June 7 – Funkytown Was The Destination Of Choice

Some artists liked lips-synching in videos, others refused to. The topic is a musical debate, some people being all for it, others hating it. But on this day in 1980, it seemed like no matter what their position on “lip synch” in music, everyone loved Lipps Inc. They held down the #1 spot for the second week in a row in the U.S. with “Funkytown” and would hang on to the top spot for two more weeks. OK, so it was a #1 hit – not bad, but not like it was the world’s biggest hit, you might be saying. Or was it?

Well… while it sold in the millions, it wasn’t the biggest-selling single of that year, let alone of all-time. And I seriously doubt many people, even dance enthusiasts, would suggest it was the greatest record ever made. But, on at least one count, it did become the most successful single ever, a distinction it would hang onto for over two decades. We’ll get to that, but first a little background.

Lipps Inc. were a funk/dance group out of Minneapolis, the brain child of Steven Greenberg. He was a popular wedding DJ in the Twin Cities, and one assumes he noticed people liked to dance to the disco hits at weddings. So he decided to make some music of his own. He was joined by Cynthia Johnson, a singer and sax player from a band which would morph into Prince’s backing band later on. They formed Lipps Inc. ( the name a play on words for “lip synch”), adding in various singers and musicians including David Rivkin, a drummer who’d done some work with Gram Parsons. They recorded their first album, Mouth to Mouth, in 1979, with Greenberg producing. While sounding quite highly synthetic and produced, they did utilize seven ordinary musicians, two more additional backing singers and a real quartet of violinists on the album.. which was perhaps better described as an EP. The release, on Casablanca which was hot at the time selling Donna Summer records, was a four-song, 30-minute dance affair.

The standout, and first single was “Funkytown”, a nearly 8-minute dance workout on the album cut in half for the 7” single and radio version. Sung by Johnson and written by Greenberg, it had her asking you to please take her to “Funky Town”, which to the pair was New York City. Although Minneapolis had a happening scene back then, to Lipps Inc., New York was where it was at.

The song would go on to spend four weeks at #1 in the States and end up as the eighth biggest hit of the year. As Time Out put it, “’Funkytown’ came late to the disco party but it gave it a jolt of electricity.” Indeed it did, being one of the very last major hits that fell clearly into the “disco” category. It also hit #1 in Canada. And Australia. And New Zealand. And Switzerland, where it was the #2 song for the year. And it made the top of the charts in some 23 other countries. That set a record. The 28 countries it topped charts in was the most by any song, ever, at that point. Take that “Hound Dog” or “Hey Jude”! It would hold on to the distinction until 2005, when Madonna’s “Hung Up” eclipsed it by getting to #1 in 41 lands – ironically, the U.S. not being one of them.

VH1 listed Lipps Inc. as their 36th greatest “one hit wonder” ever, and while the term generally fits, “Funkytown” wasn’t the only thing Lipps Inc. did that was popular. The song “All Night Dancing” was a dance chart #1 hit soon after “Funkytown”, and a year or so later they’d hit the top 30 again in most European nations with their take on the Ace hit “How Long.”

Lipps Inc. called it quits in 1985 after four albums, but several members had decent careers afterwards. It would seem no story about dance or funk music in Minnesota would be complete without mentioning Prince. Perhaps too, no story about June 7 in music is complete without the Purple One, who was born this day in 1958. At least a couple of members of Lipps In. went on to work with Prince in the late-’80s and ’90s, including singer Margaret Cox and drummer David Rivkin, who would later go by “David Z.” He is given a writing credit on Prince’s hit “Kiss”, and suggests he actually was a major collaborator on the Parade album which it appeared. Rivkin would also be very successful producing for the Fine Young Cannibals. And Steve Greenberg himself went into the music business, rising to VP level of Mercury Records, and signing another major “one hit wonder”, Hanson.


March 13 – Where Maxine Started From

There were elements of R&B and ’60s Motown in a fair bit of disco and we got a great example of that in 1976, when “one hit wonder” Maxine Nightingale appeared on the scene. Her major international hit “Right Back Where We Started From” hit the U.S. top 40, a few months after it had been a hit in her native Britain.

Nightingale was by then 23 years old and a veteran of the British scene, albeit a rather anonymous one. She’d begun singing in clubs as a teen and at the start of the ’70s had played in the London productions of the trifecta of rock operas – Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. Around that time she’d also put out a trio of singles over there, including “Don’t Push Me Baby”, but they’d gone unnoticed. However by the mid-’70s she’d gotten a contract with UA Records and this was her second “debut.” She worked with producer Pierre Tubbs who co-wrote the song with Vince Edwards. Tubbs wanted it to reflect a Holland-Dozier-Holland style Motown sound. Maxine was said to be only lukewarm on the song, but recorded it, with a roomful of session players including ex-Animals keyboardist Dave Rowberry, ELO bassist Mike de Albuquerque, Tubbs himself (a multi-instrumentalist) and Pete Hughes on sax. Albuquerque said it only took minutes to get down and probably cost no more than 100 pounds (about $700 now.) Upon hearing it, Nightgale really didn’t like it, thinking the production too excessive and disliking the keyboards. But Tubbs and UA over-ruled her and put it out, with it quickly catching on in Britain, first in the discos then on the BBC.

Eventually it came out in North America and started rising up the charts, causing the label to call Nightingale back from an Asian holiday to record and put out an album, also called Right Back Where We Started From. It was a 13-song effort, a mix of cover songs and more Tubbs ones, and among the musicians brought in were future sax star Raphael Ravenscroft (who’d rise to fame on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” soon after). Perhaps true to form, Nightingale didn’t like the product, saying fairly enough “the album had to be completed in two weeks – they wanted to rush release it in North America.” Not the best way to craft a quality record. As an album it didn’t do a whole lot, doing best in Australia where it got to #25. However, the song itself made it to #2 in the U.S., #8 in her homeland and #4 Down Under. In the U.S. it was certified gold. It’s lived on well being used in a number of films including Shrek Forever After, Slapshot and The Family Stone.

She went on to record five more albums, but to little commercial note. But although considered a “one hit wonder”, she did have another North American top 5 hit, “Lead Me On” two years later. She still works in music but primarily is a jazz vocalist now.

February 10 – Hot Chocolate Was A Winner

A little hot chocolate to go with that apple, perhaps? While Rod Stewart was topping the chart this day in 1979, another British act were doing very well here too – Hot Chocolate. Their dance song “Every 1’s A Winner” peaked at #6 in the U.S, their third top 10 single and second one to go gold, “You Sexy Thing” being the first (with a title that sounds like a Rod Stewart song, come to think of it.) It also got to #5 in Canada.

While not a “one hit wonder”, Hot Chocolate weren’t really piping hot on this side of the Atlantic. However, at home, they were one of the top acts of the ’70s. They’d formed in 1968 and signed to Apple Records by 1970. Their first song recorded was a cover of John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” and their name had even been suggested by the Beatles secretary, Mavis Smith, although she dubbed them “Hot Chocolate Band.”

Their dance-funk sound fit the times well, and they managed to score a chart hit every year of the decade in the UK, something only Elvis and Diana Ross did as well. They outlived those two, streak-wise, having hits annually through 1984. By the time this song came out, they had signed to RAK Records at home and an MCA subsidiary, Infinity, here.

Singer Errol Brown wrote the lyrics after their producer Mickie Most suggested the title. The song also featured guitarist Harvey Hinsley and keyboards of Larry Ferguson prominently.

Hot Chocolate had a resurgence in popularity in the ’90s due to their music being used in The Full Monty, and continue on to this day. Although Brown left the band in the ’80s and has since died, three original members carry on the name and funk. Brown did live to receive a lifetime achievement Ivor Novello Award though, in 2004.  So maybe a cuppa tea isn’t necessarily Britain’s favorite hot drink!

January 6 – Dance The Irony Dance With Willis

Whose ready to dance?” Well, back on this day in 1979, it would seem like the answer was “everybody” judging from the music charts. In the U.S., disco kings the Bee Gees had the #1 song in the slower “Too Much Heaven”, which was in a sort of Chic sandwich. “Le Freak” by Chic had been #1 before it and would retake the top spot for four more weeks. But over in Britain, one of the all-time Disco anthems, as well as it would seem Gay anthems, “YMCA” by the Village People had climbed to the top. It was also at #1 in Australia at the time and would end up being a chart-topper in 13 other countries including Canada, France, New Zealand and Italy. In the States, where they were from, it got stuck at #2 for three weeks.

The Village People were a group of singers/dancers put together in 1977 by Jacques Morali, a Moroccan-born French artist, who remarkably enough began his career writing orchestral music in the ’60s. He also had a mind to marketing and realized that disco was big in the mid-’70s, particularly with the gay crowd. So he made his “group” consist of the most archetypical gay stereotype sex symbols – a construction worker, a Native Indian chief, a cowboy etc. Looking back, it seemed remarkable that many people didn’t “get” the inside joke, despite their first chart hit being “Macho Man” and them following that up with “Just a Gigolo” (later popularized by David Lee Roth).

They signed to Casablanca Records which was in the middle of a very good streak, having disco queen Donna Summer on their roster as well.

YMCA”s music was written by Morali (who produced the record) with the lyrics being by Vic Willis, the lead singer. Willis was the “cop”, or sometimes the “Navy man in uniform” in case you were wondering. Ironically, Willis was the son of a Texas Baptist minister and perhaps more so, he wasn’t gay. He in fact married Phylicia Rashad, who’d play Clair on The Cosby Show, around that time. He says he didn’t write “YMCA” as a gay endorsement but rather, as a thumbs up to the organization for giving young men a safe place to hang out and play basketball. He does admit however, he was aware some might see his song a bit differently and he did like a good double-entendre.

The YMCA – Young Man’s Christian Association – weren’t as amused by it and threatened to sue all involved, although in years to come they’d say they were “proud” of the association with the tune.

Billboard weren’t all that wowed by it, noting it was “another example of their droll humor.” Cashbox however, raved about its “layered horn work and a bright and soaring chorus.” Who supplied the horns is a mystery; the album liner notes credit a crew of relatively unknown session players for most instruments – Jimmy & Roger Lee on guitars, Richard Trifan on synthesizers for example – but no one on horns.

Bright and soaring also described the public’s reaction to it, especially after they performed it on American Bandstand. Dick Clark came up with the idea of having his audience mime the letters to the chorus in the now-familiar dance that still gets performed to this day. Often at sporting events often associated with the most homophobic of crowds, ironically enough. Like the 44 000 football fans that performed it in 2008 at a Sun Bowl game in Texas.

When all was said and done, the single had sold over 10 million copies, gone platinum in the States and Britain (double so in Canada) and be picked by Paste magazine later as the “best dance floor classic” of all-time. What’s more, the Library of Congress would go on to recognize it for its “cultural, historical or aesthetical significance.”

December 20 – Anita, The Reluctant Disco Superstar

Happy birthday to the voice of one of the finest One Hit Wonders of the ’70s. Anita Ward turns 65 today…maybe 66 depending on which source you consult! Anita is the singer known for the great 1979 disco tune “Ring My Bell”... and not a whole lot else. However, there is more to Mrs. Ward than just one song that wants to get you moving.

She was born and raised in Memphis, loved the soul and blues sound of the city but didn’t take much of an active interest in performing it would seem, until she went to college. There she got a degree in psychology – and also joined the school choir, and took a lead role in the campus production of Godspell.

The college degree led to her becoming a Memphis teacher and drawing attention from Frederick Knight, another singer from that area who’d had a little success (more on the British side of the pond, strangely enough) and had started his own record company, Juana. He signed Anita, who probably had dreams of becoming Anita Baker before Anita Baker did! Ward liked soul/R&B love songs and ballads and wasn’t a big fan of disco.

So when time came to record her first album, Songs of Love, she compiled some slower love songs she loved to sing. Knight, who was producing it, insisted she needed something more contemporary and upbeat sounding to reel people in. He had “Ring My Bell” from a year or two earlier, when he’d written it for a teenager, with simpler lyrics suggesting it was about talking on the phone. He reworked the lyrics a little and made it a tad racier and more suggestive and the rest is history.

I remember saying – and now I’ve been made to look pretty foolish – that I didn’t like the song,” she told a Memphis paper recently. “Thank God everybody (else) loved that song. It didn’t matter what age or what gender, they really loved it.” that they did. It went gold in just two weeks and went to #1 not only on dance charts but the Billboard singles chart, where it knocked the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer off the top spot (before being knocked off by another Donna Summer song). In the U.S. it finished in the year-end top 10, and it also made the top of the charts in Britain, Canada and New Zealand. However, the disco smash was sort of a mixed blessing. “at the time, it was probably one of the last hit disco records before people started saying ‘disco is dead’… that didn’t help at all,” she recalls and her subsequent tries to get away from the tag fell flat. Her follow-up album, a few scant months later flopped and she left the business for years.

She returned to teaching but a serious car accident in 1981 made that difficult (and doubtless made the revenue from a smash record all the more important!). She then moved on to working “incognito” in retail from which she recently retired. Rare were the customers who’d recognize the lady behind the counter or associate her with the song that might’ve been playing in the shop’s Muzak.

Although she lives a quiet life with her husband in Memphis now she periodically performs, for instance being one of the headliners on a Disco Cruise out of Miami in 2019, sharing the stage with the likes of KC & the Sunshine Band and an Abb a tribute band. About being on top briefly, then nearly forgotten, she says she has no regrets. “Everybody’s life, when we come into this world, is already preordained,” she says. Let’s hope someone’s preordained to ring her bell and wish her a happy one today!

November 15 – Everything That Could Go Wrong…Went Right?

A few careers got very hot 45 years ago today – feverishly so. The soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever arrived this day in 1977. Little did anyone know it was going to be the defining moment for an era and one of the biggest records of all-time. After all, it didn’t seem like a sure-fire hit film. It was a low budget (under $4 million, fairly slim pickings even for the ’70s) that sounded a bit dreary – a blue collar loser, more or less, who comes to life dancing at nightclubs on the weekend – and it starred a fairly low-profile actor. John Travolta was at the time best known for being part of an ensemble cast on a low-brow sitcom, after all. And to top it off, the producers couldn’t get the musical star they wanted to make the bulk of the soundtrack. The movie and album were on RSO – Robert Stigwood’s company – but Boz Scaggs was signed to Columbia, and the orange-label company wouldn’t allow Scaggs to record for another company.

So, Stigwood, stymied by his first choice, made a call to his best-known in-house artists, the Bee Gees. Robin Gibb of the group recalls being hesitant. They told their boss “look, we haven’t the time to sit around and write for a film.” Travolta acknowledged “the Bee Gees weren’t even involved in the movie in the beginning…I was dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs.” Turns out the Gibb brothers found a way to cram it into their schedule. All involved were pretty happy they did!

The resultant double-album, 76 minutes of all was, as allmusic put it was able to “define a moment in pop culture history.” The Show Boat musical had done so in the 1920s, Sgt. Pepper… in the late-’60s and Saturday Night Fever in the second-half of the ’70s.

While generally considered a Bee Gees album, and with good reason, it is a mixed soundtrack. Of the 17 songs appearing, only six were actually recorded by them, with two more (“If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman and “More Than a Woman” by Tavares, a song they apparently like so much both that version and the Bee Gees appeared on the record) being written by them. There were tracks by MFSB (“K-Jee”), Kool & the Gang (“Open Sesame”) and others, including the pre-existing disco hit “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy on it. But it was the Bee Gees that sold the album, and elevated their careers from “well-known, decent-selling stars” to “biggest superstars in the pop world” in so doing.

Side 1 of the LPs is a jukebox of songs now considered staples on Oldies or Classic Pop stations – “Stayin’ Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love”, “Night Fever”, “More Than A Woman” and Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You.” Five of the eight singles launched from the album. It’s worth noting that the Gibbs came up with three more songs for the album that didn’t get included as well as Samantha Sang’s “Emotion” which came out later.

Not bad going for a record they didn’t have time to work on! Needless to say, it’s become one of the biggest albums ever. It spent 24-straight weeks at #1 in the U.S., the first half of 1978 essentially, and it also topped charts in Canada, the UK, Australia, Japan, Germany and, well, most other countries you could name. It’s 16X platinum in the U.S., 13X and certified diamond in Canada, 11X in Australia and has moved beyond 40 million copies in total, making it second only to the Bodyguard among soundtrack sales. And it took home five Grammys, including Album of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Group or Duo two years running – in ’78 for the song “How Deep is Your Love” and in ’79 for the entire album!

Along the way, it helped draw attention to the film which went on to be a blockbuster, raking in over $200 million. John Travolta became a major star and months later was dancing his way to another smash movie/soundtrack, Grease. And seeing it’s success, other record and movie executives took note and figured the shortcut to Hollywood glory was a big soundtrack. By the early-’80s it seemed a movie wouldn’t open without a companion record and at least one radio-ready single by a big-name star.

By the way, if you want to dazzle at a trivia night here’s some about it. The iconic “Stayin’ Alive” was written as “Saturday Night” (‘ahh ahh ahh, Saturday Niii-ggghttt”) but they changed it at the last moment because there were already songs with that title and they worried it might get confused with the Bay City Rollers!

October 16 – The Duck Was Big But Lacked Wings

Some people think that pop music jumped the shark with the disco craze in the ’70s. Whether or not that’s correct, disco itself probably jumped the shark on this day in 1976. That was the day that the woefully-unforgettable “Disco Duck” hit #1 on Billboard.

Although disco’s biggest (and perhaps finest) record – Saturday Night Fever – hadn’t yet arrived, disco was all over the radio by the Bicentennial year and soon everyone and his dog – or duck – would be jumping on the bandwagon. The chart hit by Rick Dees & his Cast of Idiots was a prime example. For those too young to remember, it was a rather monotonous disco tune amped up by a chatty Donald Duck-sound-alike. Disney has always been quick to point out that it wasn’t the “real” Donald Duck, but rather Dees friend (or former one… he apparently sued Rick over unpaid royalties not far down the road) Ken Pruitt. Among the cast of “idiots” surprisingly, was Stax Records co-founder Estelle Axton on guitar.

Dees was at the time a 26 year old Floridian working as a well-loved rock DJ in Memphis. He saw the musical trend and in an age when Pet Rocks were a big thing, saw the opportunity to cash in a little. Which he did. The record hit #1 in his country as well as Canada, where it was the third-biggest single of the year. It was one of the unusual records where Billboard and the then-rival publication, Cashbox varied greatly. While the two typically showed up rather similar chart positions and sales ranks, “Disco Duck” barely made the year end top 100 on Billboard but was #4 on Cashbox.

Either way, Dees rode the duck’s tail to fame and fortune, even though it cost him his job. He was forbidden to play his own record on air at the Memphis station, because of potential conflict-of-interest, and while he followed that, he apparently griped too frequently to his listeners that he had a smash hit but was not permitted to spin it.

Management angered and showed him the door; in a few weeks a rival rock station in town hired him and from there he soon moved to what was rumored to be the most profitable radio station in the country, KIIS-FM in L.A. By the mid-’80s he’d started his own syndicated chart hit show to take on Casy Kasem, “Rick Dees Weekly Top 40″, apparently something of a Kasem show with “funny bits,” parodies and in all likelihood, talking ducks. Dees had a gig on TV hosting Solid Gold and is honored in the National Radio Hall of Fame.

A few more notes on his single. It came out on the RSO label, the Bee Gees one that dominated 1977-78. Not surprisingly then, a snippet of the song is heard in the movie Saturday Night Fever, even though it didn’t make the double album soundtrack. Although it did win the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Song, not unhappily (to this listener at least), when the duck flew south it probably took with it listeners craving for spoof, novelty songs. Although the ’70s had its share, and several had hit #1 including “My Dingaling” by Chuck Berry in 1972, Ray Stevens “The Streak” and Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting” in ’74 and C.W. McCall’s truckin’ “Convoy” earlier in ’76, “Disco Duck” was the last one of note to top Billboard and his follow-up… “Dis-go-rilla” failed to even make the top 40.

August 11 – Summer Was The Queen Of Summer Listening In ’79

No questioning who the Queen of the Radio was in 1979. Donna Summer‘s “Bad Girls” was starting its fifth and final week atop Billboard’s. singles chart. Coupled with “Hot Stuff” that spring and “No More Tears” with Barbra Streisand later in the year, Summer would be #1 on the singles chart for 10 weeks of the year; dominance tied by only Debbie Boone in 1977 among females during the decade.

She’d scored a #1 the previous year with her disco remake of “MacArthur Park” but it was her Bad Girls double-album that really put her over the top. It sold over four million copies in the U.S. alone, hit #1 in Canada and several European countries and at the time was even lauded by Rolling Stone (which in general wasn’t a fan of disco), which said it “ranks as the only great disco album other than Saturday Night Fever.” Among her talented collaborators on the record were guitarist Skunk Baxter of the Doobie Brothers and Giorgio Moroder who co-produced it. Summer was Moroder’s first choice to sing “Call Me’ the next year, a song which ended up being a smash for Blondie. Summer’s tip’o’the cap to prostitution and easy sex didn’t sit well with her in the coming years. She became a born-again Christian and distanced herself from the steamy, early records later in her life. Sadly she died of cancer in 2012.

August 11 – People Freaked Over Chic

A disco album for those who hated disco? Well, not precisely although some looked at it that way. Nonetheless, as Rolling Stone would later put it, “Chic are the disco band to which rockers, hip-hoppers, soul fans, and funkateers all give props.” And they hit their stride this day in 1978, when they put out their second – and by all accounts best – album, C’est Chic.

Chic had in essence been around most of the decade, playing dance music around New York City. Led by, and formed by, two quality session musicians, guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards (who soon added drummer Tony Thompson), they originally went by the name Big Apple Band. That changed when Walter Murphy (of the disco-classical music hit “A Fifth of Beethoven” fame) briefly used the same name. Chic seemed to fit the style Rodgers was aiming for anyway. He loved dance music but also found himself inspired by the sophistication of Roxy Music and the glam, over-the-top stage show and costuming of Kiss. Under the name Chic, they signed to Atlantic Records and put out their debut in 1977, which was a dancefloor sensation but didn’t sell overly well. That changed considerably with C’est Chic though, which scored them two big radio hits in the Saturday Night Fever era – “Le Freak” and “I Want Your Love.”

They’d recruited Norma Jean Wright to sing on the first album, but for this one they used an array of vocalists, Alfa Anderson and Diva Gray primarily but quite a few others were in on the mix including Luther Vandross (who can be heard on “I Want Your Love.”)

Rolling Stone, like allmusic would give the album 4.5-stars. The former applauded tracks like “Le Freak” which they said “boasts some of the most angular instrumental interplay this side of James Brown” and “At Last I Am Free”, a “surprise” seven-minute ballad in which Edwards “spins out supremely melodic basslines.” Allmusic assessed it was “the right album at the right time” with it boasting “timeless floor-fillers” like the hit singles and “feel good album tracks” such as “Happy Man.”

I Want Your Love” made the top 10 in the States, Canada and UK, but the breakout hit was “Le Freak.” It went to #1 at home, in Australia and Canada and as a single went platinum-plus in North America. In fact, it was Atlantic’s biggest-selling single of the ’70s or ’80s. That helped the album also go platinum in both the U.S. and Canada; it rose to #4 in the U.S. and #5 in Canada. In Europe, where it was released with a couple of extra songs under the name Tres Chic, it was a #2 hit in the UK and went gold.

Chic would land only one more real hit song of their own – “Good Times” in 1979. But they far from faded away from the scene. If the song “We Are Family” seems to have a tiny bit of a “I Want Your Love” feel to it, there’s good reason – Edwards and Rodgers wrote it for Sister Sledge, produced it and Chic played the music for it. Likewise they put together Diana Ross’ 1980 hit album, Diana, with its singles “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out.” Later, Rodgers would famously go on to produce David Bowie’s smash Let’s Dance, Edwards would produce Robert Palmer’s commercial smash Riptide and Thompson would join Palmer in the band Power Station…after being one of two drummers Led Zeppelin used at Live Aid.

May 14 – At Times Staton’s Heart Ran Too Free

Happy birthday to a lady who’s been dubbed “the Queen of Southern Soul”, a disco superstar and a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. And at 82 and still active, Candi Staton‘s a survivor, which she says is the one title she’s proudest of.

She’s come through numerous changes to the music scene, being molested as a child, several abusive marriages and breast cancer…which she told NPR was her hardest fight. “Fighting a human is one thing, fighting something you can’t see is another.”

She was born in rural northern Alabama, but her family moved to Nashville while she was still quite young, and sent her to a Christian school where her great voice got noticed. By the early ’50s, she, her sister and another young woman had formed the Jewell Gospel Trio and toured churches and revivals in the South with the likes of Mahalia Jackson, beginning to cut records by 1953 – when Candi (born Canzetta) was just 13. They were quite popular, but by the mid-’60s, she’d transitioned more to mainstream R&B or soul music, eventually compiling a dozen top 20s on U.S. R&B charts, usually covers like “In the Ghetto” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man”, which was her first regular chart hit, getting to #24 in 1970.

Her big break was the disco hit “Young Hearts Run Free”, a catchy song of independence. She said it was rather a companion piece to her friend Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Staton said Gaynor broke the “glass ceiling” with that one. Before it, she figured DJs wanted songs by females to be “baby, please don’t leave me…I’m your slave.” “I Will Survive” and her hit made it OK for women to be headstrong. The song took her career several steps ahead quickly. Before it, she says “I was playing what they called the ‘Chitlin Circuit’…backwoods, R&B, juke joint clubs with women painted on the walls. Most nights you’d have to chase the promoter down to get paid.”

She says she recorded it in one take – “the hurt in my voice is real…I was singing my life.” She took her own advice, and “was smart enough to …get rid” of an abusive husband she said was a drug-abuser and pimp “and run to my Mom’s house.” Soon she could probably afford better accommodations for herself (and maybe her mother too!) with the single hitting the U.S. top 20, and #21 to the north in Canada. But it was Britain where it really made a mark, getting to #2, going platinum …and re-charting again in both the ’80s and ’90s. It helped set her up as a star over there, with her recording four more top 40 hits in the decade that followed, including a cover of “Suspicious Minds.”

In the ’80s she became friends with Jim and Tammy Bakker and they helped her set up a ministry in Atlanta with her new husband; at that time she switched to mostly gospel music which has been well-received in that circuit and represents about half of her 30 studio album discography, although her most recent album, 2018’s Unstoppable is described more as “retro R&B”.

As smart as she is, she’s not had the best of luck picking mates. She’s been married six times, including to R&B star “Strokin’” Clarence Carter and even baseball player Otis Nixon. They haven’t always gone well, prompting her to begin a charity called A Veil of Silence, dedicated to helping women escape violent relationships and educating authorities about the issue….helping “Young Hearts Run Free.”