On a special edition of Toy Heart, we remember Bluegrass Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member, seven-time Grammy Award nominee, CMA Award winner, and roots music legend Bobby Osborne.
“This is what I started with when I was 15 years old,” Osborne says as the episode begins. “Ain’t never quit, ain’t going to now… If He calls me home, I’ll give it up quick.”
He succeeded– he never quit. When Osborne died on June 27 at the age of 91, he still had future shows and appearances on his calendar. He had performed on the Opry as recently as May 19 of this year with the Rocky Top X-press, the band he formed when his older brother and bandmate, iconic banjo player Sonny Osborne, retired from their duo – and from touring and performing – in the early 2000s.
Toy Heart host Tom Power (CBC Radio’s Q) visited with Osborne at his home in Gallatin, Tennessee in the summer of 2022, a handful of months after Sonny’s passing. The conversation that resulted covers Bobby’s experiences within the earliest days of bluegrass (like having performed with the Stanley Brothers and Jimmy Martin), the conception and popularity of the Osborne Brothers’ signature harmony style (and how Bobby’s voice changed higher rather than lower), and his service in the U.S. Marine Corps and the harrowing experience that resulted in his earning a Purple Heart in Korea. They discuss Bobby’s broad impact and influence – even Bob Dylan was a fan – and iconic Osborne Brothers songs like “Ruby,” “Roll Muddy River,” and yes, “Rocky Top,” too.
Upon the loss of such a gigantic figure in this music we are so grateful for the time we got to spend with Bobby Osborne and for how accessible he made himself to all of us in bluegrass. His enormous legacy will live on, well into the future, and we’ll never forget the music, stories, and laughs he so readily shared with all of us, especially in this Toy Heart episode, one of Bobby’s last long-form interviews.
Editor’s note: Toy Heart will be returning in the fall of 2023 for its second season. Stay tuned.