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Al Green is one of the most influential soul singers the 20th century has ever produced. Sometimes called Reverend Al Green, the singer-songwriter also recorded many gospel songs aside from the secular material.
By the time he released his 1972 album Let’s Stay Together, it became a hit on both R&B and pop album charts and put Green in the line of the finest soul singers. The title track is Green’s most famous among all others that he has recorded, as well as his signature song. His other well-known hits include “Tired of Being Alone”, “Look What You Done For Me”, “I’m Still In Love With You”, “You Ought To Be With Me”, “Call Me”, “Here I Am” and “Sha-la-la”. All in all, Green has racked more than 30 singles, including seven Top 10 pop hits. His albums Let’s Stay Together, I’m Still In Love With You, Call Me, Livin; For You, Al Green Explores Your Mind became gold-and-platinum sellers.
Aside from being a musician and singer, Reverend Al Green has also been also active as a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis since the mid-1970s.
Early life and career
He was born Albert Greene in Forrest City, Arkansas on April 13, 1967. He grew up in a family of sharecroppers who were music lovers as well. He began performing with his brothers in their own group the Greene Brothers when he was younger. His family members were also devout Christians.
Greene’s father booted him out of the group and also of their home after he caught the young boy listening to Jackie Wilson, one of his earliest idols. During his teens Greene formed his very first own group, Al Greene and The Creations, whose two members Curtis Rogers and Palmer Jones, established a small label named Hot Line Music Journal.
The Creations later renamed themselves the Soul Mates, and released their first single “Back Up Train.” The song became a surprise hit, but the group struggled with their subsequent releases as well as with their debut album Back Up Train.
Pursuing a solo career
Greene met arranger and producer Willie Mitchell, who persuaded Green to sign to his label Hi Records. He later underwent vocal coaching by Mitchell who wanted Greene to find his own singing style. Mitchell would also co-write material with Greene including his earliest hits. Greene also dropped the “e” from his last name before releasing his first solo album Green Is Blues. While the album wasn’t a commercial success, it otherwise garnered positive critical reviews.
Green Is Blues would prepare Green for his sophomore effort Al Green Gets Next To You. The album yielded Green’s first big hit “Tired Of Being Alone,” which was just a notch shy of Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also landed at #7 on the R&B singles chart and #4 on the UK singles chart. The enormous success of the single made Al Green Gets Next To You his breakthrough album, which also netted him his first gold certification.
Green released his second solo album Let’s Stay Together which featured the title track. “Let’s Stay Together” became Green’s first #1 hit, not only on the R&B singles chart but also on the Billboard Hot 100. The album and the song established Greene as a major R&B/soul star. “Let’s Stay Together” remains Green’s signature song.
Green consolidated his success with his next LP I’m Still In Love With You, which featured two singles “Look What You Done For Me” and the title track. The album became even more successful than its predecessor, making it Greene’s first platinum album. “Look What You Done For Me” and “I’m Still In Love With You” were both Top 10 pop hits at #4 and #2 respectively.
Green released his next album Call Me in 1973. It spawned the Top 10 pop and R&B singles “You Ought To Be With Me,” “Here I Am (Come Back Home)” and the title track. The same year Green released the follow-up LP Livin’ For You that yielded two Top 40 pop hits “Let’s Get Married” and the title track. Both Call Me and Livin’ For You both went to #1 on the R&B album charts.
In 1974 Green released another LP Al Green Explores Your Mind which was to be his last album to be certified gold. One of its tracks “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy)” was also to be his last Top 10 pop hit, peaking at #7.
Embracing the ministry
Aside from his hit singles, Green also gained radio hits with “Love and Happiness,” and “Take Me To The River” as well as his cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” At the peak of his popularity his girlfriend at the time, Mrs. Mary Woodson White broke into his home and assaulted him by dousing him with boiling grits while he was bathing, causing Green to suffer second-degree burns. After this, she procured his .38 caliber gun and shot herself to death. It happened reportedly due to Green refusing to marry her, making White (a married woman) very upset.
This tragic incident spurred Green to change his life, leading him to become a minister. He was ordained a pastor at a church in Memphis, Tennessee in 1976. Around this time he began to record and release gospel songs. His first gospel album was The Lord Will Make A Way in 1980. The title track netted Green the first of his eight Grammy Awards in the category of Best Soul Gospel Performance. He received ten Grammy Awards, overall. Green continued to cover some R&B songs too.
However, sales of his albums began to slip down and received mixed reviews from the critics. During the 1980s he collaborated with Patti LaBelle on the Broadway play Your Arms Too Short To Box With God. Green and Mitchell reunited for the recording of another gospel album He Is The Light. His 1988 album Soul Survivor yielded a single “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” which went to #22, his first Top 40 R&B single in over a decade.
In 1988 Green recorded “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” along with Annie Lennox, marking his return to making secular music. The single became a pop hit at #9. For the first time since 1978, Green released his full soul album Don’t Look Back, produced by Arthur Baker who was also responsible for Green’s 1989 hit with “The Message Is Love.” After a couple of critically-acclaimed but otherwise flop albums, Green came out strong with his album Everything’s OK, released on Blue Note label. His second album with that label, Lay It Down, was released in 2008. It peaked at #9 on the Billboard 200 and #3 on the R&B album chart; it was to be his last studio album to date.
Aside from being active in the music business as a singer/songwriter and producer, Green continues to serve as a minister in Memphis, Tennessee. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.