Childhood & Early Life
He was born on January 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, North Carolina, US. He was almost blind at the time of his birth, because of a congenital disorder. His mother abandoned him as an infant, and his grandparents looked after him in the Smoky Mountains till age five. Thereafter, he was enrolled at a blind school known as the ‘Governor Morehead School’ in Raleigh, North Carolina.
As a child, he was passionate about music. Soon, he started his formal training in classical music in school, after his instructors observed his remarkable musical talent. He learned the piano, the violin, and the guitar and soon became an excellent pianist.
He lost the limited vision he had in his left eye after being slapped by a house parent of the school at the age of 14.
Milsap developed an interest in rock and roll music. He, with his high-school classmates, formed the rock band ‘The Apparitions.’
After receiving a full college scholarship, Milsap, who had planned to become a lawyer, began studying at the ‘Young Harris College’ in Young Harris, GA. While in college, he joined ‘Dimensions,’ a popular local R&B band and performed at the ‘Royal Peacock Club.’ He later resolved to make a career in music and left college after rejecting a law school scholarship in the fall of 1964.
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His first single ‘Total Disaster’ released in 1963.
He signed with the American record company ‘Scepter Records’ in 1965 and recorded many singles with them. Of these, the only single that could be marked as a hit was ‘Never Had It So Good,’ which climbed up to No. 19 on the R&B chart in November that year.
He worked with American record producer Chips Moman after relocating to Memphis, Tennessee. Moman helped him work as a session musician on various songs of Elvis Presley, such as ‘Don't Cry Daddy’ (1969) and ‘Kentucky Rain’ (1970).
His first studio album, ‘Ronnie Milsap,’ released in August 1971 through ‘Warner Bros. Records.’ A CD version of the album was later released in 2006.
He moved to Nashville in December 1972, after a chance meeting with famous American country singer Charley Pride. It was Pride who motivated him to turn his attention to country music.
In 1973, he signed a contract with ‘RCA Records’ and came up with his first single ‘I Hate You,’ which peaked at No. 10 on the country chart, marking his first success in country music.
His first No. 1 hit was the song ‘Pure Love,’ which released through ‘RCA’ in March 1974. It was the title track of his third studio album, ‘Pure Love,’ which released in April the same year.
The second single of the album ‘Pure Love,’ titled ‘Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends,’ released in July 1974 and graced the ‘Billboard Hot Country Songs’ chart. It won Milsap his first ‘Grammy’ award in the ‘Best Male Country Vocal Performance’ category in 1975.
He furthered his fame by reviving the Don Gibson song ‘(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time,’ which released as the lead single of his fourth studio album, ‘A Legend in My Time’ on November 30, 1974. The first single of his sixth studio album, ‘Night Things,’ titled ‘Daydreams About Night Things,’ which released on July 19, 1975, was another hit. Both the songs graced the ‘Billboard Hot Country Songs’ chart.
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The ensuing years proved to be the most productive for the singer. He began to be recognized as one of the most prominent country artists, with seven successive No. 1 hits. These included ‘What Goes On When the Sun Goes Down’ (1975), the ‘Grammy-winning ‘(I'm A) Stand by My Woman Man’ (1976), ‘Let My Love Be Your Pillow’ (1976), ‘It Was Almost Like a Song’ (1977), ‘What a Difference You've Made in My Life’ (1977), ‘Only One Love in My Life’ (1978), and ‘Let's Take the Long Way Around the World’ (1978).
The late 1970s witnessed a shift of his sound in string-laden pop ballads, leading to crossover success for over a decade.
Between 1980 and 1982, he created magic again, churning out 10 No. 1 hits in a row. The songs were ‘Why Don't You Spend the Night’ (1980), ‘My Heart’ (1980), ‘Cowboys and Clowns’ (1980), ‘Smoky Mountain Rain’ (1980), ‘Am I Losing You’ (1981), ‘(There's) No Gettin' Over Me’ (1981), ‘I Wouldn't Have Missed It for the World’ (1981), ‘Any Day Now’ (1982), ‘He Got You’ (1982) and ‘Inside’ (1982). Of these, ‘(There's) No Gettin' Over Me’ won him his third ‘Grammy’ in 1982.
His success story continued, with many more of his songs reaching the top spot on the ‘Billboard’ country singles chart by the late 1980s. These included tracks such as ‘Don't You Know How Much I Love You’ (1983), ‘Still Losing You’ (1984), ‘Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)’ (1985), ‘In Love’ (1986), ‘Snap Your Fingers’ (1987) and ‘A Woman in Love’ (1989). Of these, ‘Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night),’ which marked his final pop crossover success, earned him his fourth ‘Grammy’ award in 1986.
He won his fifth ‘Grammy’ award in 1987 for his seventeenth studio album ‘Lost in the Fifties Tonight,’ which released in 1986, with ‘Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)’ as its title track.
His collaborative song ‘Make No Mistake, She's Mine,’ with pop singer Kenny Rogers (1987), topped the ‘Billboard’ country chart and fetched the duo a ‘Grammy’ award for the ‘Best Country Collaboration with Vocals’ in 1988, marking the sixth ‘Grammy’ award for Milsap.
This gifted singer earned several other awards and honors over the years. These include the honor of the ‘Male Vocalist of the Year,’ awarded by the ‘Country Music Association’ in 1974, 1976, and 1977. He was also inducted into the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ in 1976, into the ‘North Carolina Music Hall of Fame’ in 2002, and into the ‘Country Music Hall of Fame’ in 2014. He also received the ‘Career Achievement Award,’ awarded by the ‘Country Radio Seminar,’ in 2006 and the ‘Rocketown Legend Award’ in 2007.
He is an “Advanced” class amateur radio operator with call sign WB4KCG.