Sonny Osborne assists – a bluegrass music giant

Most musicians hope to leave a mark in the world through their art: particularly well-written lyrics, fierce banjo licking, maybe even a style of playing that bears their name. Sonny Osborne will surely be remembered for all of these things by the thousands of bluegrass fans and artists who have regarded him as an inspiration for decades. However, Osborne himself wanted more than his innovations in bluegrass to be remembered. In an interview with Tom Riggs in 2009, Osborne expressed his desire to be known as an “honest, fair, humane” and a “good person”, even though he felt it was an “effort of the imagination ”.

Osborne’s banjo playing, who passed away this afternoon around 1:30 p.m. at the age of 84, may have been heard more than any other bluegrass picker (except possibly Earl Scruggs), thanks to worldwide fame and the enduring presence of the Osborne. The brothers’ move, High Rocky. However, there was certainly a lot more to Osborne than what was basically a novelty song at the time. Born in 1937 in the mountains of Leslie County, southeastern Kentucky, Osborne began learning the banjo at age 11 and began practicing music professionally a few years later at age 14 when ‘he lived in Dayton, Ohio. He was hired by Bill Monroe in the summer of 1952, at the end of his freshman year of high school, and then recorded and performed on the Grand Ole Opry with Monroe over the summer. Although he returned to Ohio to begin Grade 10, he quickly returned to Monroe and remained as the Blue Grass Boy until his brother Bobby returned to service in 1953. The History of Bluegrass was certainly written when The Osborne Brothers premiered on WROL in Knoxville, TN on November 8, 1953.

Throughout the 1950s, the Osborne worked at a series of radio and television stations, including the Wheeling Jamboree, and recorded now classic collaborations with artists like Jimmy Martin and Red Allen. While Bobby’s voice has often been in the spotlight, one could argue that it was Sonny who really brought the Osborne brothers to legendary status. His work in making the band commercially successful included sounds that were incredibly innovative for the time – plugging in instruments at a time when it was basically forbidden in bluegrass, creating banjo licks from sounds of other genres, and completely reinventing. bluegrass harmonies with the famous stacked trio voice. He marketed the Osborne Brothers to venues and audiences who often ignored bluegrass in favor of country or even rock music, and became the first bluegrass group to appear on a college campus with their performance in 1960 at Antioch College.

Sonny Osborne’s game was a far cry from the popular “1-4-5 drive” and “mash in B”. It took the basics of the bluegrass banjo and took them to new heights while maintaining a strongly traditional feel. Listen to Osborne Brothers songs from the 1960s and 1970s and you might hear pieces of what could just as easily be horn and steel pedal solos, simply played on the banjo. For a number of years he played the six-string banjo both on recordings and on stage, adding a new layer to what was acceptable in bluegrass music. His playing was both tasteful and complex – just listen to his solo rendition of America the Beautiful, whose performance made audiences cry at the 2001 IBMA Awards, which took place just days after the 9/11 attacks.

While he always downplayed it, Sonny was a good singer as well, complimenting Bobby’s rising tenor with his own baritone voice, and their sibling harmony has always been a big part of their appeal.

Many of today’s young musicians have never had the chance to hear Osborne perform live, due to his retirement in the early 2000s after problems following rotator cuff surgery. However, he has remained involved in the world of bluegrass through his promotion of the Osborne Chief banjos, mentoring of young and up-and-coming musicians and, more recently, the development of the Krako range of banjos. He also entertained and enlightened Bluegrass today public for several years with its weekly column of questions and answers, Ask Sonny Anything. Throughout the column, Osborne has been outspoken in his promotion of traditional bluegrass, as well as his respect for other musicians, promoters, etc.

The Osborne brothers were made members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964 and inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1994.

Sonny loved life like few others, loved to laugh with his good friends, and had more stories to tell than you could tell in a week. He remembered almost every detail of his professional life, which he gladly shared with those who wrote to him here. He didn’t just tolerate questions, he was deeply grateful to receive them and answered them as best he could. Even when he suffered a stroke about two months ago, he did his best to meet people’s expectations for his weekly column, dictating answers to his wife, Judy, or his good friend, Lincoln. Hensley, until it was impossible for him to continue.

Just as there won’t be another bluegrass banjoist anytime soon to match his impact on our music, there won’t be another personality as broad and broad as Sonny Osborne for quite a while. His on-stage antics with the Osborne brothers are legendary, from playing pranks on The Lewis Family’s Little Roy Lewis – and having them play on him in return – to loudly berating sound crews if their work is done. didn’t please him, few would ever forget to see Sonny Osborne on stage. His laugh could be easily triggered, even in the middle of a song, and led to many special moments with Bobby.

One of his favorite things was to repeat any “off note” he could mistakenly hit repeatedly in a song, so everyone understood that he “meant to do that.” . He and Bobby have worked with an audience as well as anyone who has ever played bluegrass, often winning several recalls with their dozens of hit songs. Kentucky, Once More, Georgia Mules and Country Boys, Roll Muddy River, Fastest Grass Alive, Ruby, Making Plans, and many other popular songs from the Osborne Brothers have filled their live sets with fan favorites.

The family has yet to announce any information about the funeral arrangements.

RIP, Sonny Osborne. We have lost a true giant of bluegrass music.


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