Sonny Osborne, Co-Founder of Osborne Brothers, Dies at 83

by Leanne Stahulak
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Just five days before his 84th birthday, Sonny Osborne of the famous Osborne Brothers band died. He passed on Sunday, Oct. 24 around 1:30 p.m. at his home in Hendersonville, Tennesee.

Taste of Country reports that a cause of death has not yet been released. However, the bluegrass banjoist did suffer a stroke back in August that could’ve created further health complications.

Sonny Osborne was born in Leslie County, Kentucky, on Oct. 29, 1937. According to Bluegrass Today, he first started playing the banjo at age 11 and started his professional music career at just 14 years old. Osborne had moved out to Dayton, Ohio, by then to play bluegrass music with Bill Monroe.

But Sonny started playing with his brother, Bobby Osborne, once Bobby returned from the service in 1953. The duo captivated crowds throughout the early 1950s, making bluegrass history by blending new sounds together and even going electric with some of their instruments. They lured in crowds who weren’t traditional bluegrass fans and became the first bluegrass group to play at a college campus in 1960 (at Antioch College).

By 1964, Bobby and Sonny Osborne were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. They also joined the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1994. Some of the Osborne Brothers’ greatest hits include “Rocky Top” from 1967, as well as “Midnight Flyer” and “Tennessee Hound Dog.”

In the early 2000s, Sonny retired from playing music after dealing with issues from a rotator cuff surgery. But he still remained active in the bluegrass community. Sonny Osborne mentored young musicians and wrote a weekly column called “Ask Sonny Anything” for Bluegrass Today. Even after his stroke, he continued to write for the column.

The Bluegrass World Mourns for Osborne Brothers Co-Founder Sonny Osborne

After the news broke about Sonny Osborne’s death, several people took to Twitter and social media to share their sorrow for his passing.

Even the Bluegrass Hall of Fame mourned the legendary banjoist’s death. “We’re deeply saddened with the passing of Hall of Fame member Sonny Osborne. Sonny was an innovator and creative genius on the banjo. Our sincerest condolences to his family & friends,” the organization wrote.

Bluegrass singer and songwriter Rhonda Vincent posted a sweet picture of her and the Osborne Brothers along with her tribute.

“Our hearts grieve from the passing of Sonny Osborne. He and his brother Bobby are the greatest influence of our music as The Osborne Brothers. We tried to emulate their harmonies and instrumental arrangements,” Vincent shared in her initial tweet.

“They became friends and mentors and one of my lifetime highlights was when they joined me for our performance at the Ryman Auditorium where this photo was taken,” she continued. “He was an innovator of a unique banjo style — bold and outspoken, and seldom revealed his soft hearted side. Sending my love and prayers to his entire family. Rest In Peace Sonny Osborne — October 29, 1937 – October 24, 2021.”


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