Bluegrass brother duo.
The Osborne brothers were born near Hyden, Kentucky. Robert Van “Bobby” Osborne Jr. was born December 7, 1931, and Sonny Roland Osborne October 29, 1937. The family left Kentucky in 1941, and the boys were brought up in Dayton, Ohio. Their father was familiar with traditional mountain music, which he taught his sons. Both boys began performing professionally as teenagers. After appearing separately with other groups—Bobby played mandolin and guitar with the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, the Stanley Brothers, and Jimmy Martin, while Sonny toured with Bill Monroe—the brothers began appearing as a team in 1953.
The Osborne Brothers’ concert at Antioch College in 1960 sparked the spread of bluegrass music on college campuses. By broadening their repertoire and adding drums, electric bass, steel guitar, and piano, while retaining the mandolin and ﬁve-string banjo, they fused bluegrass with country music and enjoyed wider exposure than any other bluegrass group. They appeared on Wheeling, West Virginia’s WWVA Jamboree for several years before joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1964. In 1971 the Osborne Brothers were named Vocal Group of the Year by the Country Music Association, the ﬁrst bluegrass ensemble to be so honored. In 1973 they became the ﬁrst bluegrass act to perform at the White House. They are best known for their recording of Felice and Boudeleaux Bryant’s “Rocky Top” (1967), which became an ofﬁcial Tennessee state song.
Although at times the brothers’ sound has been criticized for not being traditional, the Osbornes include many old-time songs in their repertoire. The Osborne Brothers especially deserve credit for attracting new audiences to bluegrass music.
Cite this Entry
"Osborne Brothers," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 25 May 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=164>
"Osborne Brothers." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved May 25, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=164