Wrote or co-wrote more than 30 songs and instrumentals, including:

  • “Banjo Boy Chimes”
  • “Bluegrass Concerto”
  • “Charlie Cotton”
  • “Me and My Old Banjo”
  • “Old Hickory”
  • “Siempre”
  • “Sledd Ridin’”

Early Influences

  • Larry Richardson
  • Earl Scruggs
  • Bill Monroe

Came to Fame With

  • The Osborne Brothers

Performed With

  • Siblings Bobby and Louise, Dayton, OH, 1949-1952
  • Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys, 1952-1953
  • Sonny Osborne & the Sunny Mountain Boys, 1952-1953
  • Jimmy Martin & the Osborne Brothers, 1953-1955
  • Charlie Bailey, Wheeling, WV, 1955
  • The Osborne Brothers and Red Allen, 1956-1958
  • The Osborne Brothers, 1958-2004

Led the Way

  • An endlessly innovative instrumentalist, Sonny was the first to popularize double banjos, the six-string banjo, and instruments combining various elements of the banjo, Spanish and resonator guitars.
  • Helped to introduce the high-lead vocal trio (Sonny sang baritone, the second-highest part) and complex vocal arrangements that echoed pedal steel guitar harmonies.
  • Bridged the gap between bluegrass and mainstream country music, headlining in both genres.
  • First bluegrass group to play a college campus, Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, March, 1960.
  • Joined the Grand Ole Opry, 1964
  • Vocal Group of the Year, Country Music Association, 1971
  • First bluegrass act to play at the White House, 1973
  • An active member of the International Bluegrass Music Association from the beginning, spearheaded the idea of a Bluegrass Trust Fund to help members of the bluegrass community in emergency need.
  • Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 1994
  • National Heritage Fellowship Award, 1997

By the Way

  • Guested on recordings with Carl Smith, Charlie Pride, Conway Twitty, Wade Ray and Jethro Burns, Gary Burton, Mac Wiseman, and the GrooveGrass Boyz.
  • Shortly after a zealot cut the chord of his amplified banjo the first time he played it at a bluegrass festival, Sonny padlocked the resonator and refused to disclose his electronic solution for preserving its quality tone.
  • The Osborne Brothers’ hit “Rocky Top,” named a Tennessee State song in 1984, is played every time the University of Tennessee Vols score a touchdown.
  • Catalyst for recognizing the Pioneers of Bluegrass (pre-1954 professional performers) at the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
  • A section of Route 421 in Kentucky was named “Osborne Brothers Way” in 2000.

From the Archives

“[‘Rocky Top’] opened the door that has allowed us to go into the part of the business where no one in bluegrass has been, before or since.”
Quoted by Glenna H. Fisher in “The Osborne Brothers,” Bluegrass Unlimited, July, 1984.
“We’re on the line between bluegrass and country, and as long as we can put the banjo, mandolin, guitar, and bass on a record and get country fans and bluegrass fans to buy and like it, we are doing what all of us should be doing, promoting bluegrass, modern as it may be.”
Letter to the editor, Bluegrass Unlimited, June, 1967.
“When they booked you [at the Flame Club in Minneapolis], they booked you for a week. It was a big place, and we just didn’t go over at all there. That’s where we figured, ‘Well, what have we got to lose? We’ll go out and get us some amps and pickups, and we’ll peel those people off the wall…’ They had to shut up and listen, at least.”
Interview with Eddie Stubbs, quoted by Marty Godbey in liner notes to “The Osborne Brothers: Decca/MCA Recordings, 1968-1974,” Bear Family Records, 1995.