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via: The Belle Report

Church and gospel music have long influenced the sounds of rhythm, blues and soul music, giving secular listeners some of the greatest singers in the last half-century. One of the greatest voices, Al Green, still going strong as he took to the stage at the Charlottesville Pavilion this past Sunday.

Like so many of the soul greats, Green’s ties to the church and gospel gave him his start in music and, in a strange way, a narrow opinion of secular music by his own father led to a career that spawned millions in record sales and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Green, who began singing when he was 9, was part of his family’s gospel quartet, the Green Brothers, which toured from the family’s Arkansas home in the ’50s and later in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area, where they relocated. When his father discovered him listening to R&B legend Jackie Wilson, he promptly kicked his son out of the group, a scene Green recounted with good humor recently to “Blues and Soul” on its website.

“Yeah, that is true! I got thrown out for listening to Jackie Wilson singing ‘Baby Work Out’ by my own father — the dirty rat! But you know, I didn’t take it too bad. I ended up going to live with a friend of mine, Lee Virgins, and that’s when I really got introduced to pop and R&B music. So at 16, I formed an R&B group called Al Green and the Creations.”

The group had a surprise hit, “Back Up Train” that charted on R&B charts in 1968, giving Green national exposure. It would take another year until he met Willie Mitchell, a record executive, who would harness Green’s considerable talents and package them for stardom.

While touring with another group, Al Green and the Soul Mates in Texas, Green caught the ear of Mitchell, who was a record producer and vice-president of a small label, Hi Records. Michell recognized the scope of Green’s talents, amended the spelling of his last name (from Greene) and set about finding the proper material and accompaniment to accent that golden voice.

The result was Green’s first solo album, “Green is Blues,” and it set Green and Michell’s partnership to heights they couldn’t have foreseen.

Their next collaboration, 1971’s “Al Green Gets Next to You” resulted in the first of many huge hit records, “I’m So Tired of Being Alone” a song that soared up both the R&B and pop charts and made him a household name.

The follow-up, “Let’s Stay Together,” was an even bigger hit and Green’s stature among soul music’s elite was assured.

He continued to produce hit after hit, including “Look What You Done For Me,” “I’m Still in Love With You,” “Call Me” and “Here I Am.”

While he maintained his religious beliefs, an incident occurred at the height of his popularity that changed his course. A former girlfriend named Mary Woodson broke into his home while he was in the bathtub and threw boiling grits on him, resulting in serious burns. Woodson then ran and retrieved Green’s gun and committed suicide.

Green decided it was time to reconsider his life, and he entered the ministry, buying a church in Memphis and becoming re-committed to his faith. He continued his career until he took a bad fall while performing in the late ’70s, when he retreated from music.

He began recording gospel music and won eight Grammy Awards. Later, in the late ’80s, he again started recording secular music, teaming with pop star Annie Lennox, and later with hip-hop producer Arthur Baker.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Green began his comeback into the popular music realm and has never looked back. One of his most recent projects was “Lay It Down,” a collaboration with a host of contemporary soul and hip-hop artists such as John Legend, Corrine Bailey Rae and Ahmir Thompson of the Roots. These artists know of Green’s status and were all honored to be part of the project with him.

His concerts still draw crowds, and he continues to sing as strongly as ever, rendering all his hits with attentiveness while weaving in the gospel songs of his youth, where it started. You’d have to think his dad would be proud.

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