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Ronnie Milsap was one of the major figures of country music in the 1970s, developing a hybrid of country and pop that brought him a large audience. Milsap was born in Robbinsville, NC, and was raised by his father and grandparents following his parents' divorce. He was born blind from congenital glaucoma, and when he was five, he began attending the Governor Moorhead School for the Blind. When he was seven, his instructors noticed his extraordinary musical talents and he began to study classical music formally. A single year after he began learning the violin, Milsap was declared a virtuoso; he also mastered piano, guitar, and a variety of other stringed instruments, as well as various woodwinds. Eventually, he became interested in rock & roll music and while still in school formed his first rock band, the Apparitions. He briefly attended college in Atlanta where he studied pre-law; though he was awarded a comprehensive scholarship, Milsap decided to become a full-time musician instead. His first professional gig was as a member of J.J. Cale's band in the early '60s.
In 1965, Milsap started his own band and four years later, after having an R&B hit with "Never Had It So Good," moved to Memphis to become a session musician. There he frequently worked for Chips Moman and can be heard playing keyboards on Elvis' "Kentucky Rain" and singing harmony on "Don't Cry Daddy." When not doing session work, Milsap and his backing group were the house band at TJ's Club. In 1970, he had a pop hit with "Loving You Is a Natural Thing." Following its success, in 1971 he released his eponymous debut. Two years later, Milsap moved to Nashville in hopes of jump-starting his flagging career and became a client of Charley Pride's manager, Jack D. Johnson. Within a year, he signed to RCA Victor, where he would remain for the bulk of his career. "I Hate You," his first single for RCA, reached the country Top Ten in the summer of 1973. The following year, he had three number one hits in a row -- "Pure Love," "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends," and "(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time," a cover of Don Gibson's classic.
Milsap had a handful of Top Ten hits in 1975, but in late 1976 he became a genuine star, with a string of six number one hits in a row. In turn, that string of hits began a remarkable run where Milsap didn't leave the Top Ten for 15 straight years. During that time, he had a number of pop crossover hits, beginning with 1977's "It Was Almost Like a Song." Between 1980 and 1982, Milsap had ten more consecutive number one hits, including the crossover smashes "Smoky Mountain Rain," "No Gettin' Over Me," and "Any Day Now." Milsap had yet another string of uninterrupted number one hits between 1985 and 1987, racking up eight consecutive chart toppers. He had his last number one hit in 1989, when "A Woman in Love" spent two weeks on the top of the charts. In total, he had 35 number one singles.
In the early '90s, Milsap's commercial appeal began to decline -- after 1992, he wasn't able to break into the country Top Ten. Nevertheless, he continued to record. In 1992, he left RCA and signed to Liberty, where he recorded True Believer, which failed to yield any major hits. Despite his decline in popularity, Milsap continued to record and perform successfully throughout the '90s. Working with producer Jerry F. Sharell, Milsap released the non-country Just For a Thrill in 2004, following it with a return to country (and a return to RCA) with 2006's My Life. The two-disc gospel album Then Sings My Soul landed in 2009, with another country album, Country Again, appearing in 2011. An album featuring new recordings of classic pop, R&B and country songs, Summer Number 17, was released early in 2014.
Ronnie Lee Milsap (born January 16, 1943) is an American country music singer and pianist. He was one of country music's most popular and influential performers of the 1970s and 1980s. He became country music's first successful blind singer, and one of the most successful and versatile country "crossover" singers of his time, appealing to both country and pop music markets with hit songs that incorporated pop, R&B, and rock and roll elements. His biggest crossover hits include "It Was Almost Like a Song", "Smoky Mountain Rain", "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me", "I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World", "Any Day Now", and "Stranger in My House". He is credited with six Grammy Awards and forty No. 1 country hits, third to George Strait and Conway Twitty. He was selected for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.http://www.sandmountainreporter.com/story.lasso?ewcd=3fcc9b50a54b716b "Country Hall of Fame Taps Ronnie Milsap, Mac Wiseman, Hank Cochran". Rolling Stone. April 22, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
ContentsCareer1.1 Early life (1943–71)1.2 Breakthrough success (1973–75)1.3 "It Was Almost Like A Song" (1976–78)1.4 Crossover success (1979–92)1.5 1993–present: Life today1.6 Capitol Records Protest1.7 Amateur Radio Operator
Early life (1943–71)
Milsap was born January 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, North Carolina. A congenital disorder left him almost completely blind. Abandoned by his mother as an infant, he was raised by his grandparents in the Smoky Mountains until the age of five, when he was sent to the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, North Carolina. During his childhood he lost his remaining vision, and both his eyes were eventually removed. Throughout his childhood, he was interested in music—particularly the late-night broadcasts of country music, gospel music, and rhythm and blues. In concert, he has often paid tribute to the artists who have inspired him the most including Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley.
When he was seven years old, his instructors began to notice his musical talents. Soon afterward he began studying classical music formally and learned several instruments, eventually mastering the piano. Within the next few years he also developed a passion for rock and roll music and formed a rock band with classmates in high school, The Apparitions. Milsap was awarded a full college scholarship and briefly attended Young Harris College in Young Harris, GA, until leaving to pursue a full-time career in music. In the early 1960s, he auditioned for and played his first professional gigs as a member of J.J. Cale's band.
Milsap released his first single, "Total Disaster", in 1963 which enjoyed some local success in the Atlanta area. In 1965, Milsap signed with New York-based Scepter Records, recording eight obscure singles for the label and working briefly with other soul musicians like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and James Brown. Also in 1965, Milsap had Top 20 success with the Ashford & Simpson-penned single, "Never Had It So Good", which peaked at No. 19 on the R&B chart. It would be his only successful single during his time with Scepter. Another Ashford & Simpson tune named "Let's Go Get Stoned", was relegated to a B-side. A few months later, however, it became a million-selling single for Ray Charles. About this same time, Milsap met Joyce Reeves at a dinner party, and the two were married in 1965.
A few years later, after moving to Memphis, Tennessee, he worked for producer Chips Moman while performing weekly at the popular Memphis nightclub T.J.'s. During this time, Milsap worked as a session musician on numerous projects including two songs with Elvis Presley: "Don't Cry Daddy" in 1969 and "Kentucky Rain" in 1970. That same year, Milsap had a minor success on the pop charts with the single "Loving You Is a Natural Thing". He recorded and released his debut album, Ronnie Milsap, on Warner Brothers in 1971. Milsap's R&B recordings from this period are so obscure that all but the most diehard Milsap fans remain largely unaware of them.
Breakthrough success (1973–75)
In December 1972, Milsap relocated to Nashville after a chance meeting with country music star Charley Pride who was in the audience for a Milsap gig at the nightclub Whiskey A-Go-Go. Pride was impressed with Milsap's singing and encouraged him to change course and focus on country music. Milsap began working with Pride's manager, Jack D. Johnson, and was signed to RCA Records in 1973. He released his first single from RCA that year, "I Hate You", which became his first country music success, peaking at No. 10 on the country chart. In 1974, he toured with Pride as an opening act and had two No. 1 singles: "Pure Love" [written by Eddie Rabbitt] and the Kris Kristofferson composition "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" which won Milsap his first Grammy. In 1975, he revived the Don Gibson song "(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time" and scored another No. 1 hit with "Daydreams About Night Things".
"It Was Almost Like A Song" (1976–78)
From 1976 to 1978, Milsap became one of country music's biggest stars. He scored seven No. 1 singles in a row, including the Grammy-winning "(I'm a) Stand by My Woman Man" and "What a Difference You've Made in My Life". The most significant of this series was "It Was Almost Like a Song" in 1977, a dramatic piano-based song that showcased his soaring vocal range and became his most successful single of the 1970s. In addition to topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, the song was his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart since "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" reached No. 95; "It Was Almost Like a Song," however, reached No. 16. It was also his first song to make the Adult Contemporary Chart, stopping at No. 7. Despite its success, the song was Milsap's only crossover success of the 1970s. Milsap continued to achieve hits on the country music charts for the remainder of the 1970s.
Crossover success (1979–92)
Milsap's sound shifted toward string-laden pop during the late 1970s which resulted in crossover success on the pop charts beginning in the early 1980s. In 1979, Milsap had a No. 1 single, a Top 5 single, and a Top 10 single on the country charts. From 1980 until 1983, he scored a series of eleven No. 1 singles. Milsap's Greatest Hits album, released in 1980, included a new single, "Smoky Mountain Rain", which became a No. 1 smash on the country charts. The single peaked in the Top 40 on the pop music chart and also became the first of two Milsap songs to score No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Other crossover successes included the Top 5 pop single, "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me", and two Top 20 songs in "I Wouldn't Have Missed It For the World" and "Any Day Now", the latter which lasted five weeks at No. 1 on Billboard 's Adult Contemporary chart. He also had some success with "He Got You". All four songs reached No. 1 on the country music charts. In the Philippines, ironically, his biggest hit was the country ballad "Is It Over", which came from his 1983 album "Keyed Up". However, this was never released as a single in the U.S.
Although the series of No. 1 hits ended in 1983, the last song of the series, "Stranger in My House", was still successful on all three charts, peaking at No. 5 on the country music chart, No. 23 on the pop music chart, and No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Just a few months later, "Don't You Know How Much I Love You" was released. It was this song that would be Milsap's last significant entry on the pop music chart, stopping at No. 58. However, it along with others still became major successes on the Adult Contemporary chart. These successful singles include "Show Her", "Still Losing You", and finally, the Grammy-winning song "Lost in the Fifties Tonight" (his last crossover success) in 1985.
Like other artists of the same era such as Linda Ronstadt, Glen Campbell, Marty Robbins, and Ray Charles, Milsap's albums during the 1980s often featured songs in a variety of musical styles that showcased his remarkable range and versatility as a singer. In his 1990 autobiography, Milsap explains: "I'm a singer, not a vocal stylist. My breathing is correct; my enunciation is precise. Because of that, I can sing anybody's music. Yet there are stylists whose technical skills are so underdeveloped they can sing only their own songs their own way. They might be remembered for their hits longer than I am. I'll probably be working longer than they are. I can sing whatever the times and the trends demand."
Between 1985 and 1987, Milsap enjoyed a series of uninterrupted No. 1 country singles, enjoying his greatest success at this time with "She Keeps the Home Fires Burning", "In Love", "Snap Your Fingers", "Where Do the Nights Go", and the grammy-winning duet with Kenny Rogers, "Make No Mistake, She's Mine".
In 1989, Milsap had his last No. 1 song with "A Woman in Love", although he still remained successful on the charts. Other Top 10 singles between 1989 and 1991 include "Houston Solution", "Stranger Things Have Happened", "Turn That Radio On", and "Are You Loving Me Like I'm loving You". With the help of writer Tom Carter, Milsap wrote and released his autobiography titled "Almost like a Song" in 1990.
In 1992, he had his last major success, "All Is Fair in Love and War". The song featured Mark Knopfler on lead guitar and peaked at No. 11. By that time, however, Milsap's chart success began to decline as a new generation of younger performers began to dominate the country charts with a more traditional country sound.
1993–present: Life today
Milsap has remained one of country music's best-loved and most successful artists despite the lack of radio airplay since the mid 1990s. In 1993, he left RCA for Liberty and released the album True Believer which failed to achieve significant radio airplay, although the title track song scored No. 30 on the country chart. In 2000, Milsap resurfaced with a two-CD set, 40 No. 1 Hits, featuring a new single entitled "Time, Love, and Money". The new collection earned a gold record although the single failed to score on the charts.
In 2000, Milsap's biography was featured by A&E Networks's Biography television series. Milsap has also been featured by CMT's numerous shows, including 40 Greatest Men of Country Music and a 2005 episode of Crossroads with Tex-Mex rock group Los Lonely Boys.
During 2004, Milsap worked with producer Jerry F. Sharell to record his first non-country album since the early 1970s, Just for a Thrill. The project was a collection of American popular/jazz music standards which earned Milsap a Grammy award nomination that year. In 2006, Milsap signed with his former company RCA and returned to a mainstream, contemporary country music style with the album My Life. The first single was "Local Girls" which reached No. 54.
In 2009, Milsap released a two-CD set entitled Then Sings My Soul which featured 24 hymns and gospel songs, including "Up To Zion". "Up To Zion" was co-written by Gregory James Tornquist and Noreen Crayton and became a No. 1 hit on the southern gospel charts. On May 12, 2010, he was part of a Gaither Video Taping.
Milsap released a new studio album Country Again in July 2011. The CD was a return to a more traditional country sound. The first single, "If You Don't Want Me To", is a previous Milsap recording from 1980.
On May 2, 2013, Milsap performed at the memorial service of country legend George Jones, singing the Jones classic "When the Grass Grows Over Me". The service was broadcast live on CMT, GAC, RFD-TV, The Nashville Network, and Family Net as well as Nashville stations. SiriusXM and WSM 650AM, home of the Grand Ole Opry, broadcast the event on radio.
On December 27, 2013, it was announced that Milsap would release a new album. Summer #17 was released in March 2014. The album features new recordings of classic pop and R&B songs from Milsap's generation.
On June 1, 2014, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Smoky Mountain Rain" #96 in their list of the 100 greatest country songs.
In November 2014, Milsap announced he would embark on a final concert tour. "You get to a place where you still have your health, but you know it's not given," explained Milsap. "I've been blessed with so many great songs, so many wonderful memories and stories -- and some of the very best fans in the business. Before I get to a place where it's not a celebration of the music, I want to go out and play all these hits for the people who love them as much as I do."
Capitol Records Protest
Ronnie Milsap recorded a new song "My First Ride" in 2009 as a fundraiser to benefit firefighters and police officers in the US and Canada. The song features Trace Adkins on vocals and 70 percent of all proceeds are donated to the fund. Then, after the song's release, the recording company allegedly reneged on promotion of it without explanation. On September 24, 2009, Milsap and a group of Tennessee firefighters and volunteers picketed the office of Capitol Records because the company refused to service the record to radio and iTunes four weeks after its release. Ronnie marched with the group of 50 people to the front steps of the office, then sang the new single from atop a vintage fire truck. The demonstration was peaceful and after the performance the group was asked to leave by building security. Ronnie said: "We came here to raise awareness about this worthy cause... What record label wouldn't want to be part of raising money for this much needed fund that helps firefighters and police officers who desperately need it?"
Amateur Radio Operator
Milsap is an Advanced class amateur radio operator. His call sign is WB4KCG.Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 402. "Ronnie Milsap Returns With New Music And Old Favorites", Gary Hayes Country. "100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time", Rolling Stone. "Amateur License – WB4KCG – MILSAP, RONALD L", Federal Communications Commission.
Industry awards and honors
Academy of Country Music1982 Top Male Vocalist1985 Song of the Year – "Lost in the Fifties Tonight"1988 Instrumentalist of the Year, Keyboards2002 Pioneer Award
Billboard magazine1980 No. 1 Country Song of the Year – "My Heart"1985 No. 1 Country Song of the Year – "Lost in the Fifties Tonight"
Country Music Association1974 Male Vocalist of the Year1975 Album of the Year – "A Legend in My Time"1976 Male Vocalist of the Year1977 Album of the Year – "Ronnie Milsap Live"1977 Entertainer of the Year1977 Male Vocalist of the Year1978 Album of the Year – "It Was Almost Like a Song"1986 Album of the Year – "Lost in the Fifties Tonight
Country Music Hall of Fame 2014 Inductee
Grammy awards1975 Best Male Country Vocal Performance – "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends"1977 Best Male Country Vocal Performance – "(I'm a) Stand by My Woman Man"1982 Best Male Country Vocal Performance – "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me"1986 Best Male Country Vocal Performance – "Lost in the Fifties Tonight"1987 Best Male Country Vocal Performance – "Lost in the Fifties Tonight"1988 Best Country Collaboration with Vocals – "Make No Mistake, She's Mine" (w/ Kenny Rogers)
Music City News Country1975 Most Promising Male Artist
Miscellaneous achievements40 No. 1 hits, 35 of which reached the top spot on the Billboard chart; the remaining 5 topped other trade charts including CashboxOver 35 million albums soldInducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1976Inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2002Awarded the Career Achievement Award by Country Radio Seminar in 2006Awarded the 2007 Rocketown Legend Award "2002 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.