James Hugh Loden (May 1, 1928 – February 22, 2016), known professionally as Sonny James, was an American country music singer and songwriter best known for his 1957 hit, "Young Love". Dubbed the "Southern Gentleman" for his congenial manner, his greatest success came from ballads about the trials of love. James had 72 country and pop charted releases from 1953 to 1983, including an unprecedented five-year streak of 16 straight Billboard #1 singles among his 26 #1 hits. Twenty-one of his albums reached the country top ten from 1964 to 1976. James was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1961 and co-hosted the first Country Music Association Awards Show in 1967. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
Bob Paxman⎪Published: Feb 22, 2016
Sonny James, Country Music Hall of Fame Member, Dies at Age 87.
Sonny James, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame died Monday, Feb. 22, at age 87. The cause of death was not given.
Sonny scored the first of his 23 No. 1 singles in 1957 with »Young Love«, which hit the top on both the country and the pop charts. Sonny reached No. 1 on the country charts in 1965 with »You're the Only World I Know«, kicking off his most successful period. During on point in his career, from 1967 to late 1971, he had a string of 16 consecutive No. 1 country singles including »I'll Never Find Another You«, »Heaven Says Hello« and »Here Comes Honey Again«. That established a record tied later by Earl Thomas Conley and eventually broken by Alabama with 21 consecutive No.1 hits.
Sonny was born James Hugh Loden on May 1, 1929, in Hackleburg, Ala. After serving in the U.S. Army, Sonny made his country chart debut in 1953 with »That's Me Without You«, which peaked at No. 9. His smooth, crooning style made him a natural fit for the so-called »Nashville Sound« of the 1960s, characterized by lush arrangements and non-traditional instrumentation. Many of his country successes were actually remakes of pop standards, including »Only the Lonely«, »Running Bear« and »It's just a Matter of Time«. For his easygoing way with a song and kindly personality, he was given the nickname »The Southern Gentleman«. He continued to record until the mid-1980s.
Blessed with movie-star looks, Sonny landed parts in such movies as Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar and Las Vegas Hillbillies. In 1957, he became the first country artist to appear on TV's Ed Sullivan Show. Sonny also co-hosted the first Country Music Association awards show with Bobbie Gentry in 1967.
Sonny was welcomed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1965. Other accolades included induction to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2006, Sonny received the highest honor of his career, election to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Sonny leaves behind his wife, Doris, whom he married in 1957. Funeral arrangements have not been announced at this time.
Dolly Parton, Gene Watson and other stars reflected on Sonny's passing to NASH Country Weekly:
»Sonny James was one of country music's greatest. Je was a true gentleman and made some of the greatest country music records of all time, certainly some of my favorites. He will be remembered fondly.«
»Sonny James was a good friend and one of my all-time favorite singers. I learned so much working with him and he gave me great advice when I was just starting out.«
Jeff Hanna of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band:
»I'll never forget hearing that voice coming out of my bog brother's car radio in Phoenix, 1957, in a time when a handful of country artist were crossing over to pop radio. The song was "Young Love". Pure magic and deep emotion indeed.«
»When I first started out, I was very lucky and privileged to open shows for Sonny James. He was always so kind and generous to me. Great voice, great man.«
Joe Bonsall of The Oak Ridge Boys:
»Sonny was a pioneer, a star I looked up to in my formative years as someone to emulate. This is very sad to me.«
»Sonny James was a wonderful singer, songwriter and musician. More than that, though, he truly lived up to his nickname: "The Southern Gentleman".«
James Hugh Loden was born on May 1, 1928 to Archie Lee 'Pop' Loden and Della Burleson Loden, who operated a 300 acre (120 ha) farm outside Hackleburg, Alabama. His parents were amateur musicians, and his sister Thelma Lee Loden Holcombe also played instruments and sang from an early age. By age three he was playing a mandolin and singing and was dubbed "Sonny Boy". In 1933, the family appeared on a radio audition which resulted in their being offered a regular Saturday slot on Muscle Shoals, Alabama radio station WMSD-AM. About this time the parents volunteered to raise an Alabama girl named Ruby Palmer, and soon Ruby was also part of the musical group, and the singing Loden Family, later billed as Sonny Loden and the Southerners, was soon playing theaters, auditoriums and schoolhouses throughout the Southern United States.
To this point the musical appearances had been a part-time effort for the family, as they returned after each gig or tour to work the family farm. After a few years the father decided they were professional enough to immerse themselves into the field full-time, so the father leased out the farm and they took a daily spot on radio station KLCN, where they provided early-morning accompaniment for the area's early-risers. After that they had spots on several other radio stations around the South. In 1949, they returned to Alabama, with a show on radio station WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama. Near Christmastime that year, the two girls were married in West Memphis, Arkansas in a double ceremony and left the group. The parents found other girls to take their place, but the group soon disbanded (the parents returned to Hackleburg and opened a clothing store, where James worked while belatedly finishing his final year of high school). During the summer of 1950, James worked with a band, sometimes singing but he was most useful as a guitar player on the Memphis, Tennessee radio station WHBQ.
(Picture: «The Loden Clan and teen-aged Sonny)
On September 9, 1950, his career was interrupted by the Korean War when his Alabama Army National Guard unit was activated. After military service in Korea, James moved to Nashville, where he spent a week staying with Chet Atkins and his wife. James had roomed with Atkins years earlier in Raleigh, North Carolina when they were playing at the same radio station. Atkins invited Capitol Records executive Ken Nelson to join them for dinner. James stated, "After dinner Chet and I began woodshedding on our guitars. We played a few songs I had written, then Chet turned to Ken and said, ‘What do you think, Ken?’ And Ken said, ‘I’d like to record him.’” Nelson asked him to drop his last name professionally believing there were already several musicians named Loden, Louden or Luden, and that "James" would be easier to remember: "The smallest children can remember Sonny James." So he released his first studio record as Sonny James. While appearing on Louisiana Hayride, he met musician Slim Whitman. James' performance on stage playing a fiddle and singing brought a strong crowd response, and Whitman invited him to front for his new touring band. James stayed with Whitman's group for only two months when Whitman felt he had to do some club work to keep up his income to be able to pay his band. The Loden family had only appeared in schoolhouses and such and Sonny agreed to stay on for a few shows until Whitman could find his replacement. For the remainder of his career he never played a club performance. Over the next few years, he had several songs that did reasonabåly well on the country music charts and he continued to develop his career with performances at live country music shows. He also appeared on radio, including Big D Jamboree, before moving to the all important new medium, television, where he became a regular performer on ABC's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri beginning in October 1955. Following his long streak of #1 hits, James is also remembered for his 1975 #6 song "A Little Bit South of Saskatoon" that was in the 1977 Paul Newman hockey comedy Slap Shot.
Top of the charts
In late 1956 James released "Young Love", a 45 rpm single for which he would forever be remembered. As the first teenage country crossover single, it topped both the US country and pop music charts in January to February 1957. Record sales could have been higher if Capitol Records had anticipated the exposure on popular-music charts; they had ordered only enough copies of the record to satisfy the anticipated country-music demand, and were therefore unable to supply most of the requests for records. The track peaked at No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart. It sold well over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Dubbed the Southern Gentleman because of his polite demeanor, he gained more exposure with an appearance on the popular Ed Sullivan Show and the Bob Hope Show.
Thus began a seven-year search for a sound that gave him a lasting career. Two more years at Capitol Records didn't produce it and they parted ways in 1959. James signed with National Recording Corporation, and then stints with Dot (1960–1961), RCA (1961–1962), his second time with Capitol (1963–1972), and later with Columbia (1972–1979), Monument (1979) and Dimension (1981–1983).
In 1962 he returned to his roots and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and a year later signed again with Capitol Records. From 1964 to 1972 he was a dominant force in country music. James and his Southern Gentlemen appeared on the major TV shows during that period including (Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, Jimmy Dean, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, The Joey Bishop Show, was a multi-time guest on Hee Haw, also on the Johnny Cash Show and made minor singing appearances in four motion pictures.
#1 streak beginnings
On August 15, 1964 James made his first appearance with a vocal group that had been together for five years. The group consisted of Lin Bown - 1st tenor, Gary Robble - 2nd tenor, Duane West - baritone and Glenn Huggins - bass. These four young men had started singing as freshmen at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1959, and in September 1962 they transferred to a sister college in Nashville Tennessee. 16 months later in January 1964 they replaced the Jordanaires as the Grand Ole Opry quartet. James felt he finally found the combination that propelled him into his second career - that sound he had been seeking for seven years. So these young 21 and 22 year-old men, along with Sonny's multi-talented bass player Milo Liggett, became The Southern Gentlemen, joined 36-year-old Sonny James and quickly headed into country music history.
Two months later, James had his first #1 Billboard hit since Young Love - topping the country charts with the song he co-wrote with Bob Tubert, You're The Only World I Know. His next five releases peaked on the Billboard country charts at 2, 1, 3, 1, and 2 (though all five of them hit #1 on either Billboard, Record World or Cashbox).
With his musical style now refined and his "sound" on records and on personal appearances produced to be immediately identifiable, Sonny James was set to begin what became his legendary streak of 16 straight #1 singles - an uncontested record which no other solo recording artist has surpassed in any genre.
Billboard #1 streak
Beginning in 1967 with "Need You" and ending with "Here Comes Honey Again" in 1971, James recorded 16 straight #1 country singles. His career #1 total was 26, the last coming with 1974's "Is It Wrong (For Loving You)". During his career had 72 charted releases. In 1973 James also helped launch the solo career of Marie Osmond, producing and arranging her first three albums, including her smash hit, "Paper Roses".
Personal life and death
In July 1957 Sonny married Doris Shrode in Dallas, Texas.
In the spring of 1984, Sonny and Doris quietly retired to their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He came home to Hackleburg during the first annual Neighbor Day Festival on April 20, 2002 and continued attending the festival every other year. During the April 25, 2009 festival, he recognized the 100th birthday of the town of Hackleburg on the main stage.
James died on February 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 87.
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