‘Musical genius’ Jo-El Sonnier dies after Llano Country Opry performance

Published 5:29 pm Monday, January 15, 2024

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and accordionist Joe-El Sonnier performed for the final time Saturday at the Llano Country Opry in Llano, Texas. He died later that evening. He was 77 and a resident of Westlake.

Family friend David O’Neal said arrangements are tentative because of weather conditions.

O’Neal described him as a musical genius who has been performing since childhood, a big-hearted giver and a world-wide icon who stayed humble and always took time to visit with fans. This summer he performed in Switzerland.

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“He loved his fans,” O’Neal said. “His wife, Bobbye, music and his fans were his life.”

O’Neal is employed at Care Help where the Sonniers have been generous with resources, according to social media posts by Care Help Executive Director Jody Farnum. They worked tirelessly after Hurricane Laura. Sonnier has provided the entertainment at the annual Care Help event that allows children to Christmas shop for their parents, have gifts wrapped and enjoy a meal.

Farnum shared this story about Jo-El on social media after she learned of his death. In the early days of the Care Help distribution site after Hurricane Laura, she was feeling the stress of having to make on-the-spot decisions. “We were winging it within 48 hours after Laura slammed through our parish, with only five employees,” she wrote. “We were already seeing hundreds of people come through and had fed 3,000 hot meals the first day.”

Farnum, her husband and the Sonniers were living at Care Help trying to take care of others when they also needed help.

The weight of “measuring up” was heavy. She walked in the kitchen where Jo-el was having breakfast. He didn’t look up, and started speaking as if he expected her.

“You know Jody, in the music business, the sixth octave is the highest music range you can reach. Hitting it is extremely rare,” he told her. “People may want me to hit the sixth octave but I can’t. The fifth is what God gifted me with … and He gifted you. You have to embrace what He gave you.”

Farnum wrote that Sonnier looked her straight in the eyes and said, “You have to be you. Embrace it, the God-given talent He gave you, the fifth octave.”

She walked out of the kitchen and embraced what God gave her, and thanked God for speaking to her through Sonnier. She ended the post, “Thank you Jo-el for making a difference in my life and in our community.”

More details about arrangements will be shared when officially available.