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Reflecting on the incredible career of Ronnie Milsap

How is it that a couple of sentences can define some one’s life? Ronnie Milsap once said “I love to play my music. That’s what my heart wants me to do is to play music, and I love doing that when I got my band and my crew and all those folks with me, and that whole thing cranks up; it’s something to enjoy”. Throughout Ronnie’s life, we can see just how he lives up to that quote, and how it defines him.

Ronnie Milsap was born on January 16th, 1943, in the small Appalachian town of Robbinsville, North Carolina. Ronnie, born blind (his parents believed it to be retribution for sin) spent much of his childhood in a small impoverished farming community. It wasn’t until later in his life he attended the Morehead State School for the Blind in Raleigh thanks to his grandparents' help. It was here where his music career started to flourish. At the school, he was taught classical music and was taught to play the piano, violin, and guitar.

Once Ronnie finished schooling at Morehead State, he decided to continue his education at Young-Harris Junior College, located in Northern Georgia, where he studied a newfound interest, political science. Throughout his education, Ronnie felt something was missing. Following his graduation, Ronnie was offered a scholarship to Emory University to continue his political science career. It was at this moment that Ronnie decided to pursue his true calling. Ronnie turned down the scholarship to Emory University and decided to pursue a professional career in music.

To start Ronnie’s newfound professional career, at the age of 20, he released his first single, "Total Disaster” in 1964. The following year in 1965, he relocated to Memphis Tennessee. It was at this time he founded his new rhythm and blues band. In 1970, they recorded the pop single "Loving You is a Natural Thing." The year after that in 1971, Ronnie released his debut album “Ronnie Milsap” for the Warner Bros. record label. This would be Ronnie’s first studio album.

In 1972, Ronnie got everything he could out of Memphis and wanted to be where the heart Country Music was; Nashville, Tennessee, the epicenter of country music. Once he was settled for a year bringing it to 1973, he decided to sign a contract with RCA Victor Records. Following signing to RCA, Ronnie had a few hit singles including "I Hate You" (1973), "Pure Love”, (1974), and his remake of "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends" (1974) which established Ronnie as a hitmaker in country music. The remake of “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends” later went on to be a number one hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

It was that remake in which Ronnie was awarded a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Year after year, Ronnie released hit after hit and it was for this reason that the Country Music Association named Ronnie male vocalist of the year in 1974, 1976, and 1977.

When 1981 came around, Ronnie expanded his audience base by recording the heart destroying ballad "Smoky Mountain Rain," which crossed over to the pop charts. Ronnie seemed to have figured out the secret formula for songwriting because he was able to duplicate the same success with the songs "There's No Gettin' Over Me" released in 1981 and "Any Day Now" released in 1982. In 1986, Ronnie won yet again the Best Male Country Vocal Performance Grammy for the album “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” which came out in 1986. A year later, his performance with Kenny Rogers won them both the Best Country Vocal Performance Duet for their collaboration on the single "Make No Mistake, She's Mine."

It wasn’t until 1990 when Ronnie published an autobiography, “Almost Like a Song”. His autobiography demonstrated the rags to riches by showing his ascent from poverty-stricken beginnings in a small farm community to country music superstar making millions. We can see how much Ronnie has impacted the music scene since he boasts 40 No.1 country hits, six Grammy Awards, and eight Country Music Association Awards with ten other Country Music Association Nominations. Ronnie’s most recent album “The Duets” features various duets. The album was released on January 18th, 2019.

Thinking back to the quote “I love to play my music. That’s what my heart wants me to do is to play music, and I love doing that when I got my band and my crew and all those folks with me, and that whole thing cranks up; it’s something to enjoy”, we can truly see how Ronnie lives within it.

Written by Braden Detelich


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