Among American listeners, Candi Staton is remembered for a group of classic 1970s recordings in the disco genre. Staton is one of the powerful female vocalists who defined the term "disco diva" and established the contrast between virtuoso vocals and impersonal electronics as a central principle of dance music. For Europeans, who have a track record of spotting the most significant trends in American music several years before Americans do, she is even more well-known. "Candi Staton has a voice that has tracked the times, that has followed us from Sixties soul to acid house and out again the other side," observed the British website Slice.
She was born Canzata Maria Staton in rural Hanceville, Alabama, in the early 1940s, and grew up picking cotton and helping raise farm animals. Staton's father was an alcoholic who abused her mother, and Staton herself would struggle through abusive relationships at several points in her own life. She began singing in church at the age of four, and a year later had already been selected to participate in a quartet with three other girls. Early on, Staton learned the power her singing could have over an audience. "The crowds would get very emotional," she was quoted as saying on the Divastation website. "At the time, I didn't even know why they were crying. Once, I remember, the audience got so emotional, throwing their pocket books at my feet and so on, that I got really scared and ran off to my mother."
Attended Christian Academy
Staton's parents eventually divorced, and at the age of eleven or twelve she was sent, along with her sister, Maggie, to the Jewel Christian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Again her vocal abilities quickly set her apart from the crowd; the school's pastor teamed the two sisters with a third girl to form the Jewel Gospel Trio. For Staton, the result was a fabulous musical education. The trio toured with such gospel legends as the Soul Stirrers, the Staple Singers, and the young Aretha Franklin. They recorded several singles on their own for the legendary gospel labels Nashboro and Savoy.
After six years in Nashville and on the road, Staton grew restless in her late teens and left the Jewel trio. She fell into a brief relationship with singer Lou Rawls, and after that ended, she married Joe Williams, by whom she had four children. That marriage, like the marriage of Staton's mother, turned abusive and ended in divorce, leaving Staton with four mouths to feed and a tough job in a nursing home. Aware of the success other gospel performers had found after turning to pop, Staton, who had been out of the music business for seven years, began appearing in nightclubs.
She recorded a few singles for obscure southern labels, but went nowhere until she entered a talent contest, on a dare from her brother, at a Birmingham, Alabama club in 1968. Her rendition of Aretha Frank-lin's "Do Right Woman" impressed soul star Clarence Carter, who put Staton in touch with his producer, Rick Hall. Hall was the owner of the Fame record label and studios in nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and was a dominant force in southern soul at the time, rivaled only by Memphis's Stax operation. Carter and Staton married and Staton was signed to Fame. Her career took off in 1969 with a humorous Carter-penned number entitled "I'd Rather Be an Old Man's Sweetheart (Than a Young Man's Fool)."
Recorded Country Material
Staton's underrated career as a soul singer resulted in 16 chart singles between 1969 and 1974, when she left the Fame label. Some of her recordings drew on country music for material, and she garnered Grammy nominations for her 1971 recording of the Tammy Wynette standard "Stand By Your Man" and for a cover of Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" that inspired a note of praise from the aging rocker. In a Nashville Tennes-sean interview quoted on the Divastation website, Staton explained her affinity with country music. "Country music tells stories," she said. "The lyrical tradition of country music is so rich. A country song always has a beginning, a middle, and an end."
Sensing the upswing of the pulsing, mechanical dance music known as disco in the mid-1970s, Staton divorced the womanizing Carter, switched to the Warner Brothers label, and began working with Miami-based producer Dave Crawford. She made five albums for Warner Brothers, notching a major hit with "Young Hearts Run Free" in 1976, rising to nearly the same level internationally with "Nights on Broadway," and scoring several other hits that won her lifelong fans among aficionados of dance music. Some of these followers would be responsible for the resurgence of Staton's secular career at the end of the 1990s.
Buoyed by an invitation to perform at the White House for President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, Staton seemed poised once again to anticipate the next shift in musical power and influence. She recorded an album for the pioneering rap label Sugarhill in 1982; that album, Suspicious Minds, featured a cover of the Elvis Presley song of the same name and achieved moderate success. Personal problems, however, sidelined Staton's pop career. "Alcohol became my husband, my lover, my kids, my comforter, my god," she was quoted in Divastation. "I worshipped alcohol. I couldn't get up in the morning without a drink."
Hosted Religious Television Program
Salvation from these trials came in the form of a return to her spiritual roots in the early 1980s; she was aided in this quest by her new husband, former Diana Ross drummer John Sussewell, who himself had battled addiction. Based in Atlanta in a ministry established with financial support from the controversial white evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Staton recorded gospel music exclusively in the 1980s and 1990s, also hosting a religious television show called Say Yes! Staton won the respect of her peers in gospel as surely as she had in pop, gaining two more Grammy nominations along the way.
An early-1990s remix of her song "You Got the Love" by a British deejay in a London nightclub put Staton's name and music before the secular public once again. The recording steadily snowballed in reputation and, by 1997, reached the number three position on the British pop charts. This led to a British re-release of "Young Hearts Run Free" and its inclusion on the soundtrack of the 1997 Romeo and Juliet film starring teen heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio. Staton played a series of British club dates, and, in 1999, released an all-new secular album, Outside In.
For the Record . . .
Born Canzata Maria Staton in early 1940s, in Hanceville, AL; raised on a farm; married Joe Williams (divorced); married Clarence Carter (divorced); married John Sussewell (a musician); children: four. Education: Attended Jewel Christian Academy, Nashville, TN, for six years.
Toured with Jewel Gospel Trio, 1950s; with Jewel Gospel Trio, recorded several times for Nashboro, Apollo, and Savoy labels, 1950s; signed to Fame label, 1968; recorded sixteen hit singles and four albums, 1968-74; signed with Warner Bros. label, 1975; released Young Hearts Run Free, 1976; founded Beracah Ministries, Atlanta, GA, mid-1980s; remix of song "You Got the Love" reached British Top Ten, 1992; signed to Inter-sound Records, released It's Time, 1995; signed to Lightyear Entertainment, released Here's a Blessing, 2000; released Glorify, 2001; released Proverbs 31 Women, 2002.
Addresses: Record company— Lightyear Entertainment, 434 Avenue of the Americas, 6th Fl., New York, NY 10011, website: http://www.lightyear.com, phone: (212) 353-5084. Website— Candi Staton Official Web-site: http://www.candi-staton.com.
In the U.S., Staton received less attention but continued to thrive in the gospel arena, releasing the album Cover Me in 1997. A survivor with numerous professional lives, Staton shared with Jet magazine the secret of her longevity in the brutally fickle business of music. "I had a praying mother," she said. "She instilled strength in me. If you fall, get up, brush yourself off and keep moving. Don't wallow. You have to get up and sometimes go against the wind."
I'm Just a Prisoner, Fame, 1969.
Stand By Your Man, Fame, 1971.
Candi Staton, Fame, 1972.
Candi, Fame, 1974.
Young Hearts Run Free, Warner Bros., 1976.
Music Speaks Louder Than Words, Warner Bros., 1977.
House of Love, Warner Bros., 1978.
Chance, Warner Bros., 1979.
Suspicious Minds, Sugarhill, 1982.
Make Me an Instrument, Myrrh, 1985.
Sing a Song, Myrrh, 1986.
Love Lifted Me, Myrrh, 1988.
Stand Up and Be a Witness, Blue Moon, 1990.
It's Time, Intersound, 1995.
The Best of Candi Staton, Warner Bros., 1995.
Cover Me, CGI, 1997.
The Best of Candi Staton, A&M, 1998.
Outside In, React, 1999.
Here's a Blessing, Lightyear, 2000.
Glorify, Blue Moon, 2001.
Proverbs 31 Woman, Lightyear, 2002.
Gregory, Hugh, Soul Music A-Z, Da Capo, 1995.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
Nite, Norm N., Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n' Roll, Crowell, 1978.
Staton, Candi, This Is My Story, Pneuma Life, 1996.
Jet, June 30, 1997, p. 62.
"Candi Staton," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 17, 2003).
"Candi Staton," Divastation, http://www.divastation.com/candi_staton/staton_bio.html (December 17, 2003).
Candi Staton Official Website, http://www.candi-staton.com (December 17, 2003).
—James M. Manheim