Bobby Osborne, the lead singer and mandolinist of the Osborne Brothers bluegrass band, passed away on June 27, 2023, at the age of 91. Alongside his brother Sonny Osborne, Bobby played a significant role in popularizing bluegrass music in mainstream America. Their iconic songs like "Rocky Top" and "Roll Muddy River" helped establish them as pioneers of the genre since the 1950s.
Bobby Osborne's musical journey began in the late 1940s when he started his professional career as a teenager. Born in Kentucky, his family moved to Dayton, Ohio, when he was nine years old. At the age of 18, Bobby ventured to West Virginia with his brother Sonny, and together they formed the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers. Their sister Louise also joined them for their first album in 1951.
Before achieving fame with the Osborne Brothers, Bobby Osborne was drafted into the Marine Corps during the Korean War. Given the choice between the Army and the Marines, he opted for the Marines to experience Southern California and avoid the harsh winter weather. He served in Korea for two years and shared his experiences of being wounded in combat.
During a mission to capture an enemy prisoner, Bobby and his fellow Marines climbed an enemy-held hill under the cover of darkness. However, they were met with small arms fire and mortar attacks upon reaching the top. Bobby was shot the head but initially didn't realize it due to the darkness. He eventually regained consciousness and found himself alone on the hill.
Bobby encountered another injured Marine and convinced him leave the area together. They became disoriented and lost, but they were fortunate to spot a tank with a searchlight that guided them back. The journey took so long that Bobby's family received telegrams stating he was missing in action before learning he had been wounded.
After the war, Bobby Osborne relocated to Detroit and collaborated with his brother Sonny and guitarist Jimmy Martin. When that project fell through, Red Allen joined the band, and they eventually signed with MGM Records in 1956. The Osborne Brothers gained popularity performing their brand of bluegrass music at college campuses, radio stations, and even the Nixon White House. They were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
Sonny Osborne retired from music in 2005 and passed away in 2021. However, Bobby continued to perform as a member of the Grand Ole Opry with his band, the Rocky Top X-Press, until his death. He held the distinction of being the oldest standing member of the Opry.
Bobby Osborne's contributions to bluegrass music and his service as a Marine Corps veteran will remembered as part of his enduring legacy.