COLONY - Canzetta Maria "Candi" Staton was born March 13, 1940 in Colony, Alabama and is an multiple award winning American soul and gospel singer, best known in the United States for her 1970 remake of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" and her 1976 disco chart-topper "Young Hearts Run Free."
In Europe, her biggest selling record is the anthemic "You Got the Love" from 1986 released in collaboration with the Source. Staton was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2007, a fact which both humbled her and made her proud, because her roots came from gospel, and it was always to those roots that she returned in times of heartache, turmoil and triumph. Gospel has been her touchstone for as long as she can remember.
When she was just 5 years old, a neighbor happened to hear her singing and encouraged her to perform at the nearby Baptist church. That eventually led to her joining the Jewell Gospel Trio, touring the gospel circuit with Sam Cooke’s Soul Stirrers and Mahalia Jackson in the 50s. “We knew all of those people,” she said. “We didn’t know how famous they were at the time; they were just singers like us.”
On February 28, 2014, Staton was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which, she says, was one of the highlights of her career.
The guest list included Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama, as well as a host of other dignitaries, many of them familiar faces from Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, where she got her start.
That start was initiated by record producer, Rick Hall, who was also on hand to introduce her at the induction ceremony. “It was almost like old home week,” she said.
When he called her name, the master of ceremonies referred to Staton as, “The First Lady of Southern Soul, from Hanceville, Alabama.”
On stage, she spoke from her heart, telling the packed house the story of being born in the Colony community not far from Hanceville, Alabama, of getting married in Alabama, of her children being born here, and having cut her first record in Muscle Shoals.
Not long after the induction ceremony, Staton appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" with the Muscle Shoals Swampers, doing an incredible set, singing, "I Ain’t Easy to Love" with country stars, John Paul White (formerly of Civil Wars) and Jason Isbell, also an Alabama native. After the song, Letterman bowed, kissed her hand, and called her ‘incredible.’
Staton’s achievements include; 16 R&B hits and two Grammy Awards for, "Stand By Your Man" and "In The Ghetto." She recalls that she got a personal note from Elvis Presley congratulating her on the award, saying, “Loved your version. You did a great job! Elvis Presley.”
“I wish I knew where that note was now,” she sighed. “I have no idea where it is after all this time. Back then I didn’t think anything of it – I thought he would live forever.”
Known for her versatility, Staton sings contemporary gospel, Southern soul, country soul, disco and R& B. She has written or co-written numerous songs. Among her many other credits is a smash-hit of the disco era, “Young Hearts Run Free." She has cut more than 200 hundred records, including one of the songs she sang at the induction ceremony, "I’m Just a Prisoner," among so many others.
Her life has taken many a turn since she left Colony as a little girl to sing and make her way in the world. It was in 1968 that Staton was introduced to Rick Hall by Clarence Carter, who became her second husband in 1970, and launched her solo career as a Southern soul stylist, garnering 16 R&B hits for Rick Hall's Fame Studios and gaining the title of "First Lady of Southern Soul" for her Grammy-nominated R&B renditions of the songs "Stand by Your Man" and "In the Ghetto." Staton appeared on the Sept. 23, 1972, edition (Season 2, Episode 1) of "Soul Train."
In 1976, Staton began collaborating with producer David Crawford on disco songs such as "Young Hearts Run Free," which reached no. 1 on the U.S. R&B charts, no. 2 in the UK Singles Chart and went Top 20 on the Pop Hot 100 during the summer of 1976. It was remixed and re-released in 1986 reaching the UK Top 50. Her follow-up song "Destiny" hit the Top 50 in the UK, and her version of "Nights on Broadway" hit the UK Top 10 in 1977; it had been a US Billboard hit for the Bee Gees more than a year before. In 1978, she scored another Top 50 hit in the UK with "Honest I Do I Love You". In 1979, from her album "Chance" Staton released the album single "When You Wake Up Tomorrow" (co-written by Patrick Adams and Wayne K. Garfield) and the title song "Chance", a Top 20 R&B charted record. In 1982, Staton again hit the UK charts with a version of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds."
In 1982, Staton returned to gospel music. She married her fourth husband, John Sussewell. Together they founded Beracah Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia with help from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker's PTL Ministries. She has since recorded eight gospel albums, two of which received Grammy Award nominations.
In 1991, she returned to popular mainstream charts by lending her vocals to the Source's Top 10 British hit, "You Got the Love," a club-styled dance hit that sold two million copies.
Staton signed with Intersound Records in 1995. In 2000, she released her 11th album, “Here's a Blessing.” In 2004, the British record label Honest Jon's released a compilation CD of her country-soul work from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the self-titled "Candi Staton."
She followed it up with a secular project in 2006 entitled “His Hands”, produced by Mark Nevers of Lambchop and with the title track written by Will Oldham. Two of Staton's children, Cassandra Hightower (background vocals) and Marcus Williams (drums), joined her on the CD. A second studio album for Honest Jon's, titled "Who's Hurting Now?," appeared in 2009.
Today (March 13) is her birthday. When the Tribune notified Staton that we would be running an article to honor her on her special day, she said, “Thanks for keeping me relevant!”
Please join the Cullman Tribune and Cullman Sense in wishing the First Lady of Southern Soul a very happy birthday from her home folks!
Image: Dan Dennison/2014