A number of Country Music Association, Country Music Hall of Fame and other country music notables, including CMA CEO Sarah Trahern and Hall of Fame Director/CEO Kyle Young, gathered early Wednesday morning for the announcement. The Oaks were introduced to media and industry executives in the Rotunda of the Country Music Hall of Fame by their longtime friend and fellow entertainer Brenda Lee. Also present for the announcement was the Oaks’ manager, Jim Halsey, members of the Oak Ridge Boys’ staff and a few business associates.
The Oaks made a point to express gratitude for their fans, who have supported them for more than 40 years while the group has made country and gospel music history. Few country music groups have had the enduring popularity, cultural significance or crossover success of the Oak Ridge Boys, a vocal harmony quartet that started out in gospel music during World War II and evolved with the times to help popularize and modernize country and gospel music far beyond traditional genre and regional lines.
The group went through numerous lineup changes in its early decades before Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden, and Richard Sterban took control in the 1960s and early 1970s and turned it into a dynamic country music force. The alignment focused on high-energy vocal harmonies that brought crowds to their feet.
The Oaks landed their first No. 1, “I’ll Be True To You,” on the country chart in 1978, and perhaps just as significantly, Paul Simon asked the group to sing backup on what would become his hit “Slip Slidin’ Away,” opening the door to the pop world for the group. Simon wasn’t the only one to lean on their harmony. They accompanied Brenda Lee on her GRAMMY® Award-nominated “Broken Trust” (1980) and George Jones on his country smash “Same Ole Me” (1982); and they also have harmonized behind Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill Monroe and Leon Russell among many others.
National audiences learned the joy of The Oaks’ harmonies when the group’s biggest hit, 1981’s “Elvira,” became a crossover pop smash with bass singer Sterban’s unforgettable “oom papa oom papa mau mau” refrain. The song brought them one of their five GRAMMY® Awards, went double platinum, and helped bring much-needed fun to a genre that had a reputation for weepers and hard times.
The inescapable “Elvira” propelled The Oaks’ 1981 album Fancy Free to double platinum. They followed a year later with another crossover hit, “Bobbie Sue,” and the album of the same title went gold as have many others in the group’s catalog. Their 1980 and 1984 Greatest Hits albums are platinum. All in all, the current lineup has scored 17 No. 1 hits, released more than 40 albums and achieved sales in excess of $41 million.
The Oak Ridge Boys’ “American Made” became a national ad jingle, and their “Thank God for Kids” is considered a country standard. The group also helped open the doors for country music on network television with a number of national televised concerts including HBO and PBS specials and as hosts and performers on prime time. They hosted their own series, “The Oak Ridge Boys Live from Las Vegas,” for TNN in the late 1990s.
The quartet is one of the most enduring in music and has had a long history and dozens of members before the tenures of Allen (born April 29, 1943 in Taylortown, Texas), Bonsall (born May 18, 1948 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Golden (born Jan. 12, 1939 in Brewton, Alabama) and Sterban (born April 24, 1943 in Camden, New Jersey) began.
Founder Wally Fowler started the group in 1943 in Knoxville, Tennessee, as part of the Georgia Clodhoppers. They were hired to perform for the restricted staff and their families at the nearby Oak Ridge nuclear research facility. They appeared there so often, they eventually changed their name to the Oak Ridge Quartet in 1945, the year they began performing on “The Grand Ole Opry.”
The Oak Ridge Boys – the rebranded group – have received 15 CMA Awards nominations and won Vocal Group of the Year in 1978 and Single of the Year in 1981 for “Elvira” (the group’s backing band won CMA Instrumental Group of the Year in 1978 and 1986). The Oaks were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000; Bonsall and Sterban were inducted into the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame in 1994. Golden received the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s Life Work Award for Performing Achievement in 1997, and Allen was honored with induction into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
The Oak Ridge Boys have also participated in decades of philanthropic endeavors including Feed the Children, the Boy Scouts of America and the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
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