Showcasing the Arts

National Award

Bobby Osborne

Leslie County native

In the world of bluegrass music, the name Bobby Osborne is associated with words like icon, legend, innovator and mentor. Osborne’s voice is his trademark, and he is one of the true stylists on the mandolin.

Born Dec. 7, 1931, in Hyden, Osborne’s career began in 1949 with his first professional appearance on radio in Middletown, Ohio. He served the U.S. Marine Corps beginning in 1951 during the Korean War. He was awarded a Purple Heart and returned home in 1953. Osborne then joined his brother Sonny to cofound the Osborne Brothers. His career with the Osborne Brothers includes many firsts in the history of bluegrass music including being the first bluegrass band to appear on a college campus, playing an engagement at Antioch College in 1960; the first to play at the White House, performing there in 1973; the first to win the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year, earning that honor in 1971; the first to record “Rocky Top” (1967) and record state songs in two different states – “Rocky Top” (Tennessee, 1982) and “Kentucky“ (Kentucky, 1992).

The Osborne Brothers became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964 and in 2014, Osborne celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Opry member. As a member of the Osborne Brothers, he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002. When brother Sonny retired in 2005, Bobby Osborne formed the Rocky Top X-Press and began touring and recording as a solo artist.

In 2007, he became an educator at Hazard Community and Technical College’s Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music in his hometown of Hyden, a position he still holds in addition to his performing schedule. Osborne’s latest full album release, “Original,” was nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. In 2019 Glenville State College in Glenville, W.Va., awarded Osborne an honorary doctorate. At age 90, he won the International Bluegrass Music Association Collaborative Recording of the Year for "White Line Fever" in 2021.

In 2022, two days before his 91st birthday, Osborne performed at the Kentucky School of Bluegrass and Traditional Music’s end-of-semester concert.

What does this distinction mean to you?

Being from southeast Kentucky and having played all over the world, it is a great honor to be selected for this award. Awards are special for any entertainer to be given and I’m especially proud to be recognized in my home state of Kentucky.

What are your fondest memories of being a young musician performing in Kentucky?

Since my first professional appearance in 1948 in Ohio, I have performed all over the state of Kentucky since about 1954. Some of the memories that stand out from all those years are coming back to my hometown of Hyden for the Osborne Brothers Hometown Festival, now in its 30th year. Another great memory is being made a member of the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in 2002.

What lessons did you learn in Kentucky that you believe have contributed to your success in the music industry?

I grew up in Thousandsticks outside of Hyden. We had a farm and to get anywhere, you had to walk or ride a mule or horse. If the creek was up, you stayed home. Besides working on the farm, my dad and mom were school teachers. I started going with my dad to the one-room schoolhouse and just sitting and learning with the other kids when I was 5 or 6. I also brought my dad back and forth to Hyden on a horse to get to his teaching job. It was four hours each way and I was about seven years old. I learned a lot of lessons growing up this way in rural Kentucky. Starting out working hard like that has stayed with me during my entire career.

Why do you think the arts are important?

Being the home of Bill Monroe and bluegrass music, Kentucky has been very important to music and arts all over the world. Many top country and bluegrass artists have called Kentucky home or have roots here. Bluegrass music has brought a lot back to the state with shows, events and festivals drawing millions of fans. The name bluegrass comes from the name Bill gave his band, the Bluegrass Boys. I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to always do what I’ve wanted to do with my life, and that’s make a living playing bluegrass music.