Sunday, October 25, 2015 at 3:30 p.m. in Nashville, TN, the Oak Ridge Boys will join the elite list of Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees, in the Modern Era category, when they are inducted during a special Medallion Ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater. During the Medallion Ceremony, friends and colleagues will pay tribute to the inductees through words and songs. Bronze plaques honoring each inductee are unveiled, to be displayed later in the museum’s famous Rotunda. The group, who has been turning out country music hits since 1977, is well known for their beautiful four-part harmonies, dynamic energy and gospel roots. The group has achieved thirty-four Top Ten hits, including seventeen #1s. The group has sold millions of albums, performed sold-out concerts and received many prestigious honors over the years, including: five Grammy awards, four CMA awards, four Academy of Country Music awards, an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and after Sunday, an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Back in the 1940s, Wally Fowler named a group performing regularly in Oak Ridge, the Oak Ridge Quartet from the former Georgia Clodhoppers. Fowler moved the group to Nashville, where, in 1946, the Oak Ridge Quartet became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. They sang in four-part harmony and appeared on the Opry’s Prince Albert Show, broadcast nationally on NBC Radio from 1939 to 1957. Fowler sold the rights to the Oak Ridge Quartet name in 1957 and in 1966, the group changed their name to the Oak Ridge Boys. The Oak Ridge Boys consists of Alabama native William Lee Golden, a baritone, who joined the group in 1965, Texan Duane Allen who became their lead singer the following year, New jersey native Richard Sterban who became the bass singer in 1972 and tenor Jon Bonsall from Philadelphia, who joined the following year, making the lineup complete. In 1973, the Oak Ridge Boys were already well established in gospel music – they had won three Grammy Awards and several Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. Johnny Cash had even helped them sign with Columbia Records when he used them on tour to provide harmony on “Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup.”
With the help of manager Jim Halsey, they moved to ABC/Dot (which joined MCA Records) and broke into country music with their #3 hit in 1977, “Ya’ll Come Back Saloon”, followed by #1 hits “I’ll Be True to You,” “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” “Trying to Love Two Women,” and “Fancy Free.”
The group’s hit “Elvira” climbed to #1 in country and #5 in pop winning a 1981 Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, the group’s first of five Grammies. Their hit “Bobbie Sue” followed the next year with another #1 on country charts and #12 on pop charts, then in 1983, #1 “American Made” was the perfect advertising jingle for an American beer company.
Allen sang lead vocals most often, but all the singers were featured at different times on their own recordings as well as guests of other artists’ recordings. The group’s harmonies assisted Paul Simon on his 1977-78 hit, “Slip Slidin’ Away,” Brenda Lee’s “Broken Trust” in 1980, George Jones’s “Same Ole Me” in 1982 and recordings by Ray Charles, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill Monroe, Leon Russell and many others.
In 1987, Golden left the group and was replaced by Steve Sanders, who was playing acoustic guitar in the band at the time. Sanders sang lead vocal in the 1988 hit “Gonna Take a Lot of River.” The group’s last #1 hit was 1989’s “No Matter How High,” but the group has continued to perform for packed audiences for several decades. In January 1996 Sanders resigned, allowing Golden to return and in 2000 the Oak Ridge Boys signed with Spring Hill Records and went back to releasing gospel recordings. The continue to produce gospel, bluegrass, holiday and patriotic-themed recordings. The Oak Ridge Boys were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000. Individually, Bonsall and Sterban were honored in the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in 1994, Golden in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1997 and Allen in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
You can still catch the Oak Ridge Boys performing at their theater in Branson for very limited dates, so make plans to catch them October 20-22 or November 3-5; 10-12 or 17-19 this fall.