CARLISLE - The Oak Ridge Boys have much to celebrate these days. Just last year, the country/gospel vocal quartet comprised of Duane Allen as lead, Joe Bonsall, tenor; William Lee Golden, baritone; and Richard Sterban, bass; were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In that same year, they were also recognized at the 46th Annual GMA Dove Awards in Nashville and awarded "Country Song of the Year” for the single, “Sweet Jesus,” written by Kenny Vernon and the late country music legend Merle Haggard, who joined the group on the recorded version of the song.
“Both were great honors,” said Bonsall, who released his book, "On the Road with the Oak Ridge Boys" in 2015 as well. “The reader becomes a fly on the wall for an inside look at the group. I think it’s a fun book with a lot of information,” said the singer, who is celebrating 43 years with the band this year.
In addition to the aforementioned accolades, the Oak Ridge Boys have laid claim to five Grammy awards and multiple CMA, ACM and Dove Awards for their crossover brand of pop, country and gospel music that spans generations.
Area fans will have the opportunity to hear the legendary Oaks sing hits like “American Made,” “Thank God for Kids,” and the ever-popular 1981 smash hit, “Elvira,” featuring Richard Sterban’s unmistakable bass singing “oom papa mow mow” when the group performs at the Carlisle Theater on Saturday, May 14.
When asked about the secret to the group’s staying power, Bonsall chuckles. “We’ve been passed down like an old shirt. We get parents, grandparents, young families and the kids, too. They’re singing songs that Grandpa played first, then dad played,” he said.
And fans aren’t just limited to the United States. Vivian Lawrence, who was born and raised in India, said he grew up listening to Southern gospel bands like the Oak Ridge Boys and the Gaither Vocal Band. The internationally acclaimed keyboardist, who now resides in Los Angeles, recalls his introduction to the group. “The first Oak Ridge Boys song I heard was ‘Elvira.’ I can attest that I instantaneously fell in love with the arrangement.” Lawrence, who is an Oak Ridge Boys fan to this day, describes the group as “incredible and bursting with energy.”
Gary Sneddon, a fan from Canada, calls them the “musical voice of the God-fearing working man.”
Although Bonsall modestly refers to the Oak Ridge Boys as a “middle-America group,” it’s no secret that they’ve played for royalty as well, performing for King Gustaf of Sweden, Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline of Monaco and Her Royal Highness of Great Britain. In addition, the group has entertained five American presidents including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. Just this January, the group met up with former president George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara at a restaurant in Houston, Texas. According to Bonsall, they enjoyed some “lively and fun conversation” and ended the night with a tableside serenade with a soulful version of “Feeling Mighty Fine,” from the 1997 gospel album, “Revival.”
The mighty Oaks don’t seem to fall victim to the ravages of time and still play about 150 dates every year, according to Bonsall, who insists that they’re still the high-energy group they’ve always been. “We’re still feeling good; we’re still singing good and we’re still putting on the best shows,” he said.
As for the secret to popularity and longevity, Bonsall has a theory that it all comes down to treating people well. “It’s important to treat people right, be nice to everybody and treat them the way you want to be treated,” he said.
If you go:
The Oak Ridge Boys
40 West High Street, Carlisle
7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 14, 2016
Learn more at: carlisletheatre.org/2016/03/30/oak-ridge-boys/