Candi Staton - Biography

By J Poet

Candi Staton, the First Lady of Southern Soul, is a versatile gospel, soul, R&B, pop, and disco singer. She rose from poverty to become a Grammy nominated artist and disco diva with two seminal club hits “Young Hearts Run Free” and “Victim.” With her husband John Sussewell, she founded the successful Beracah Ministries in Atlanta and currently records and performs both gospel and secular music.


Canzetta Staton was born in a poor black family in Hanceville, Alabama in 1940. She grew up picking cotton, but after seeing a girl her age perform at a family picnic, she decided to become a singer and practiced night and day. By the time she was six, she was a soloist with her church choir. Staton’s father was an alcoholic and abused her mother. The family eventually left him. Mrs. Staton moved to Cleveland, Ohio with Candi and her sister Maggie.


The Staton sisters went to school at the Jewell Christian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee; when they met Naomi Harrison they started singing together as the Jewel Gospel Trio. As teenagers, they toured the gospel circuit with the Soul Stirrers, Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, and Mahalia Jackson. They attracted the interest of Aladdin and cut their first single, “Rest, Rest, Rest” b/w “At The Cross” in 1953. While they were still in high school, the trio made singles for Aladdin, Savoy, and Nashboro, but none were successful.


Staton had a brief relationship with Lou Rawls, then moved back home to live with her mother in Birmingham, Alabama. She stopped singing, got married, and had four children, but her husband was alcoholic and abusive. They divorced, leaving her with four children to raise on her own. She worked days in a nursing home and started singing secular music in nightclubs on the weekends. In 1968, she won a talent contest singing Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman." Soul singer Clarence Carter was in the audience and introduced Staton to his producer, Rick Hall head of Fame Records. Carter and Staton married and he wrote her first Top 10 hit “I'd Rather Be an Old Man's Sweetheart (Than a Young Man's Fool.)”


With Hall as producer, Staton cut a series of simmering soul albums that often featured R&B renditions of country tunes. I'm Just a Prisoner (1969 Fame) included “I'd Rather Be an Old Man's Sweetheart,” Stand By Your Man (1971 Fame) won a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal for the title track, and Candi Staton (1973 Fame) is an underrated classic.


As soul music was being supplanted by disco and other club beats, Staton moved Warner Brothers. Her first album for her new label, produced by Dave Crawford and featuring Ray Parker, Jr. on guitar, was Young Hearts Run Free (1976 Warner). The title track was a worldwide smash and went gold. Music Speaks Louder Than Words (1977 Warner) included another international smash, a cover of the Bee Gees "Nights on Broadway." House of Love (1978 Warner), Chance (1979 Warner) and Suspicious Minds (1982 Sugar Hill, 1994 Castle) solidified her reputation as a disco diva.


Staton coped with her fame by turning to alcohol and developed a dependency. She broke her addiction with the help of her new husband John Sussewell. Together they founded Beracah Ministries in Atlanta and created their own gospel label. Staton cut 12 gospel albums with a contemporary flair for her new label including Make Me An Instrument (1984 Beracah), The Anointing (1985 Beracah), Sing A Song (1986 Beracah), Love Lifted Me (1988 Beracah), Stand Up And Be A Witness (1990 Beracah), Standing On The Promises (1991 Beracah), and I Give You Praise (1993 Beracah).


Staton returned to secular music with It's Time (1995 Intersound), produced by her son, drummer Marcus Williams. It combined jazz, funk and a few gospel tunes and summed up Staton’s career so far. Cover Me (1997 A&M) was a gospel collection with country, pop and soul influences, Outside In (1999) was a dance record that included a remix of "You Got the Love,” a major UK hit, while Here's a Blessing (2000 Lightyear) included remakes of some of her biggest gospel hits including “Mama.”


Candi Staton (2004 Honest Jon UK) collected the best of her soul years at Fame and led to His Hands (2006 Honest Jon UK, 2007 Astralwerks US) a neo-soul tour de force driven by Staton’s powerful, wrenching vocals. Who's Hurting Now? (2009 Honest Jon UK) provided a strong follow up. The Ultimate Gospel Collection (2006 Shanachie) collects 26 songs from her Beracah albums on two CDs of ultimate soul power.


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