Roots of Oak Ridge Boys go back to Manhattan Project in World War II

Friday, October 5, 2012
The Oak Ridge Boys will perform at the Bedell Performance Hall on the River Campus next week. (Submitted photo)

The Oak Ridge Boys, one of the most beloved and longest-lasting groups in country music, will be coming to Cape Girardeau to perform at Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus.

Their performance is scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Bedell Performance Hall.

Known for their hits "Elvira," "Bobbie Sue" and "Thank God for Kids," the Oak Ridge Boys have been fan favorites since the 1970s and are mainstays on the country-music scene, playing more than 150 dates a year and frequently performing at their Oak Ridge Boys Theatre in Branson, Mo. They have had 12 gold albums, three platinum albums and one double-platinum album, plus one double-platinum single to their name, and more than a dozen No. 1 songs and more than 30 top 10 singles.

But what many may not know is that the group is an incarnation of a musical act that originated during World War II.

"It all started with the Georgia Clodhoppers," bass singer Richard Sterban said in a telephone interview from his home in Nashville. "They were a group that routinely went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to entertain workers at the nuclear plant during the time of the Manhattan Project. They played there so often that they renamed themselves the Oak Ridge Quartet, and in 1955 they became the Oak Ridge Boys."

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the current lineup of the Oak Ridge Boys, which is Sterban, best known for his distinctive "oom pa-pa-mow-mow" bass line on the song "Elvira," lead singer Duane Allen, baritone William Lee "Bill" Golden and tenor Joe Bonsall.

"We're still together," Sterban said, "and we're making new music and performing. That's what it's all about."

The Oak Ridge Boys are an exception to the rule of popular groups that disband after few hit songs. Longevity is a rare commodity for any group in any musical genre, but Sterban thinks the Oak Ridge Boys have elevated it to an art form.

"One of our secrets is that we still enjoy doing it," he said. "We love being the Oak Ridge Boys, and we have fun recording and performing. The day it stops being fun is when we'll stop and let somebody else sing in place of us."

Sterban said another secret is that the group enjoys the creative process.

"New music puts life into the group," he said. "Going into the recording studio and creating music means we're still relevant to the current marketplace. Within the last year, we've released three projects that we're all proud of."

Sterban was referring to "It's Only Natural," a top-selling compilation of their old hits mixed with new releases; "Back Home Again," an acoustic release of classic country and gospel songs; and "Christmastime's A'comin'," which contains songs for the holidays.

"It's never too early to prepare for Christmas," Sterban joked, but he meant no joke when he added that an Oak Ridge Boys Concert is good family fun.

"We're going to play as many of our old songs in Cape Girardeau as we can," he said, "and we're also a patriotic group and we plan to pay tribute to our country during the show. It's a kid-friendly performance, one that we're proud of doing. Nobody will ever, or should ever, feel nervous at an Oak Ridge Boys show."

Ellen Farrow, box office manager at the River Campus, said she can't wait for the Oak Ridge Boys to get here.

"I'm excited," she said. "I grew up listening to them all the way back to 'Elvira.' They should put on a great show."

Farrow said tickets for the show have been on sale since late August and that sales have been brisk. Remaining tickets are being offered at $55 and $49 and are available at rivercampusevents.com or by calling the River Campus box office at 651-2265.

"If there are any left, we'll have tickets on sale at the box office right up until showtime," she said.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

518 S. Fountain, Cape Girardeau, MO

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