Monday, February 22, 2016

Obituary: Sonny James

Famed country singer Sonny James, 87, has died. He had a number of hits, but perhaps the most famous was one of the best songs of the 1950s:

A live version:


During the 1950s, Mr. James was a regular on “The Ozark Jubilee.” In 1961 he became the first country recording artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also appeared in multiple films, including “Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar,” “Nashville Rebel,” “Las Vegas Hillbillies” and “Hillbillies in a Haunted House,” and guested on “The Ed Sullivan Show” multiple times.

In 1962 Mr. James was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, and five years later, he would begin an unprecedented streak of chart dominance. From 1967-71, he notched 16 straight No. 1 country singles on the Billboard charts, beginning with “Need You” and ending with “Here Comes Honey Again.”

Many of those — such as “Born to Be with You” and “Only the Lonely” — were covers of pop hits. Others, including “Since I Met You, Baby” and “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” were countrified covers of classic R&B songs previously recorded by artists such as Brook Benton and Etta James, a nod to his diverse musical tastes (Mr. James was a lifelong admirer of Nat King Cole. The two later met in the early 1960s when both were on Capitol Records; a photo on James' website shows the two men sitting side by side in the recording studio). In 1967 Mr. James co-hosted the first CMA Awards alongside Bobbie Gentry.

He retired from show business in 1983 and spent much of his retirement fishing.

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