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 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.
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.
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" 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".
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.
Milsap's sound shifted toward string-laden pop and rock n' roll 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. From 1980 until 1983, he scored a series of eleven No. 1 songs. 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 beautiful 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-award-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, Larry Gatlin, 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 19 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.
Milsap has remained one of country music's best-loved and most successful artists despite the lack of radio airplay in the last decade. 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.
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.
His biography was featured by A&E Networks's Biography television series in 2000. 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.
At age 68, Milsap released his new studio album Country Again in July 2011. The new CD is 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.
Milsap has remained as one of country music's most popular concert performers and continues to tour regularly for his many fans across the country.
On May 2, 2013, Milsap performed at the funeral 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 on January 28, 2014. The album features new recordings of classic pop, R&B, and country 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.
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?"
Milsap is an Advanced class amateur radio operator. His call sign is WB4KCG.
Academy of Country Music
Country Music Association
Country Music Hall of Fame 2014 Inductee
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