Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys is retiring from touring after 50 years with the Grammy-winning country and gospel quartet.
The tenor said Wednesday in a declaration He posted to X that a neuromuscular disorder made it difficult for him to walk, forcing him to stop performing. In the midst of the group’s American Made Farewell tour, the Oak Ridge Boys will replace Bonsall, 75, with singer-songwriter Ben James, 27.
“Many of you know that I have been battling the slow onset (over 4 years) of a neuromuscular disorder,” Bonsall said in the tweet. “Now I’ve reached a point where walking is impossible, so I’ve basically gone off the road. “It’s just become too difficult.”
Bonsall went on to thank the quartet’s band and team for their love, support and prayers. He added support for his replacement.
“There is a young man called Ben James singing for me and he needs your love and encouragement… his sound is different to mine, but he brings a lot of talent!” he continued. “The @oakridgeboys will finish the farewell tour without me, but rest assured I’m fine with everything! “God has it!!!”
Bonsall joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1973 after a stint with the Keystones and went on to be part of their peak of overall success during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Oak Ridge Boys began performing under different names in the mid-1940s in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, until they decided to adopt their current nickname in 1945, according to the group’s website. Over the next few decades, the group would be known primarily in evangelical circles.
However, after piquing the interest of well-known country artist manager Jim Halsey around the time Bonsall started the group, the quartet began to branch out into country and more mainstream music, performing and recording with artists such as Paul Simon, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill Monroe and Ray Charles.
Bonsall was the group’s tenor during the peak years, releasing hit crossover songs “Bobbie Sue” and “Elvira” that rose to No. 12 and No. 5, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100. There were also a series of chart-topping singles. country music from Billboard, including “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes,” “This Crazy Love,” “It Takes a Little Rain,” and “No Matter How High.”
“Elvira” would earn them a Country Music Association. single of the year award and a Grammy for country performances by a duo or group with vocals. In total, during Bonsall’s tenure, the group won four CMA Awards, four Grammy Awards, and four Dove Awards from the Gospel Music Association. Bonsall was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015 as a member of the Oak Ridge Boys.
That same year, Bonsall also made headlines for his negative reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry in the United States. “It is a sad day for those who care about spirituality and Bible-based principles!” she wrote in a tweet. “Move on and join the 21st century? I choose Jesus!”
Along with other long-time members, Duane Allen (joined 1966), Richard Sterban (joined 1972) and William Lee Golden, who joined in 1965 and left for a period in the late 1980s and 1990s , Bonsall has toured virtually non-stop, aside from a brief hiatus in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group’s current farewell tour began in September and continues this year throughout the summer.
“We’re the group that won’t go away,” Bonsall told the Times in 1996 after a local performance in Glendale. “We’re not kids anymore, but we’re rocking.”
However, in recent years, he had missed shows due to various health problems, including pulmonary embolisms in 2022, which he said almost killed him.
“I could have easily died last weekend, but God is not done with me yet,” Bonsall. tweeted after his health scare. “I am now home after 6 days in the hospital fighting pulmonary embolisms…my recovery could take a while…thank you for the prayers and love shown!”