Monday, August 8, 2011

Osborne Brothers-August 8, 1964

It was 47 years ago today, August 8, 1964, that Bobby and Sonny, the Osborne Brothers joined the Grand Ole Opry. Even though Sonny retired a few years ago, Bobby Osborne, along with his Rocky Top X-Press, continue on the Opry today.

Bobby and Sonny were both born in Hyden, Kentucky, with Bobby being born in 1931 and Sonny in 1937. They began to perform professionally in 1953, while living in Dayton, Ohio. Even at the point, both had lots of professional experience with other groups. Bobby was part of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Jimmy Martin and the Stanley Brothers, before he went to Korea as part of the Korean War. Sonny, while still a teenager, toured with Bill Monroe.

After spending several years touring with other groups, the brothers returned to Dayton in December 1955, and began performing as the Osborne Brothers & Red Allen. Allen was a singer-guitarist, and also in the group was fiddler Art Stamper. After touring clubs in the area, they were signed to MGM records by Wesley Rose, who heard a demo tape of "Ruby" and was impressed by Bobby's pure, high tenor and twin bango arrangement. The record was their first hit and they were on their way.

Red Allen left in 1958 and was replaced by a number of singer-guitarists, including Benny Birchfield, Jean Shepard's future husband. Thanks to the help of Doyle Wilburn, they signed with DECCA records in 1963 and joined the Opry the following year.

The brothers broke the ranks of traditional bluegrass acts by adding steel guitars, a piano and drums to their records. It was through these changes that the Osborne Brothers began seeing their records show up on traditional country charts and their songs being played on traditional country radio stations. Their big career hit was "Rocky Top" in 1968. To this day, it is their biggest and most popular number and is one of the state songs of Tennessee. In 1971, they were voted Best Vocal Group of the Year by the Country Music Association and in 1973, they were the first bluegrass group to play at the White House.

By the mid 1970's, the brothers began to drift back to a more traditional bluegrass sound and since that time, they have been one of the most popular acts on the bluegrass circuit. Even today, Bobby is famous for his three-part harmonies and twin fiddles. In 1994, they were elected to the International Bluegrass Music Association's Hall of Fame, the highest honor in bluegrass.

Sonny retired from performing in 2005, although he is still around Nashville and other parts of the country taking part in music camps, and he can still be seen once in a while, hanging around the Opry.

In honor of the 47th anniversary of the Osborne Brothers joining the cast of the Opry, here is the line-up from August 8, 1964.

7:30: Jimmy C Newman(host); Jean Shepard; Charlie Louvin; Del Wood; Ernie Ashworth
8:00: Bill Anderson(host); OSBORNE BROTHERS; Dottie West; Cousin Jody
8:30: Porter Wagoner(host); Bill Carlisle; Billy Walker; Archie Campbell; Connie Smith
9:00: Roy Acuff(host); Marion Worth
9:30: Hank Snow(host); Leroy Van Dyke; June Carter; Carter Family; The Browns
10:00: Porter Wagoner(host); OSBORNE BROTHERS; Jean Shepard
10:15: Jimmy C Newman(host); Dottie West; Del Wood
10:30: Roy Acuff(host); Bill Anderson; Ernie Ashworth
10:45: Leroy Van Dyke(host); Charlie Louvin
11:00: Hank Snow(host); Marion Worth; Billy Walker; Bill Carlisle
11:30: Marty Robbins(host); Carter Family; Cousin Jody; The Browns; Archie Campbell

Congratulations to the Osborne Brothers!!


  1. Terrific history of the Osborne Brothers! I have a dear friend who was a drummer, and he said the night they played the Opry, by far the funniest, craziest person he met was Sonny. Big surprise!

    A couple of interesting things here. One is who are missing but I am sure were there: the old-time acts who were there each Saturday night (the Crook Brothers, the Fruit Jar Drinkers, and the McGees). Also, isn't the 9:00 segment a bit odd, unless the rest of the show was the Smoky Mountain Boys, as was sometimes the case? And there was one guest act who would soon join, too: Connie Smith.

    But here's what struck me: none of the members who were purged later that year was on the show that night near as I can tell.

  2. Mike, what I can tell you is that the line up that I had written down was only Opry members. For some reason I do not have the guest artists, other than Connie Smith, who were on that night.

    Also, I can tell you that the square dance acts and the string bands were on that night in their usual spots. For some reason, I just stuck with the main performers, sorry about that.

    And you are right about the missing members!!

  3. Byron, no big deal. I just thought it looked a little odd. I did a double take at Connie Smith and thought, that's right, she wasn't a member yet!

  4. Also, just to add, Dottie West also became an Opry member on this night, August 8, 1964. Interesting that she appeared on the same 8:30 segment as the Osborne Brothers. 2 new members in the same half hour. Of course, they did not make such a big production out of it back then as they do today.

    from Byron--acting up again!!

  5. And Young Whisper--as opposed to Old Whisper, or at least Older Whisper--would have done both of them on the 8:00 segment.

  6. Mike, you are right. The 8:00 segment. Don't know why I said 8:30 other than it has been a long day.

  7. I hadn't even noticed the time was wrong when I said that--I just referred to the 8:00 segment. So, since I didn't notice, I've been having a long day too!