Music fest to host Oak Ridge Boys

By Ryan Cornell

Richard Sterban, bass singer of The Oak Ridge Boys, has seen firsthand how music can heal.

When George H.W. Bush fell ill two years ago, the family of the former president arranged for a phone call from the country and gospel quartet.

Through the phone, the group sang two of his favorite songs while he lay in a hospital bed.

“After ‘Elvira’ we went into ‘Amazing Grace,’ and later found out the look on his face in the hospital room was priceless, according to Barbara and his kids,” Sterban said. “Wouldn’t you know it that the very next day he was released from intensive care and was able to go home.”

On Aug. 30, The Oak Ridge Boys will perform some of their greatest hits at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival in Basye.

Originally formed as The Oak Ridge Quartet in 1943, the current lineup comprising lead singer Duane Allen, tenor Joe Bonsall, baritone William Lee Golden and Sterban has stayed together for the past 41 years.

“[It’s] mind-boggling,” Sterban said. “I think if you asked any one of the four of us 41 years ago if we thought 41 years later, we would still be doing this, at a high level, I don’t think any one of us would’ve believed it.”

Sterban, 71, credited their long-term success to their close friendship and the fact that they’re doing what they love.

The Grand Ole Opry members recently released their first live concert album, “Boys Night Out” (Cleopatra Records), featuring 14 fan favorites such as “Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue” and “American Made.”

A former backup singer for Elvis Presley, Sterban said he was a fan of The Oak Ridge Boys before becoming a part of it.

“I thought they were the coolest,” he said. “They were trendsetting, not straitlaced, they did things with a flair and cool arrangements.”

Although he was touring with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Sterban said he didn’t hesitate to accept the offer to join when the call came in.

“History has proven that I made a pretty good decision,” he said.

The bulk of their fanbase has aged as they have, but he said they’ve acquired younger listeners as they continue to reinvent themselves and their music. One thing that’s stayed the same is their family friendly entertainment.

“Even with the country music success, we choose material positive in nature,” he said. “We shy away from negative songs, we don’t sing about getting drunk and cheating or anything like that, and I think our fans like it that way, and I think it’s a key to our success.”

Adding they have no plans to retire, Sterban said their next project is an album of gospel songs that will be taken in “an acoustic direction” most likely to be released next year.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com