The Oak Ridge Boys, Left to Right: William Lee Golden, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen & Richard Sterban. All Photos provided by ORB.

The Oak Ridge Boys

History in the Making

Author/Editor: Jennifer J. Lacelle
July 15, 2021

It’s no secret that the Oak Ridge Boys (ORB) — previously the Oak Ridge Quartet — have a long-standing history in the music business, starting with humble beginnings in “The Secret City.”

Historic Starts

In autumn of 1942, three years into World War II, Colonel Leslie Groves selected 60,000 acres of land just outside the quiet town of Knoxville, Tennessee — the same day he was promoted to Brigadier General. This plot of territory would become a place that assisted with developing the atomic bomb. Groves was overseeing the Manhattan Project, an American development and research venture that studied nuclear weaponry.

Oak Ridge became home to three uranium enrichment plants as well as a production reactor. It was nicknamed Secret City because the government didn’t want to attract spies. Hence, there was a lack of information presented to the general public, and workers at the facilities.

According to an oral history from residents, they had little to no idea what was really going on. Some have reported only being told it was for the war effort and no more. Which, in the grand scheme of things, was likely wise on the military’s part.

The original members of the Oak Ridge Quartet created the group in Knoxville and their primary styles were country and gospel. They began performing regularly at the Grand Ole Opry (which was founded in 1925) in the mid-forties.

By the time the middle of the 1950s arrived, the group was being featured in Time Magazine as one of the country’s top gospel bands.

Forming the New Squad

Over 30 members came and went by the late 1960s, and saw more than 40 releases by the end of 1973.

William Lee Golden joined in 1965, and a year later Duane Allen became a member. Within six years the next pair of singers, Richard Sterban (1972) and Joe Bonsall (1973) were officially members. This impressive collective has been performing together ever since!

The decision didn’t come easy for Sterban though. At the time he received a call to sing bass with the Oak Ridge Boys (ORB), he was performing with world-renowned singer, Elvis — who has been one of the biggest musical sensations to ever hit the industry.

“His tour was the biggest tour in the business,” Sterban says. “To be a part of that was very exciting, personally. I have great memories.”

It was Golden who gave Sterban a call and asked about joining the ORB in 1972. Because he was already at the top of the world, and a fan of the ORB, it was a difficult choice to make.

“I felt like they had a great deal of potential,” he says of the ORB.

People questioned his decision to leave the King, but he says it felt right in his heart to make the move. Five years after the shift in paths, Elvis passed away (1977).

It’s been 49 years since Sterban became a member so it’s pretty fair to say it was the right call. The four of them have had a wonderful career together and are still going strong.

Each one brought a unique aspect to the table as they joined, with the sounds gradually shifting but not departing from the original music very much. Sterban says they have preserved the “four-sound harmony of the Oak Ridge Boys.”

Squad Goals

In the 49 years they’ve been performing together, the ORB has received dozens of awards and certifications for their music.

In 1978 they earned their first number one hit, I’ll be True To You. However, it was their single, Elvira, that really put them on the map. They received a Grammy Award and double platinum certification upon that release. It came out on March 17, 1981 and is still one of their top requested, and well known, songs 40 years later.

From the years 1977 to 1992 they garnered nine Gold, two Platinum and one Double Platinum Certifications split between 12 album releases.

There have been 27 organizations, groups and associations that have given them awards for their outstanding performances, music and careers since 1978. Many of these organizations provided awards on more than one occasion, totalling 61 various honours.

However, that isn’t the end of the list as it doesn’t include Gospel and International awards. In the Gospel category, there are at least six associations and 19 awards. Internationally, they have received five awards.

“So many great things have happened to all four of us,” says Sterban of their long-running careers. “I grew up wanting to sing with the best group in the world. Arguably, I think I may have achieved that.”

In 2011, while performing at the Grand Ole Opry, Jimmy Dickens (a country singer and songwriter) walked on stage dressed as Golden with a giant, fake beard, dark sunglasses and a cowboy hat. They joked that he looked like he could be one of them and Sterban recalls him saying, “I think I’m gonna be, because I think you’re about to be the newest members of Opry.”

As he tells the story, Sterban chuckles before smiling and says, “None of us were expecting that, I could see tears in all our eyes.”

The Opry is considered the home of country music and has been showcasing artists for nearly a century! It first became famous in 1925 during the first ever show, “The WSM Barn Dance.”

It’s now a staple and made Nashville the main place for country artists to come together and perform, helping spurn massive jumps in the musical careers of upcoming artists. The Opry is also one of the main tourist destinations in the state of Tennessee, and their stage has seen artists like Dolly Parton, Paul McCartney, Bill Murray and Pharrell Williams.

The Country Hall of Fame also inducted the ORB (2015). Sterban recalls being asked by their manager, Jim Halsey, to head toward the change rooms before going to the buses after a concert at the Opry. He explains they needed to have a short meeting, and when they arrived, the CEO of the Country Music Association, Sarah Trahern, was waiting for them.

She informed the group that they were about to be inducted into the Country Hall of Fame.

Sterban says they were all shocked and very emotional when they found out, noting it’s difficult to find the words to describe their feelings in that moment. Once again, tears were in their eyes upon the news as they exchanged surprised glances with one another.

They always had a goal to perhaps be good enough performers to be inducted, but they didn’t know it would actually happen.

“It’s a tremendous honour,” he says. “Now if you walk in, you see our faces with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton… to be a part of that family, it’s so great.”


Pre-COVID, the band was playing 150 shows per year, entertaining and uplifting people across America. With the country, and world, completely shut down the past year and a half due to the pandemic, it was a rough patch for the music industry. Sterban says they miss being able to perform for their fans and doing what they love.

Because the group works together in such a cohesive unit, all bringing different pieces to the table, simply being a part of their “brotherhood” is something special and they’ve continued to come out of such hardships together.

“We’ve learned to respect that difference and become the very best of friends,” says Sterban of all their experiences. “It’s a very special thing that we can get on the bus, travel together, and make music and help people together.”

It’s only recently, the beginning of summer 2021, that they’ve been able to perform live again. Sterban says they walked on stage for the first time in over a year and saw a house full of people, and describes the feeling as simply great. He notes that they have played for empty seats in the past and it’s truly helped them realize, and remember, the important place in their hearts for fans.

Though, he says they’ve mostly missed the feedback and response from their fans. As restrictions begin lifting, the ORB is preparing to perform for more audiences and they’re excited to get back at it.


They have been able to perform in every state in America and many places across Europe. Though pinning down a favourite location isn’t so easy. Sterban says anywhere they feel welcome is where they want to play.

“Wherever people are willing to spend their hard-earned money to come and see the Oak Ridge Boys, that’s where we want to play,” he says. “We’re fortunate people cheer and applaud; they make us feel welcome.”

Though, he does recall a very special moment for the group when they were invited to play at the congressional barbeque at the Whitehouse by President Ronald Reagan.

The barbeque is a place where all political sides put their differences down at the entrance and simply enjoy the company of one another as well as the music.

During the group’s sound check, Vice President George Bush, approached and told them he wouldn’t be able to attend their concert that evening. However, he was quite the fan and requested a few songs on the spot. The ORB obliged and asked which ones he would enjoy hearing, at which point they realized he truly was a fan as he began listing songs that were “deep cuts.”

Deep cuts are tracks that aren’t usually played on the radio and often overlooked by audiences in general. It exemplified Bush’s claim as a fan by requesting these.

Sterban says they performed a mini-concert for him and ended up establishing a long-lasting friendship with him. They were honoured to perform his favourite song, Amazing Grace, at his funeral in 2018.

Giving Back

Because they’ve been so blessed in their careers, they have taken on the responsibility to share their success with others. The ORB has a long history of charity work for organizations such as Feed the Children, Boy Scouts of America, Save the Children, and Compassion International (there are many more).

“We’ve been involved with just about any charity that comes along,” says Sterban, noting that they try to work with those that genuinely assist people.

They also want to help upcoming artists as they’re able, the way Johnny Cash or Kenny Rogers uplifted them when they were struggling. Sterban says many people helped them get to where they are and it’s their turn to offer a lending hand whenever they can.

Furthermore, Sterban states that every single one of them were raised to know right and wrong, and will continue to help people for as long as the Lord “allows us good health.”

The Music Industry

As time progresses, so does everything else. Changes in the music industry haven’t stopped, though probably the biggest difference is the technology. Sterban says in the days he recorded with Elvis, as example, the King would hold a mic and move about the recording studio as if he were performing.

He also notes that the sound of music has also changed somewhat, mentioning that autotune is now quite common. Which, he notes, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I look at the shows,” he says. “I understand why we don’t really fit in there any longer. I’m not begrudging the young artists, they made it bigger and better, that’s a good thing. When that happens, it makes it better for us… They’ve taken the bar and raised it higher.”

But, as for how the industry hasn’t changed, he says it’s that “hit song.” There is simply no substitute for a track that’s going to alter the course of someone’s career. Good music is essential to keeping a career strong, and the importance of a good, strong single cannot be underrated.


“That was the way when we came on, before we came on and still today,” he says.

Released June 11, 2021 is their latest album, Front Porch Singin’ which features some older gospel, new renditions, and entirely brand-new tracks written for them.

Dave Cobb, Nashville’s hottest producer, heard the group live and saw the portion of their Christmas show where they gather in rocking chairs and discuss what the season means to them.

Sterban says it’s a very “down to earth” segment of the show, and Cobb had the brilliant idea to capture the vibe in an album, which he pitched to them afterward

Of course, they couldn’t actually do rocking chairs in front of a fireplace on a porch… but they could produce the feeling.

“Working with him is a great pleasure,” Sterban says, calling him a “master” at looking at old music and transforming it, bringing them back to life.

The album is a compilation of old gospel and country songs, new songs and one of their favourite warm-up songs. The latter hadn’t been planned as upon arrival to the studio one day, Cobb asked them what song they would sing to warm up before a show.

Allen began singing and the others joined in. Cobb told them that was it and had them move to the microphones and record.

“We had no idea we were going to do that,” Sterban chuckles.

The Oak Ridge Boys’ goal is, and always has been, to provide their audience with positive, uplifting songs. Their latest album is no exception.

The world is in desperate need of compassion and uplifting in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic. Sterban believes the most important thing is that almost every song delivers a message of positivity, inspiration and healing — the kind of legacy they want to be remembered for.

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