When I began to research the life and career of Candi Staton for this column I learned that she was best known for her 1970 cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” and her 1976 disco hit, “Young Hearts Run Free.” Fair enough, they’re both great records. But Staton did more, much more, and there are other records in her long and wide-ranging career to remember her for.
Staton was born in Alabama in 1940. As a young girl she and her sister Maggie were sent to Nashville to attend Jewell Christian Academy. It was there that the pastor recognized the sibling’s vocal abilities and put them together with Naomi Harrison to form the Jewell Gospel Trio. They were just teenagers when they toured the gospel circuit with giants of the time like the Soul Stirrers, Mahalia Jackson, and C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s father of course). For ten years, 1953-1963, they recorded for several labels including Nashbro, Apollo, and Savoy Records.
It was in 1968 that Staton left gospel for the time being and began her career as a southern soul singer. She did so well in fact that she became known as the “First Lady of Southern Soul.” She recorded at the legendary Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, and had 16 R&B hits for the Fame label. Staton released three classic southern soul albums there, I’m Just a Prisoner, Stand By Your Man, and Candi Staton, before moving on to Warner Brothers Records in 1974. For me, Candi Staton’s Fame albums, which were produced by Fame owner Rick Hall and feature the great studio band that became known as the Swampers, are indispensable.
Things changed for Staton in 1975 when she began working with producer David Crawford, recording disco hits. This change was certainly for the better in terms of commerce, but whether it was an artistic improvement is up to you to decide. The collaboration with Crawford resulted in the enormous hit “Young Hearts Run Free” in 1976.
“Young Hearts Run Free” reached #1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart, and was Top Twenty on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. It was, of course, an enormous disco hit too. “Young Hearts” was followed by the hit single “Destiny,” and Staton had another hit with her version of the Bee Gees “Nights on Broadway.” She scored several other hits before the end of the ’70s, including “Honest I Do Love You,” “When You Wake Up Tomorrow,” and “Chance.”
As the disco craze faded, Staton returned to gospel music in 1982. She got married for the fourth time and founded Beracah Ministries in Atlanta with her new husband. Since that time Staton has recorded eight gospel albums, and two of them have received Grammy nominations. She wasn’t quite done with popular music however. Her voice can be heard on the 1991 British hit by the Source, “You Got the Love,” which was a huge dance hit and sold two million copies.