Black Music Matters Festival

Hall of famer Sonny James dies

Monday, February 22, 2016 – Country Music Hall of Fame member Sonny James, best known for the 1957 hit "Young Love," died today at 86.

Known as the Southern Gentleman, James enjoyed 72 country and pop charted releases from 1953-1983. He had a 5-year streak of 16 consecutive number 1 singles on the Billboard charts and a total of 26 chart toppers. James also had much success on the albums chart, scoring 21 top 10 albums from 1964-1976. James was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

James Hugh Loden was born May 1, 1929 near Hackelburg, Ala. His parents were musical, and by 3, the youngster, known as "Sonny," was singing and playing mandolin. A year later, the family received a regular Saturday slot on WMSD-AM in Muscle Shoals, Ala. With the addition of Ruby Palmer joining the family band, Sonny Loden and the Southerners performed throughout the southern U.S.

The group continued until the late 1940s with James moving to Nashville after serving in the Korean War. He signed with Capitol Records with the aid of Chet Akins with whom he had roomed. James changed his name at the urging of Capitol head Ken Nelson.

Slim Whitman asked James to be the lead singer of his new touring band after meeting on the Louisiana Hayride. James stayed for only two months and soon was a regular performer on ABC's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Mo. Starting in 1955.

"Young Love" was released in late 1956 and became a crossover hit on the pop charts as well. James left Capitol in 1959, signing with record labels including Dot, RCA, Capitol again and Columbia.

In 1962, James became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. During his second stint with Capitol (1963-72), he was a force on the charts. Joining with the vocal group that had been together for five years, the Southern Gentlemen, James eventually had a number one hit with "You're the Only World I Know," which he co-wrote with Bob Tubert.

James' number one streak started in 1967 with "Need You." The streak continued with "I'll Never Find Another You," "It's the Little Things," A World of Our Own," "Heaven Says Hello," "Born to Be With You," "Only the Lonely," Running Bear," "Since I Met You Baby," "It's Just a Matter of Time," "My Love," "Don't Keep Me Hangin' On," Endlessly," "Empty Arms," "Bright Lights, Bit City," Here Comes Honey Again," Only Love Can Break a Heart," "That's Why I Love You Like I Do" and "When the Show is On the Roses."

James also saw his music go into space. In 1971, he made a special music recording for the crew of Apollo 14. They later gave him one of the small American flags that they had carried to the moon.

James' last number one was "Is It Wrong (For Loving You)" in 1974. He continued charting until 1983. His last studio CD was 1982's "I'm Looking Over the Rainbow" on Dimension Records.

James also produced Marie Osmond's first three albums with the first single, "Paper Roses," going number one on Billboard.

James retired in 1984. He is survived by his wife, Doris.