Wednesday, July 10, 2024


The world lost a legend yesterday, Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys. Only he wasn't just a music legend, he was a personal legend to so many just in who he was. How can you even name all of the good things about Joe Bonsall? You can't because there aren't enough ways to put it into words so I'll do the best I can.

Joe was a lot of things to many people, but first and foremost he was a husband, a father, a brother and a friend. Sure, he has a lifetime of accolades and accomplishments like being a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, Grammy awards, #1 hit songs, sell out concerts, Dove Awards, CMA Awards, ACM Awards, you name it, he's done it, seen it and won it. His biggest accomplishments though are the ones that watched from outside the bus and off of the stage - his family: his wife Mary, his daughters Sabrina and Jennifer, his grandsons and granddaughter, and yes, his beloved cats. Everyone loved "Ban Joey" and called him "friend" - the people he spent most of his life on the road with: Duane Allen, Richard Sterban and William Lee Golden, his longtime office staff and management, the Mighty Oaks Band members through the years, his tour manager Darrick Kinslow, the countless number of Oak Ridge Boys fans all over the world.  EVERYONE loved this man. I loved this man and was blessed to call him part of my "family", not just a friend.

I met Joe via Twitter in 2009. I had no idea how Twitter really even worked or how to see who was following me, I just know it was a great place to post stuff and a great outlet to promote new music. I was an independent music promoter, a girl from NC who just loved music and wanted to give back to those who provide the music that gives to me every day. I had posted something funny that had happened to me the night before - my neighbor was out late that night calling "Scott! Scott! It's time to come home!". I asked him to describe Scott, thinking it was his son, so I could look out for him. It was a cat. It made me laugh that the cat was named "Scott". I posted about it and Joe responded saying his cat was named "Ted". What? Joe Bonsall of the Oak Ridge Boys actually cared about what I said? Thus started a friendship that has lasted over a decade. He sent me a message a few weeks later asking me about a local venue they were playing and asked if it was close to me. It was only 30 minutes down the road so he said to come on out and bring someone. I got there and he had 2 tickets for me, front row center. It was the first time I'd ever seen my musical heroes perform live and it's a "first time" I'll never forget. He called me when the show was over and invited me to the bus to come hang out for awhile. We just had a once in a lifetime connection that I thank the good Lord for every day. I'll never forget what he told me - "Jenn, you're a different breed. I love what you do and how you do it, not just for the Oaks but for new artists and the older guys. You keep doing and I'll support you every step of the way." He did. He was not "too big" or "too busy" to make time for an interview for my small indie blog, he did videos for me to help me promote my blog and he always made time for small talk before and after each show and to take a selfie. He gave me a chance when not many in his position did and still don't. 

Some of my favorite memories of Joe include:

  • Interviewing backstage at the Duplin County Events Center in Kenansville, NC and Billy Dean, who was touring with them, came busting in the room unexpectedly, scaring the heck out of both of us. Billy just smiled and said "Ooops" and left us all rolling in the floor laughing.
  • Standing backstage in Myrtle Beach laughing and joking about how baggy Joe's jeans were. He turned around really fast and said in a highest pitched voice "OH MY GOD Becky, look at his butt" and started dancing and singing "I Like Big Butts" by Sir Mixalot. I thought I would fall on the floor laughing.
  • He was standing outside of the bus after a show in Myrtle Beach which was parked outside of the hotel. He was in his regular dude clothes, jeans and a sleeveless tshirt, talking to Mary on the phone. These women kept walking up trying to talk to him and he said "Ladies, I'm on the phone with my wife. If you can give me 5 minutes, come back and I'll take a picture." They left and sure enough, came back and he was so kind to them, stood and talked to them for a long time and took pics with them.
  • The night Little Jimmy Dickens dressed up as William Lee Golden and invited them to finally become members of the Grand Ole Opry. I got a text that night that just said "Jenn, it happened!".
  • The day they were announced as the latest Country Music Hall of Fame members. Chuck Dauphin, one of the best country music journalists and a close friend, was in the audience patiently waiting to see whose names would be announced. When he saw family members of the Oaks in the crowd, he called me and said "Jenn, I think this is the Oaks year!" and kept me on the line listening when the announcements came. I think we both cried. Joe texted me and it simply said "Jenn! It happened!"
Other memories include my sending him a dancing Rabbi doll that sang "Hava Nagela", painting him a rock that looked like an owl and naming it "Owlvira", sending him random stuff to make him shake his head, put on that big Joe Bonsall smile and just give that "what did she do" laugh. We'd text just to say hi and check in from time to time. I'll cherish those texts and the small things that aren't so small now. I loved who and what he stood for (and not just the Philadelphia Phillies), he always stood firm for Jesus and his faith. 

After years of applying for ACM and CMA memberships and being turned down, he told me to put him down as a reference and have them call him. I am now a member of both for 3 years running. He did not have to do that, but that's who he was. His kindness knew no bounds. I can't tell you how many nights I watched him after a long bus ride and giving it all he had in him on stage, come out and stand by the bus or in the hallway talking to fans and taking selfies. He was always just kind. 

Joe, even though you're no longer down here, I know you're in a better place where you're free of pain and smiling as you are reunited with GI Joe and Lillie and other family members and you're free to sing along loudly in that unmistakable tenor voice with Charlie Daniels, Joe Diffie, Loretta Lynn, Jeff Carson, Conway and so many other country friends in that amazing heavenly choir who left us way too early. There's a brand new star up in heaven tonight and I'm sure glad it's shining down on us. Thank you for always being just Joe. We love you and will miss you every day. 

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