Already have an account?
Get back to the

The Oak Ridge Boys Members: See the Country Music Icons Then and Now!

Our hearts are on fire for this “American Made” band and their 50-plus year career!

When you hear their heavenly four-part harmonies, it’s no surprise that the Oak Ridge Boys members, and the band itself, have roots in gospel music. The Tennessee collective started as the Oak Ridge Quartet back around 1945 and went on to become one of the most popular gospel acts throughout the 50s. By the late 60s, more than 30 members had cycled in and out of the group, and by 1973, its most iconic lineup of William Lee Golden, Duane Allen, Richard Sterban, and Joe Bonsall was in place and ready to roll, and roll, and roll …

“We’ve worked nearly 150 dates a year almost every year,” Bonsall shared with Billboard last September. “We may tour under a different tour name every year, but it’s really the never-ending tour. We’ve never known how to stop or slow down, for sure,” he added, noting that their eldest member — Golden, 85 — has been setting the bar high for the rest. “He’s got more energy than all of us put together,” Bonsall quipped!

MUST-READ: Allman Brothers Band Members: What Happened To The Ramblin’ Men?

Oak Ridge Boys Members
Oak Ridge Boys (2021) Stephen J. Cohen / Contributor / Getty

Their road warrior days, however, have started to wind down, and the Oak Ridge Boys members announced late last year that they would be embarking on their American Made Farewell Tour, which has dates scheduled throughout 2024 — and likely beyond.

“It’s a time of reflecting and there’s a sadness about [it] being…a farewell tour,” Golden told Billboard, “but there’s the other side that you feel so blessed because of your singing partners, the people that you’ve been able to travel with and sing with.… It’s exciting to have been able to have survived this many years with the same lineup of singers, and to be able to go out there and thank people,” he noted, adding, “It’s going to be an emotional tour.”

Things got extra bittersweet when Bonsall announced in December 2023 that he wouldn’t be able to keep performing, due to a slow-onset neuromuscular disorder he’s been battling for over four years. “I am now at a point where walking is impossible, so I have basically retired from the road. It has just gotten too difficult,” he shared. “It has been a great 50 years.… For those of you who have been constantly holding me up in prayer, I thank you and ask for you to keep on praying.”

MUST-READ: Eagles Band Members: See The Country Rockers Then and Now

Oak Ridge Boys Members
The Oak Ridge Boys at the Grammys (1982) MediaPunch / Contributor / Getty

He’ll be covered by new member Ben James on the group’s 2024 dates, and while many in the audience will be sad about not being able to see Bonsall one last time, they’ve still got 50-plus years of magical musical memories to look forward to. The group boasts nine GMA Dove Awards, four CMA Awards, five Grammys, after all, and they’ve scored 17 No. 1 Hot Country Songs on the Billboard charts, selling more than 41 million records along the way.

The group’s unique blend of gospel, country, and pop — displayed on hits such as 1977’s “Y’all Come Back Saloon,” 1978’s “I’ll Be True to You,” 1981’s “Elvira,” 1982’s “Bobbie Sue,” 1984’s “I Guess It Never Hurts to Hurt Sometimes,” and 1987’s “This Crazy Love” — won audiences over with their heartwarming sentiments and sense of fun.

“We always look for songs that have lasting value and that are uplifting,” Allen has explained. “You don’t hear us singing ‘cheating’ or ‘drinking’ songs, but ‘loving’ songs, because we think that will last.” The guys even brought those good vibes overseas in 1976, when they toured the Soviet Union with Roy Clark. “It was an incredible experience to go and see what life was like there, and to be able to cross a lot of barriers, language-wise, with music and harmony,” Bonsall recalled.

MUST-READ: The Beach Boys Members: See the Band Then and Now

Through the years, they’ve worked with a who’s who list of top-tier talent, from being asked to sing backup on Paul Simon’s 1977 classic “Slip Slidin’ Away,” to collaborating with Brenda Lee, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, and Ray Charles, among others. They also had the honor of touring with Kenny Rogers, Dottie West, and Dolly Parton at times. In 2009, they even covered “Seven Nation Army” by the progressive rock group The White Stripes, winning praise from a whole new generation of fans.

“We’ve experienced a lot of longevity,” Sterban noted to The Sun-Gazette. “I think the reason is the love we have for what we do—the desire, the longing to actually get up there and do it. We love to sing together…to harmonize together. It’s what our lives are all about.”

Though the Grand Ole Opry members are out there on their “farewell” tour, they — and their fans — still have lots to look forward to in their future. “We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary of…us being together which is a special milestone,” Sterban told the Odessa American last month, promising, “We have not announced that we are retiring. We are just going around and saying thank you.

That’ll take us a little while. We’ll still be around for a little while, doing what we love to do.” Here, a look at how far the Oak Ridge Boys members have come, and what’s going on with them today.

William Lee Golden: Oak Ridge Boys members

William Lee Golden
1986/2023 Bob Riha Jr / Contributor / Getty // Sarah Anne Cohen / Contributor / Getty

The baritone and eldest band member, William Lee Golden, joined the group back in 1965. He grew up in southern Alabama and started singing at age 7, even performing on his grandfather’s radio show with his sister. After the Oak Ridge Boys took off, he had to step away from the band for roughly eight years in 1987, with the group’s guitarist, Steve Sanders, stepping in to fill out the quartet. It wasn’t long after Sanders quit in 1995 that Golden officially rejoined as one of the Oak Ridge Boys members, literally seconds after the ball dropped in 1996 on New Year’s Day.

An avid painter and photographer in his spare time, Golden, now 85, released his Behind the Beard autobiography in 2021. “When you write your life story, and you decide to bare everything, it’s kind of scary. It feels a lot like getting naked…in front of the entire world,” he said at the time, quipping, “If I was going to get naked in front of everyone, I probably shouldn’t have waited until I was 82 years old.”

He and his wife, Simone, look forward to their ninth wedding anniversary this August, and he has four sons from previous relationships, six grandkids and four great-grandchildren. His ongoing musical project involves his sons, as they perform together as William Lee Golden and the Goldens. The family group has released three albums to date and perform with other relatives as well. “I love what I do, but I’ve still got lots of bills to pay. If you go through three divorces, and get wiped out financially 3 times, you’ll find yourself working into your 80s too,” he’s quipped. “Even with our gold and platinum records and every kind of award,” he adds, staying refreshingly humble, “I am still not all that impressed with myself.”

Duane Allen

Duane Allen
1984/2023 Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty // Jason Kempin / Staff / Getty

The Texas native joined the band in 1966, having previously performed with the Southernaires Quartet and the Prophets Quartet. He also has years of training in opera, and is both a member of the Texas Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame. Nicknamed “Ace,” he’s become a skilled producer through the years, producing many of the Oak Ridge Boys’ music and rolling up his sleeves to find unique songs for them to do.

He’s co-written The History of Gospel Music, and is a big basketball and car fan when he’s not singing and peforming. “It’s a great way to relax,” he says of his passion for restoring classic vehicles, which he puts on display in what he’s dubbed the Ace on Wheels museum. “I get a lot of pleasure out of going down there and sanding and painting with no real sense of urgency.” 

Sadly, Allen just lost his beloved wife of more than 54 years, Norah Lee Allen, in March 2024. She was 76. “We took time singing with and to her, telling her stories, and loving her every second that God let us share her here on Earth,” Allen said in a statement to fans, adding, “We have been at her bedside for over nine weeks.” The couple had two children, two grandsons, and two granddaughters, all of whom share his love of music.

Richard Sterban: Oak Ridge Boys members

Richard Sterban
1984/2023 Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty // Jason Kempin / Staff / Getty

The famed “oom pa pa mow mow” bass singer, Richard Sterban, who joined the band in 1972, had previously been part of the J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet, as well as a gospel act called The Keystone Quartet. He’d been working as a menswear salesman when he landed a gig singing with Elvis Presley on tour, as well as on the King’s records, credits that eventually led him to the Oak Ridge Boys. “Like everyone else in the group,” he’s said, “I was a fan of the Oaks before I became a member. I’m still a fan of the group today. Being in The Oak Ridge Boys is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.”

The New Jersey native began singing at age 6, starting as a soprano, then moving to tenor by seventh grade and, no surprise, bass by the eighth grade. He detailed his unique rise to fame in his 2012 memoir From Elvis to Elvira. “I have been blessed with an amazing life — one of which I could have never dreamed,” the father of five says. He and his wife, Donna, are grandparents to five as well.

An avid baseball fan and snappy dresser (“When I was singing part-time and working in a clothing store, I developed a real interest in fashion,” he’s shared), Sterban loves to exercise, ride his bike, and travel. Still, music holds an extra-special part of his heart. “There’s a lot of problems in this world, but if we can take people away from their problems for a while, and take them on a trip, so to speak, and get them away from that, I think we help these people,” he told The Daily Herald about the power of the Oak Ridge Boys. “In this day of social media, from the responses we get, we do know that our music has helped a lot of people. And that makes us feel like we’re accomplishing our purpose.”

Joe Bonsall

Joe Bonsall
1984/2023 Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty // Sarah Anne Cohen / Contributor / Getty

Though he was born and raised in Philadelphia, the group’s tenor, now 75 (and the baby of the core four), started singing at age 4 and became fascinated by gospel in his teen years. After spending some time in The Keystone Quartet, he joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1973 and is now a longtime Nashville resident. Fittingly, the devoted sports fan proudly roots for both the Philadelphia Phillies in baseball and the Tennessee Titans in football.

In addition to singing, he’s also a skilled banjo player, and his impressive picking has been featured on some Oak Ridge Boys albums, such as Rock of Ages. Another passion is writing, and he’s had 10 books published already, including a children’s series titled The Molly Books and G.I. Joe & Lillie: Remembering a Life of Love and Loyalty, a tale inspired by his parents. “It was a best-seller. It was about World War II, and how my dad had a stroke at age 39, when a piece of shrapnel stuck in his carotid artery. He was disabled the rest of his life. And my mom stuck with him,” Bonsall shared with Everything Nash.

He’s also recently announced that he’s finished writing and editing a new book called I See Myself. “It’s a process,” he told fans via social media in March 2024, adding, “From here it is crossed fingers and sincere prayer that a publisher will love it. The style IS a bit different but I am happy with it.” The book finds him reliving — and re-seeing — major milestones from all periods of his life. “I see myself being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame,” he explained. “I see myself on the streets of Philadelphia getting the crap beat out of me. I see myself singing at colosseum after colosseum, and full house seats in 1982. I see myself on The Johnny Carson Show. I see myself with my mom and dad in Philly. So it’s this back and forth kind of thing.”

Though he and fans were disappointed when he had to back out of the Oak Ridge Boys’ farewell tour due to his health issues, Bonsall tries to focus on its only upside, which is that he gets to spend more time at home with his wife, Mary, with whom he shares two daughters, two grandkids, a great-grandson, and four cats. “My life has been simple,” he’s noted of being proud of his accomplishments both on and off the stage, adding that he’s always tried to work hard so he could tell himself, “‘Hey, I’ve done what I’m supposed to be doing and I feel great about it.’”

Ben James: Oak Ridge Boys members

Ben James
2022 Facebook: @BenJames

Now that Joe Bonsall has stepped away from the Oak Ridge Boys’ farewell tour, he’s passed the torch, literally and figuratively, to the group’s new youngest member: North Carolina’s Ben James. “Joe handed me the mic and said, ‘You’ve got the next verse,’” James has recalled of an early gig with the band in 2022, adding, “I’m not sure I will ever get over that moment.” After all, he’s been a lifelong fan. “‘Elvira’ was always on repeat when I was growing up,” James says. “It’s still one of those timeless songs that never grow old.”

Earlier in his career, he spent time playing with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver and the bluegrass duo of Dailey & Vincent. He was out on the road with the latter when they were playing the same venue as the Oak Ridge Boys in 2022, which is when Bonsall handed him the mic, eerily foretelling James’ future with the iconic band.

The tenor, who’s also an avid outdoorsmen and hunter, lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife Maggie and their dog, a German shepherd. His 2023 solo bluegrass album, Wonderland, contains his self-penned hit “Teardrops in Tennessee,” which debuted at No. 1 on the bluegrass charts.

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.