Country singer Jo-El Sonnier dies at 77 after Texas performance that ended with standing ovation

 January 16, 2024

It seems like just how any lifelong performer would want to go out: minutes after a performance with a standing ovation and an encore, country singer Jo-El Sonnier went into cardiac arrest and died on the way to the hospital with his wife Bobbye by his side. 

Sonnier performed at the Llano Country OpryHouse in Llano, Texas on Saturday for over an hour and ended the show with his signature song, "Tear-Stained Letter." He got a standing ovation and did "Jambalaya" as an encore.

He asked to rest for a few minutes before signing autographs for fans, but was shortly airlifted to Austin where he was pronounced dead.

“It is never easy to lose a legend, but he truly spent his final day doing what he loved--entertaining his fans with his loving wife Bobbye by his side,” local radio personality Tracy Pitcox said.

Lifelong performer

Sonnier started playing his brother's accordion at the age of three, and his first radio performance came at age six.

By 11, he was making recordings, and he had four albums during his teen years with several singles.

During the 1970s, his country music career floundered due to a bad record deal with Mercury Nashville, but he spent some time doing Cajun music and got his first Grammy for those efforts.

After he signed with RCA in the 1980s, he saw more mainstream success with singles “No More One More Time” and “Tear Stained Letter,” which was a cover of a Richard Thompson tune.

“Come On Joe,” “I’ve Been Around Enough To Know” and “Raining In My Heart” were some of his other hits.

He won a total of five Grammys in his more-than-six-decade career and was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2009.


On social media, Sonnier's friends and colleagues described him as a wonderful person and performer.

"Heartbroken to hear the news about the passing of our friend Jo-El Sonnier, there are not enough kind words to describe him. Rest in peace buddy," The Bellamy Brothers said on X.

T. Graham Brown posted, "Today, Sheila and I lost one of our very best friends. Jo-EL Sonnier passed away immediately following a show in Texas. A Christian,Cajun music trailblazer and wonderful man, he will be missed by all. Please pray for his wife, Bobbye. Adieu, my dear friend."

Charlie Daniels Jr. posted that his father thought a lot of Sonnier and said, "Rest in peace Jo-El. Heaven must've needed a squeezebox player."

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