Morgan County’s best kept secret: Candi Staton, the ‘First Lady of Southern Soul’

With no plans of slowing down, the four-time Grammy nominated artist is slated to release her 33rd studio album “Earth Roots” later this year.
Candi Staton, 84, has performed all over the world belting out sizzling disco hits, smooth R&B ballads, and inspirational gospel spirituals. (Facebook/Candi Staton)

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Facebook

Candi Staton, 84, has performed all over the world belting out sizzling disco hits, smooth R&B ballads, and inspirational gospel spirituals. (Facebook/Candi Staton)

With a singing career spanning eight decades, Candi Staton, 84, has performed all over the world belting out sizzling disco hits, smooth R&B ballads, and inspirational gospel spirituals.

But out of all the exotic places she has visited throughout her illustrious career, she has chosen to spend her golden years in Morgan County, moving to the community back in 2010, keeping a low profile while continuing to tour and make new music for her dedicated fanbase.

“I love it here. It’s peaceful and quiet and I like the friendly people,” said Staton, a four-time Grammy-nominated artist. “When I come off tour, I just want to be private and live my life away from the paparazzi. This was the best place I could find.”

With enduring hits like “Young Hearts Run Free” in 1976 and “You Got the Love” in 1986 under her belt, the American Soul singer and songwriter has enjoyed global adoration and packed touring schedules for decades. Staton, with no plans of slowing down, is slated to release her 33rd studio album “Earth Roots” later this year. She has been called the “First Lady of Southern Soul, Disco Queen and Gospel Pioneer.”

In honor of Black History Month, Staton spoke to the Morgan County Citizen to share her story as a Black artist that lived through the Jim Crow South and Civil Rights Movement.

With five children, 20 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren, Staton believes it is imperative for young people to truly know their history in order to create better futures for all.

“They need to know the history of their ancestors. It’s very important. You have to know where you came from. If you don’t know where you came from, it’s hard to see how far you have come or where you are going,” said Staton. “Some of these kids are out here shooting each other and they don’t realize they come from kings and queens. When you don’t know who you are, you can tend to do things that are not right. If we knew our history, we would know our value and the world would be a better place.”

Staton shared that her great-great-grandmother was enslaved in America. Staton, who hails from Hanceville, Alabama, was born in 1940 and has vivid memories of the horror that was the American South for African Americans.

“It was not pleasant, a long way from being pleasant,” said Staton. “I remember the KKK coming through our neighborhood when I was just 7 years old, before the Civil Rights Bill was passed. They would come through our community and scare the living daylights out of us. We would run and get under our little beds. We were so scared something would happen to us or to a family member. They kept us in fear.”

Candi Staton Photo by Mick Burgess, Live in London

Credit: Mick Burgess

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Credit: Mick Burgess

Staton remembers the dehumanizing unwritten rules African Americans knew to abide by growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

“We couldn’t look Caucasian people in the eye. We had to bow our heads and say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no sir’ and all that. They would cuss at us and call us the N-word. Horrible memories,” said Staton.

To escape the systemic racism of the segregated South, Staton’s mother eventually relocated the family to Cleveland, Ohio, where Staton says the family “traded one terror for another.” There, the city was overrun with gangs and crime. Staton remembers having to run home from school to escape relentless bullying. But her family’s love of music would soon set her on a path to a lifelong singing career.

As children, Staton and her sister, Maggie, spent their evenings learning to harmonize together. The girls sang at a church singing contest and won, catching the eye of Bishop Mattie Lou Jewell, a wealthy Black woman who oversaw 30 churches and ran a school in Nashville, TN.

“We tore the place up,” laughed Staton.

Bishop Jewel offered the girls free tuition if they would sing with her granddaughter, Naomi. The girls formed the Jewel Gospel Trio when Candi was just 13-years-old. The group toured churches at first all across the country and then gained momentous popularity.

“We were just little girls and we started singing on big stages, not just churches anymore. We were sharing stages with Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Mahalia Jackson,” remembers Staton.

Staton left the group when she turned 18, married and started a family before launching a solo career in the late 1960s. Staton has five children: Marcus Williams, Marcel Williams, Terry Williams, Cassandra Williams-Hightower, and Clarence Carter, Jr.

In 1963, Staton was in a Birmingham church on the day of the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, in which four young girls were killed by explosions set off by vicious racists targeting the Black church.

“We were at a church as guests that day. I remember a deacon bursting through the doors shouting that we all had to get out of Birmingham, that the 16th Street Baptist Church had just been bombed,” said Staton. “I had two babies at the time and was pregnant with my third. It was chaos. My children were hollering. We had to drive straight through downtown where the riots were happening, cars being pushed over and so much anger on the street. It wasn’t until we made it home safely that we found out what happened to those four little girls. I remember that day like it was yesterday.”

Staton shifted from singing gospel music to soul music in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, Staton began singing disco music and dance-pop. According to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Staton released “million sellers ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ and ‘Disco Hit Victim.’” Her cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” in 1970 put Staton on the map, earning her new fans and critical acclaim.

Throughout her career, she has shared the stage with artists such as Mac Davis, Al Green, Bobby Womack, Freda Payne, Ashford and Simpson, B.B. King, Boz Scaggs, Little Richard, The Commodores, Johnny Mathis and Donny Hathaway.

“In 1979, Miss Staton was a special guest of President Jimmy Carter during the Black Music Association Dinner on the White House lawn, along with Andrae Crouch, Joe Williams and Chuck Berry,” noted the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Staton’s versatility and creatively kept her on the American charts with a string of hits and accolades. She garnered a huge fanbase in the United Kingdom, as well. By the 1980s, Staton decided to return to her gospel roots and dedicate her voice to Christian music.

“I love all kinds of music, but gospel music is in my bones,” said Staton.

Staton said she returned to gospel music after rededicating her life to God. While she experienced professional success as a secular artist, Staton endured some personal struggles, including alcoholism and a string of divorces. Staton details her struggles and how she overcame them in her new book “Beyond a Shadow of Doubt,” which is out now.

“It’s all about the miracles God has done in my life,” said Staton, who has been a staple in the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) for 25 years.

I want my fans to know…

My life is a testimony to the goodness of God. I wrote a book that details the miracles I have experienced in my life. To get your copy click the link in my bio or visit Never forget that God loves you and so do I. Xoxo Candi ❤️ #candistaton #SoulMusic #GospelMusic #DiscoQueen #MusicLegend #WomenInMusic #RnBMusic #MusicInspiration #MusicHistory #MusicIcon #confidence #music #nature #dance #youngheartsrunfree #remix #gospel #artist #music #christian #miracle #tbn

Posted by Candi Staton on Friday, February 16, 2024

While Staton returned to her gospel roots, she has also evolved with the times, utilizing social media to share her music and life story with her fans. Active on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, Staton regularly shares snapshots of life and words of wisdom as well as music.

Staton estimates that she has written 75 songs since moving to Morgan County in 2010.

“This is the perfect atmosphere to write music,” said Staton. “This is where I want to spend the rest of my days.” Some of her children live nearby and help her run the business as she continues to write and sing.

“I keep trying to retire,” she joked. “I went to the UK to do my final tour, but now I have a new album coming out later this year, so who knows what will happen? I would never have dreamed that I would live this long. I pray to keep on living life and continue being in good health. And as long as I am living, I will keep doing what I love, making music.”

Credit: Morgan County Citizen

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Credit: Morgan County Citizen


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