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    Joe Bonsall, Oak Ridge Boys singer, dies at 76 from ALS complications

    By Marcus K. Dowling, USA TODAY,

    9 days ago

    Joe Bonsall , the longtime tenor vocalist of Country Music Hall of Fame -inducted and Grand Ole Opry cast member quintet the Oak Ridge Boys , has died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis . He was 76.

    Bonsall's and the group's representatives on Tuesday confirmed his death.

    Notably, alongside his Country Music Hall of Fame and Grand Ole Opry membership, Bonsall was an inductee of the Philadelphia Music Hall of Fame and Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

    "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," stated Bonsall in January to The Nashville Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network.
    Joe Bonsall, the longtime tenor vocalist of quintet the Oak Ridge Boys, has died from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Submitted

    The Philadelphia native had already been replaced on the road by bluegrass and gospel performer Ben James alongside Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban. In November 2022, James appeared with the quartet who, while performing on the same billing as Dailey & Vincent, brought him onstage to perform their 40-year-old crossover smash "Elvira."

    "Joe handed me the mic and said, 'You've got the next verse. And I'm not sure I will ever get over that moment. 'Elvira' was always on repeat when I was growing up. It's still one of those timeless songs that never grow old," offered James in a press statement.

    Joe Bonsall health issues with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis caused retirement

    Bonsall retired from performing on the road with the group after 50 years six months ago, citing the half-decade onset of his ALS diagnosis .

    In a December feature, Bonsall described a career as an Oak Ridge Boy member that saw him play over 10,000 concerts in amphitheaters, arenas, stadiums and theaters worldwide as bearing witness to an "amazing phenomenon" that "took on a life of its own" and "marks so many unique spaces, stories and times."

    He added that the group "represented the place to be for five decades. Four guys who looked like they shouldn't even know each other have blended harmonies and had a celebrated career."
    The Oak Ridge Boys members Duane Allen, left, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban, right, along with presenter Ronnie Milsap, second from right, are celebrating their Single of the Year award for "Elvira" during the 15th annual CMA Awards show nationally televised from the Grand Ole Opry House Oct. 12, 1981. Ricky Rogers / The Tennessean

    How Joe Bonsall embraced being one of The Oak Ridge Boys members

    Bonsall became an Oak Ridge Boy in October 1973, the 30th of 35 total performers to perform in the group since its 1947 inception.

    For 35 years, The Oak Ridge Boys achieved excellence as a Southern gospel quartet with soulful leanings. However, by the mid-1970s, the group evolved its image in a cosmopolitan direction. Clad in suits from Hollywood fashion designer Harvey Krantz, they began emphasizing "entertainment" over preaching to create a mainstream pop-ready, GQ-style country act.

    That spurred a run of 14 Top 10 Billboard Country chart singles, began with 1977's "Y'all Come Back Saloon" and included songs like "Elvira" and "American Made" among many hits.

    That success was marked by moments like 1978's NBC-broadcasted "World's Largest Indoor Country Music Show," where the Oak Ridge Boys appeared at Detroit's Pontiac Silverdome alongside Kenny Rogers, Minnie Pearl, Dottie West and numerous others.

    "We're out there in front of a national audience and 60,000 people running all over the stage singing country music and then we put that big gospel ending on it. It was a feeling like nothing else I'd felt to that point," Bonsall recalled to The Tennessean.

    Joe Bonsall's other notable career interests

    Over the past three decades, the vocalist was also the author of 11 books, including "The Molly Books," a four-part children's book series, 2003's "GI Joe and Lillie," about his parents' lives during and after World War II, plus his forthcoming memoir, "I See Myself," which is still scheduled for a Nov. 13, 2024 release.
    Singer Joe Bonsall gets a hug after a public announcement that the Oak Ridge Boys would be 2015 inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Larry McCormack / The Tennessean

    About his memoir, a press statement notes the following:

    "In 'I See Myself,' Joe Bonsall reflects on his life's contrasts and crossroads. 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. 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."

    Bonsall's memoir is currently available for pre-order via Amazon .

    At Bonsall's request, there will be no funeral. Instead of flowers, donations may be made to The ALS Association or the Vanderbilt Medical Center ALS and Neuroscience Research Center .

    This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Joe Bonsall, Oak Ridge Boys singer, dies at 76 from ALS complications

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