Legendary soul singer Al Green knew what he wanted to do at the tender age of nine, when he performed with his brothers in the group The Greene Brothers. Green was raised in a strict religious home in Michigan, so when his father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson, he was kicked out of the group.
But that didn’t deter him from singing. He formed Al Greene & The Soul Mates in high school, which eventually led to his contact with Memphis record producer Willie Mitchell. Mitchell signed Green solo to Hi Records and Green removed the last “e” from his surname before releasing his first studio record, “Green is Blues” in 1969.
Green became a superstar of soul in the early ‘70s through his partnership with Mitchell. His sophomore effort, “Al Green Gets Next to You,” contained Green’s first solid gold single, “Tired of Being Alone,” which was followed by a multitude of gold singles across the next couple of years.
Green’s third studio album, “Let’s Stay Together,” became the defining record of his career. It hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Soul Albums chart and the title track earned the distinction of being Green’s first No. 1 single. A string of critically-acclaimed albums and Top 10 singles followed across several years including “Look What You Done for Me,” “I’m Still in Love with You” and “Call Me (Come Back Home).
In 1980, Green left Hi and returned to his religious roots by signing with Myrrh Records. He won his first Grammy Award (out of eight career total Grammys in the category) for Best Soul Gospel Performance for the title track from his debut Gospel record “The Lord Will Make a Way.” He made Gospel records throughout the ‘80s while preaching as an ordained minister. He took a critically-acclaimed sidestep in 1982 to star on Broadway with Patti LaBelle in “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.”
A 1988 collaboration with Annie Lennox on “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” marked Green’s return to secular music. He earned his ninth Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Collaboration with Lyle Lovett in 1994 and two more Grammys in 2008 for collaborations with Anthony Hamilton and John Legend.
An Enduring and Inspiring Legend
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee received the prestigious Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. After making music for more than four decades, Al Green was ranked No. 66 on “Rolling Stones” 2010 list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Green’s smooth tone, signature falsetto and improvisational Gospel-style moans and wails changed the face of soul music in the ‘70s and influenced a bevy of artists across multiple genres and generations.
Pop/R&B superstar Justin Timberlake, for example, counts performing with Green as a career highlight. He wrote about the experience in Green’s “Rolling Stone Greatest Artist” dedication, saying, “…what makes him such an inspiration is the raw passion, the sincerity and the joy he brings to his music … Everything always has to be about the show. But Al Green is the show, and when you watch him perform, you see something honest and soulful and amazing.”
Al Green is one of five honorees at the “37th Annual Kennedy Center Honors,” which airs on Tuesday, Dec. 30 (9:00-11:00 PM ET/PT) on CBS.
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Lori Melton is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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