The group we know today as the Oak Ridge Boys first emerged during the 1940s. They were named the Oak Ridge Quartet, and rose to fame in the 1950s as a gospel group.
Calvin Newton served as the group’s lead singer for part of that era. He was the lead vocalist for a total of three years, from 1953-1956. His vocals are featured on the Quartet’s recordings of songs such as “Crying in the Chapel” and “I Believe.”
After leaving the Oak Ridge Quartet, Newton went on to co-found the gospel trio Sons of Song. They experienced the most success with their 1960 album Wasted Years.
In later years, Newton appeared in a gospel performance video called All Day Singing and Dinner on the Grounds, which was produced by Bill Gaither. He also toured with Gaither’s traveling gospel music show.
The Oak Ridge Quartet’s lineup changed many times after Newton left. They eventually became the Oak Ridge Boys, and started singing country music in addition to gospel.
Today, the lineup includes baritone William Lee Golden, who first joined in 1965. He performed with the group until 1987 before taking a brief break. He returned in 1995, and has been a member ever since.
Other members include lead singer Duane Allen (joined in 1966), bass Richard Sterban (joined in 1972), and tenor Joe Bonsall (joined in 1973).
None of Oak Ridge Boys’ current members were ever part of the group with Newton. But they still have a lot of respect for him and the roots he established for their group.
So when Newton passed away on March 3, the Oak Ridge Boys were understandably devastated.
Heading to Georgia for a funeral … an old Oak Ridge Boy passed away. Calvin Newton He was 90 sweetest tenor voice you’ll ever hear! I’ll sing for him tomorrow … That’s Calvin in the middle … @oakridgeboys history pic.twitter.com/d4X1wwdvpP— Joe Bonsall (@joebonsall) March 12, 2023
Golden, Allen, Sterban, and Bonsall were on hand to honor Newton during his funeral service on Monday (March 13). The group shared they would be performing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with a gospel choir during the funeral.
A friend sent Lee Newton a video of the Oak Ridge Boys singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” during the funeral service. She posted the video on Twitter, and the Oak Ridge Boys retweeted it.
“Awesome. Thank you,” they commented next to the video.
You can watch the Oak Ridge Boys’ performance of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” below. It was a beautiful tribute to Newton. It’s clear he’ll be missed…
Awesome. Thank you https://t.co/iezej5R9zz— The Oak Ridge Boys (@oakridgeboys) March 13, 2023