The legendary picker behind "Rocky Top" was 83.


Legendary bluegrass banjoist Sonny Osborne died on Sunday October 24 at his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Bluegrass Today reports. He was 83 years old.

Sonny was born in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky on October 29, 1937. He first picked up the banjo around the age of 11 and began playing music professionally a few years later at just the age of 14. By the early 1950s he and his older brother Bobby, who sang and played the mandolin, were performing together as the Osborne Brothers.

The Osborne Brothers were made members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964 and became the first bluegrass act to play at the White House in 1973. They were inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1994. The brothers helped modernize the bluegrass genre by bridging the gap between it and mainstream country music.

Osborne Brothers At Newport Folk Festival
Credit: John Byrne Cooke Estate/Getty Images

The Osborne Brothers are best known for their 1967 hit "Rocky Top," which landed on country radio's Top 40 and went on to become an anthem for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville football team.

"At one time we would open the show with it and then play it again at the end," Sonny told The Tennessean in 2017. "It was phenomenal, that song. We went to Japan, Sweden, Germany—you'd go anywhere, and they'd know 'Rocky Top.' It put our name out in front. And it stayed there a long time."

Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame credits Sonny as an innovator in the genre, using double banjos and six-string banjos and introducing the high-lead vocal trio.

Sonny retired in the early 2000s and spent the past several years as a columnist for Bluegrass Today. He remained committed to his work even after suffering a debilitating stroke in August.

Bobby, 89, is still performing.

Our hearts go out to the Osborne family and Sonny's legion of fans.