggs (Country Music Hall of Fame Member)

“We lost an Oak Ridge Boy, but the Heavenly Choir just got a fine new tenor. Rest in peace, Joe Bonsall.” -Ray Stevens (Country Music Hall of Fame Member)

“Joe Bonsall was one of a kind! He was an amazing person and a wonderful friend! I always loved the soul and joy in his incredible voice! As an entertainer, his presence was electric and lit up the stage! I especially loved his tender heart for his family and friends, including Barney, his cat. My heart is with his beautiful, beloved wife, Mary and his family at this time of deep loss. We will all love you and miss you forever, Joe.” -Deborah Allen

“The Oak Ridge Boys’ camp has suffered two losses with the passing of my friend Rusty Golden, son of William Lee Golden and Oak Ridge Boy tenor Joe Bonsall. Their music is their testimony to a life of service, to God our creator, where they both dwell in harmony in heaven this day.” –Billy Dean

“I wrote a song for Joe a while back that he wanted to record. Here’s the first verse:
I did my share of bus drivin…
Loadin and unloadin
When there was work to be done never once did I run and hide
I sang every song from my heart
Never once phoned in my part
I was not just along for the ride
I was not just along for the ride…”
-Larry Gatlin

“My heart is aching from hearing the news of the passing of my buddy Joe Bonsall. Or ‘Brother Bonsall’ as I liked to call him! He was a friend for 50 years, ever since he joined the Oak Ridge Boys, and friends of ours for 60 years! He was an amazing guy, son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and a great friend to so many! When he got a little sick in July 2022, I filled in for him a few times at the Oaks’ shows. And believe me, it wasn’t easy! I had to sing my ever-lovin’ butt off! His love of singing and entertaining with the Boys is legendary! Seriously, I don’t know anyone who enjoyed singing more than Joe Bonsall! I thought about Joe just last week. I was gonna call just to check up on him, to see how he’s doing and dang, but something came up, and I didn’t get around to it. Well Joe, if you can hear me now, I love ya, gonna miss ya and can’t wait to see you on the other side!” -Rudy Gatlin (“or as you called me, ‘Brother Gatlin’”)

“In this wonderful world, we are given the beginning, many friends, a blessing, and the end. God Bless Joe, The Oak Ridge Boys and family.” -Doug Gray, The Marshall Tucker Band

“It’s been a terrible week for The Oaks. Ever since I met Joe he has been very, very kind to me. God bless him and rest in peace.” -Sammy Kershaw

“Joe Bonsall was one of the charming musical personalities that made The Oak Ridge Boys so incredibly popular. Joe’s youthful spirit drove their on-stage appeal. Joe‘s passing is a real shock and totally unexpected. My heart goes out to his family and friends.” –Henry Paul, The Outlaws / BlackHawk

“Our condolences to Mary and the Bonsall family. It’s truly hard to see someone so energetic and so full of life as Joe was to leave here. He was a showman, and he was a friend to many. He was a Country Music Hall of Famer, but the best thing he would say of himself was he was a saved man and a loving husband. Nuff said.” -Marty Raybon, Shenandoah

“This is not just another devastating loss to our business; this is a limb gone from the MIGHTY OAKS. There has never been a group like them. They have been a part of our lives in so many ways, sharing not only their music but their personal lives and families. Joe was a major part of that strength. His personality and smile reached out and grabbed you as much as that unmistakable voice. Somehow, I believe those are etched in our memories, never to be forgotten.”
-Jeannie Seely

“My heart is broken. I’ve known Joe Bonsall since I was a teenager. The Oak Ridge Boys were friends of my dad, and I learned how to sing harmony by listening to ORB albums all the way back to their gospel days. Joe has been a baseball buddy, and we just talked about life and sports riding down the road. Rest in peace, brother BanJoey! You will be missed.” -Larry Stewart, The Frontmen / Restless Heart

“I woke up today to the very sad news of Joe Bonsall’s passing. Even though I’d been somewhat expecting it, I still was hopeful something would improve to keep him going. The Lord has taken him Home. He was always SO kind and supportive to me. He always commented publicly about what he thought of me with that big, room-filling personality. I’ll always be grateful to him for that support. I will miss his energy, his kindness and his spirit. This is a sad day for our industry and The Mighty Oak Ridge Boys. Joe, I know you are with our Lord now. We’ll sure miss you here.”  -Collin Raye

“Joe Bonsall was one of the biggest influences on me as an entertainer. When I put my show together, I wanted it to be as crazy as Hank Jr., as theatrical as Reba and as energetic as Joe. He was an amazing performer but, more importantly, an amazing man. He’ll be greatly missed. Our family sends love and prayers to his.” -Aaron Tippin

“You know, The Kentucky Headhunters had two basket lists of acts we would love to play with. One was the Rolling Stones, and the other was The Oak Ridge Boys. Both are the reason several types of music lives and breathes. Joe was the Mick Jagger of country and soulful gospel music and helped bring country to a new horizon with The Oaks. God Bless.”
-Richard Young / The Kentucky Headhunters

“When I think of the Oak Ridge Boys and their place in Country Music history, the image of Joe with his huge smile and boundless energy comes to mind so clearly. His commitment to serving others while developing country music into a worldwide sensation will never be forgotten, and our industry has become better because of him. Today, we lost an incomparable energy and voice in music. He will be missed greatly by all who were fortunate to know him.” said Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association CEO.

“Every single one of us at the Grand Ole Opry absolutely loved Joe Bonsall. The fans in the seats marveling at his on-stage energy. —Those tuned in around the world listening to his unmatched vocals as part of his beloved Oak Ridge Boys. —And all of us backstage laughing out loud at his antics and counting our lucky stars to have been in the orbit of such a loving, talented, wonderful human being. Safe travels, buddy. You are so loved.” Dan Rogers, Senior VP/Executive Producer of the Grand Ole Opry.

“God loves you, Joe Bonsall. You have been an inspiration to fans, friends, and family, especially to me, for 52 years. This is a very rough day.” – Jim Halsey, longtime manager of the Oak Ridge Boys.

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