Born: May 1, 1929

Died: Feb. 22, 2016

1987 Inductee (Lifework Award)Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Affectionately known as the “Southern Gentleman,” Sonny James helped broaden the appeal of country music by offering his own warm, elegant country versions of familiar pop standards of the recent past.

More significantly, James evolved into country music’s most consistent hit recording artist of the late 1960s and early ’70s, enjoying a five-year run of No. 1 hits that kept him in the top spot on the charts for a staggering total of 45 weeks.

A native of Hackleburg, James Loden – the future Sonny James – began his music career at the age of three, singing with his family band, The Lodens. The group, which also featured his four sisters, was popular throughout the South for their concerts as well as their musical performances on live radio programs like the Louisiana Hayride and Saturday Night Shindig.

After serving in the military during the Korean War, James returned to his music career, changing his name to Sonny James (inspired by his teenage nickname of “Sunny”) and performing on the local bar circuit. Befriended by Music City guitarist and studio producer Chet Atkins, he journeyed to Nashville and signed a recording contract with Capitol Records.

Beginning in 1953, James recorded several successful country singles (“That’s Me Without You,” “The Cat Came Back”) before scoring his biggest hit with the pop-flavored 1956 ballad “Young Love.” The single spent nine weeks at No. 1 and holds the distinction of being the first country record to cross over to the pop market.

From 1964 through 1972, James’ twenty-five singles climbed to No. 1 on the country charts. This was finally surpassed in 1988 by the group Alabama. Many of those singles were covers of previous pop hits, from Adam Wade’s “Take Good Care of Her” and the Seekers’ “I’ll Never Find Another You” to “A World of Our Own,” the Chordettes’ “Born to Be With You” and Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely.”

Backed by his band, the Southern Gentlemen, James toured the country and overseas and also performed on such popular prime-time television shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bob Hope Show and the country-variety series Hee Haw. He also appeared in several low-budget films, including Las Vegas Hillbillies, Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar and Nashville Rebel. James hosted the first Country Music Association Awards Show in 1967 and later became the first country singer honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Record World magazine named him the Country Male Artist of the Decade for the 1960s.

James continued to charts hits into the mid-1970s, including a cover version of Gene Pitney’s “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” “That’s Why I Love You Like I Do,” “When the Snow is On the Roses,” “Is It Wrong (for Loving You?),” “A Mi Esposa Con Amor (To My Wife With Love),” “A Little Bit South of Saskatoon,” “Little Band of Gold” and “What in the World’s Come Over You?” He also produced three albums with singer Marie Osmond, including her smash country single “Paper Roses.”

James retired from active involvement in the recording industry in 1983.

For more information, visit

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

James Loden (born May 1, 1929), known professionally as Sonny James, is an American country music singer and songwriter best known for his 1957 hit, "Young Love". Dubbed the Southern Gentleman, James had 72 country and pop chart hits from 1953 to 1983, including a five-year streak of 16 straight among his 23 No. 1 one hits. Twenty-one of his albums reached the country top ten from 1964 to 1976. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. James is currently retired and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Loden was born to Archie Loden and Della Burleson Loden,[1] who operated a 300-acre (121 hectare) farm outside Hackleburg, Alabama. His parents were amateur musicians, and his sister Thelma (five years older) also played instruments and sang from an early age. By age three he was playing a mandolin and singing. In 1933 the family appeared on a radio audition which resulted in their being offered a regular Saturday slot on Muscle Shoals, Alabama radio station WMSD-AM. About this time the parents volunteered to raise an Alabama girl named Ruby Palmer, and soon Ruby was also part of the musical group, and the singing Loden Family was soon playing theaters, auditoriums and schoolhouses throughout the Southern United States.

To this point the musical appearances had been a part-time effort for the family, as they returned after each gig or tour to work the family farm. After a few years the father decided they were professional enough to immerse themselves into the field full-time, so the father leased out the farm and they took a daily spot on radio station KLCN, where they provided early-morning accompaniment for the area's early-risers. After that they had spots on several other radio stations around the South. In 1949 they returned to Alabama, with a show on radio station WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama. Near Christmastime that year, the two girls were married in West Memphis, Arkansas in a double ceremony[2] and left the group. The parents found other girls to take their place, but the group soon fell apart (the parents returned to Hackleburg and opened a clothing store, where James worked while belatedly finishing his final year of high school).[2] During the summer of 1950 James worked with a band[3] on the Memphis, Tennessee radio station WHBQ, but that was interrupted near the end of the summer when James' National Guard unit was activated to participate in the Korean War, one of the first US groups to respond to that conflict. On September 9, 1950 his Alabama Army National Guard unit was sent to Korea, returning home in the fall of 1951.[4] Loden was honorably discharged and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he signed with Capitol Records with the help of Chet Atkins, with whom he had previously roomed.[5] The company asked him to drop his last name professionally,[6] and he released his first studio record as Sonny James.

While appearing on Louisiana Hayride he met musician Slim Whitman. James' performance on stage playing a fiddle and singing brought a strong crowd response, and Whitman invited him to front for his new touring band.[7] James stayed with Whitman's group for two months.[8] before returning to Nashville to make further recordings, including what became his first Top Ten country hit, "That's Me Without You". Over the next few years, he had several songs that did reasonably well on the country music charts and he continued to develop his career with performances at live country music shows. He also appeared on radio, including Big D Jamboree, before moving to the all-important new medium, television, where he became a regular performer on ABC's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri beginning in October 1955.[9]


In late 1956 James released "Young Love", a 45 rpm single for which he would forever be remembered. As the first teenage country crossover single, it topped both the country and pop music charts in January 1957.[10] It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[11] Dubbed the Southern Gentleman because of his polite demeanor, he gained more exposure with an appearance on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. After leaving Capitol Records for the first time in 1959, James signed with National Recording Corporation. His career also included stints with Dot (1960–1961), RCA (1961–1962), his second stint with Capitol (1963–1972), Columbia (1972–1979), Monument (1979), and Dimension (1981–1983).

He went on to a long and highly-successful career, and in 1962 he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. From 1964 to 1972 he was a dominant force in country music. He was a guest on the Bob Hope Show and Hee Haw, and made minor appearances in several Hollywood motion pictures. In 1969 Billboard magazine named him Artist of the Year. In 1971, James made a special music recording for the crew of Apollo 14, who later presented him with one of the small American flags that they had carried to the Moon.

Beginning in 1967 with "Need You" and ending with "Here Comes Honey Again" in 1971, James recorded 16 straight No. 1 country singles of his 72 verified chart hits. His career No. 1 one total was 23, the last coming with 1974's "Is It Wrong (For Loving You)". During this time James also helped launch the solo career of Marie Osmond, producing her first three albums, including the 1973 smash hit, "Paper Roses".

The No. 1 streak record, however, is a point of contention. Country supergroup Alabama surpassed James' record in 1985 with their 17th No. 1 one song, "Forty Hour Week (For a Livin')", but the dispute stems from their 1982 Christmas single, "Christmas in Dixie". The song peaked at 35 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in January 1983, during what could be considered a streak of 21 No. 1 songs. Some sources, such as Joel Whitburn's "Top Country Songs: 1944-2005," disregard non-No. 1 Christmas singles in determining chart-topping streaks, and consider Alabama to have surpassed the record; others, however, including the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Web site, state that the failure of "Christmas in Dixie" snapped Alabama's streak before it could achieve parity with James' 16.

In 1957 James married Doris in Dallas, Texas.[2]

For his contribution to the music industry, in 1971 James received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6630 Hollywood Blvd., and in 1987 he was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. In 2006 James was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum,[12] and appeared on TV for the first time in nearly 20 years to accept his induction during the Country Music Association Awards on November 6, 2006. In 2009 Sonny James was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.


1^ Sonny James webpage, accessed 28 November 2009

2^ a b c SJ webpage

3^ Sometimes he sang, but he was most useful as a guitar player (SJ webpage)

4^ The SJ website states that he returned to Alabama around Thanksgiving 1952, but then goes on to list James' various recording and appearance dates the following summer, giving 1952 dates for each. Thus the return date must have been in 1951

5^ When the Loden Family took a job at radio station WPTF in Raleigh, North Carolina in early 1946, Atkins was also employed by that station (SJ website)

6^ They believed there were already several musicians named Loden, Louden or Luden, and that "James" would be easier to remember: "The smallest children can remember Sonny James." SJ webpage

7^ Whitmas was highly reserved and introverted, only opening up when placed before a microphone, so he appreciated Sonny's way of warming up the crowd and making it easier for Whitman to come into the spotlight (SJ webpage)

8^ James felt uncomfortable playing in bars and areas full of smoke and alcohol, saying that his family had only appeared in schoolhouses and such. Whitman also objected to that ambiance but needed to meet his band's payroll, so he accepted all employment offers (SJ webpage)

9^ Sachs, Bill "Folk Talent & Tunes", 4 September 1955, The Billboard, p. 16

10^ Record sales would have been higher if Capitol Records had anticipated the exposure on popular-music charts; they had ordered only enough copies of the record to satisfy the anticipated country-music demand, and were therefore unable to supply most of the requests for records (according to an interview given by SJ as recorded on his webpage biography)

11^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 92. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.

12^ Sonny James at the Country Music Hall of Fame

 Source: Wikipedia


More info:

Sonny James Discography:

Offical Website:

Country Music Hall of Fame:

Official Obituary:

Sonny James, Country Music Hall of Famer & Steady Hitmaker, Dies at 87


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