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March 23, 2014

‘The First Lady of Southern Soul’: Colony native Candi Staton inducted into Alabama Music Hall of Fame

They say that good things come to those who wait … for Candi Staton that wait was a long time coming, but it was worth it as she looked out over the packed auditorium at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Awards and Induction Banquet on  Feb. 28.

“Everything was so beautiful,” said Staton. “I’d been there before, but I just never realized how beautiful it was.”

She accepted the award, which she describes as being lit from within, inscribed with her name and the honor of being included as a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame.

She was impressed at the guest list, which included the governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, and other dignitaries, as well as many familiar faces from Fame Studios, where she got her start.

That start was assisted by Muscle Shoals record producer, Rick Hall, who was also on hand to share her big night. She got her start just down the road at Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, so it was almost like “old home week” when she arrived on the red carpet.

It was a wonderful evening at awards show in Florence at the city’s convention center. Candi looked lovely in a simple black outfit, with a sequined jacket and tailored skirt. She proudly held her head high in spite of being a bit fatigued — having just returned from a month’s tour in Europe a few days before the induction ceremony and still suffering a bit of jet lag.

They called her name last. The master of ceremonies referred to Staton as, “The First Lady of Southern Soul, from Hanceville, Alabama.”

She didn’t need to prepare a speech, she just spoke from her heart. She told the story of being born in Colony near Hanceville, getting married in Alabama, of her children being born here, and having cut her first record in Muscle Shoals.

Others who were inducted that night included Center Star native Spooner Oldham, the keyboardist who played along while Aretha Franklin belted out “Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)” and Vernon’s Dan Penn, who wrote such hits as “Out Left Field,” “Do Right Woman,” “Cry Like a Baby” (with Oldham), ”I’m Your Puppet”, and “Slippin’ Around.”   

Also inducted was founder of Country Radio Seminar, Charlie Monk, (from Geneva, Alabama). Monk, dubbed the “Honorary Mayor of Music Row,” helped launch the careers of Alabama, Brooks & Dunn, the Dixie Chicks and Vince Gill, among others. Posthumous awards were given prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher, Sun Ra, from Birmingham, and one of country music’s greatest tenors, Hank Locklin, whose credits include composing songs for Loretta Lynn, George Jones and Dolly Parton.

“Stars really fell on Alabama tonight,” Staton told her audience.

Staton’s achievements were listed for all to see; 16 R&B hits and two Grammys 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, which read, “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 over 200 records, including one of the songs she sang at the induction ceremony, “I’m Just a Prisoner,” among so many others.

She took the stage with John Paul White, formerly with Civil Wars, to perform, “I’m Not Easy to Love,” (the song they sang on David Letterman, along with Jason Isbell).

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” she laughed. “It felt like home, I knew most everybody, and of course, I’d known Rick Hall forever.”

Staton’s induction into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame let the world know what Hanceville and Colony have known all along. Candi Staton is a star.

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