William Lee Golden
Is one of the most recognized personalities in Country and Gospel music, having garnered the highest accolades as a member of the legendary group The Oak Ridge Boys. Now, the renowned “Mountain Man” is climbing to new heights in the world of fine art.
With over thirty million records sold, The Oaks have had more than a dozen Number One singles and over thirty Top Ten hits. Their numerous Gold and Platinum recordings include “Thank God For Kids,” “Ozark Mountain Jubilee,” and the crowd favorite “Elvira.” The Oaks have received five Grammy Awards, One American Music Award, Four Country Music Awards (CMA), four Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM), the 2008 ACM Pioneer Award, nine Dove Awards, the 2010 President’s Honor, induction into The Grand Ole Opry in 2011 as well as the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The legendary group has received an abundant amount of other national and international acknowledgements.
A Farmer’s Son
Born and raised in Brewton, Alabama to Ruth and Luke Golden, William Lee would sing while plowing the fields of his father’s large cotton and peanut farm. He and his sister, Lanette, and brother, Ronnie, looked forward to Sundays when they would have the opportunity to sing and play on their grandfather’s weekly radio show. Although he was painfully shy off stage, his love for singing and harmony was clear early on. He joined his high school’s FFA Quartet and soon formed his own group called “Pilot’s Trio.”
He married his high school sweet heart, Frogene Normand during his senior year and began working in a paper mill plant to support his new family, three sons; Rusty, Craig and Chris. Never abandoning his dream of becoming an entertainer, the young father moved to Hendersonville, TN in 1965 after getting the call to join a gospel group he admired, The Oak Ridge Boys. As the members of the group began to change, the success of the group continued to grow. The demands and stress from touring over 250 days a year also grew. By the early 70’s, William Lee’s marriage ended.
By 1975, more changes came. Jim Halsey entered as the Oaks manager and put the Oaks focus on country music. Two years later, they had their first country hit with “Ya’ll Come Back Saloon.” They continued to control the charts and the box office throughout the late 70’s and 80’s.
Golden Era Plantation
With many more hits, including the mega cross over, “Elvira,” came financial freedom. After too many years sleeping on the couch at his Oak Ridge Boys’ office, the bachelor decided to invest in a house. But the history lover could not buy just any house. The baritone purchased a plantation built in 1786 by Revolutionary War Captain James Franklin. Because he signed the papers on his father’s birthday in July of 1980, he felt an even stronger kinship to the estate.
During his forties, Golden went through profound changes emotionally, spiritually and physically. “With all the success came a very fast paced agenda. The mountain man and Indian way of life appealed to me because it brought me back to my childhood where the simple things in life meant the most. I wanted to stop and see myself as God made me.” William reflects. The once trend setter let his hair and beard grow to its natural lengths.
Golden had a desire to grow musically as well. In 1985, Golden recorded his first solo albums called “American Vagabond” for MCA Records. The critically acclaimed album was produced by the great Booker T. Jones and showcased Golden’s individual talent. The ultimate promoter himself, Golden hired New York Publicist, Pam Lewis. Pam was known for helping launch MTV and later became known for launching superstar, Garth Brooks, as his co-manager. Pam continues to work with Golden to this day.
Where The Fast Lane Ends
After years of grueling tour dates and disagreements, the Oaks unexpectedly fired Golden in the early spring of 1987. Hard feelings on both sides ran deep. Along with the Oaks, Golden’s second marriage of two years to Las Vegas model, Luetta Callaway, ended.
Third Times The Charm
Having known and worked together for over four years, William Lee married publicist, Brenda Hall on Jan. 5, 1990. Surrounded by family and friends, the two recited their vows in the garden atrium at The Opryland Hotel. Universal Records and Cash Money music executive, Jeffrey Panzer served as Best Man.
The Mighty Oaks
On Jan. 1, 1996, to the delight and surprise of thousands of country music fans, Joe Bonsall, Duane Allen, Richard Sterban, and William Lee Golden put away their differences and once again teamed up to tour and record as the Oak Ridge Boys.
Along with the birth of his forth son, Solomon, William Lee received another gift in 2001, art supplies. Knowing his love and knowledge of fine art, Brenda and their infant son gave him canvas and paint supplies for Christmas. Golden began turning out great works, which he paints while on the road with The Oak Ridge Boys. “Traveling over 155 days a year, I needed to express myself and it keeps me out of trouble.” Golden quips. As an avid art collector and photographer, Golden soon became known as The Singing Painter.
In April of 2007, the prestigious Gilcrease Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma presented Golden’s autumn landscape named after the Oak’s hit single Ozark Mountain Jubilee. That same year, the Nashville International Airport selected William Lee as the initial artist to launch their exhibiting hall in Concourse C. Millions of visitors viewed six of william’s original paintings during the ten month showing. The William Lee Golden Art Exhibition has appeared at The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, The Tennessee State Museum and other Prominent venues across the United States.
Golden’s flowering Maine setting, Bush Gardens, is in the permanent collection and on display at The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. His colorful Tennessee landscape, Smoky Mountain Spring, is on permanent display at The Tennessee State Museum.
Looking beyond the mound of accolades, the bearded audio and visual artist has always observed God’s handwriting in nature. “In my travels around the world, I see the beauty and majesty in each country’s landscape. I try to capture my surroundings on canvas as I see them from the photographs I take during my journey. My paintings are the backdrops from my life.”
Expanding The Boundaries
William Lee Golden has earned recognition for his individual achievements in both music and art. Over the years, the iconic features of The Singing Painter have been the subject of many sketches, paintings and sculptures by other world-renowned artists. Golden has received the “Entertainment Of The Year” Award from the Cherokee Indian Association, which is comprised of 21 tribes from across America as well as the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
Now days, Golden puts his life in balance. He still performs over 150 days a year with his Oak Ridge Boys partners but also enjoys traveling the world with his family, stopping to capture a scene he will later paint, or simply enjoying the seasons at Golden Era Plantation.
Pablo Picasso once said “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” William Lee Golden’s art chronicles the journey of this extraordinary man. From singing to rows of cotton, to singing to sold-out stadiums, from working the dirt to painting it, William Lee Golden is one of today’s living masters working in the many fields of art.