NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 26: Bobby Osborne performs onstage during the grand opening of We Could: The Songwriting Artistry of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on September 26, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Bluegrass Legend and 'Rocky Top' Originator Bobby Osborne Dies at 91

Bobby Osborne accomplished more than popularizing "Rocky Top" across his 70-year career.

An influential tenor vocalist and mandolinist who'll forever be linked to Tennessee state song "Rocky Top," bluegrass pioneer Bobby Osborne died on Tuesday (June 27) at age 91.

"Bobby Osborne was among the last of his generation of bluegrass pioneers," Opry executive producer Dan Rogers shared in a press release. "What a profound loss for the Opry family and bluegrass music fans around the world. Mr. Osborne's legacy will live forever on this stage we love and wherever his style is emulated. Thank you to Bobby Osborne for more than 70 years of music and memories."

Bobby Van Osborne was born Dec. 7, 1931 in Leslie County, Kent. Alongside younger sibling and Osborne Brothers bandmate Sonny (Oct. 29, 1937 - Oct. 24, 2021), he excelled on the ground level of bluegrass. During a career that lasted from 1953 to Sonny's 2005 retirement, the brothers took creative risks, from the double banjo accompaniment on their 1956 recording of "Ruby Are You Mad" to their embracing of electric instruments in the '60s while plugging in remained a faux pas to some within the folk and bluegrass scenes.

Along the way, they blazed paths as the first bluegrass act to perform on a college campus (1960) and at the White House (1973).

The Osborne Brothers' biggest cultural impact came when the duo's Nov. 1967 single "Rocky Top" popularized the Felice and Boudleaux Bryant composition. It's since become synonymous with the state of Tennessee, largely because it's the University of Tennessee athletic department's fight song. A new version by the brothers from 1986 became their final charting single.

The Osborne Brothers became Opry members on Aug. 8, 1964. Bobby remained loyal to the show beyond Sonny's retirement and death.

In more recent times, Bobby performed regularly with his band the Rocky Top X-Press, which featured sons Wynn and Bobby Osborne Jr. Thus, he achieved his goal of making bluegrass to the end— yet again in a family band.

"I've been a dedicated person to bluegrass music so I'm going to do it until the man upstairs says you can't do it no more," Osborne told Kentucky news channel WYMT in 2021 (as quoted by the Tennessean).

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