Ronnie Milsap is a pioneer in country music, with a celebrated career spanning decades. In his lifetime, he’s played for, sang with and brushed shoulders with some of the most iconic figures in American music history. Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and Charley Pride are just a few of the iconic figures woven into his long music career. Since the 60’s, Ronnie’s long and fruitful music career has made him an icon, too.
During his career pushing the boundaries of country music and expertly infusing it with pop, rock, R&B, classic soul, Milsap has earned the following:
- 40 #1 Country Hits (coming in third to George Strait and Conway Twitty)
- 8 Gold Albums
- 6 Grammy’s
- 8 Country Music Association Award
- 4 Academy of Country Music trophies, including Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement
- Inducted into Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990
- Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014
Ronnie Milsap was one of the most influential country artists of the 70’s and 80’s, but his story began much earlier than that.
The Early Beginnings of Ronnie Milsap
Ronnie Milsap was born on January 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, North Carolina. For those of you asking “how old is Ronnie Milsap?” he is 75 years old and still performing and recording to this day! Milsap seemed destined for musical greatness from the start. His birthplace edged the Smokey Mountains, the rural region that produced other country legends like Jimmie Rogers, Chet Atkins, and Dolly Parton.
Milsap was born almost completely blind from birth. His mother abandoned him as an infant to his grandparents, who raised him in the mountains until he was 5. Then, they sent him to the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in North Carolina. His instructors began to notice his musical talent as early as 7, and Milsap began classical music training on many instruments, most notably the piano. He was notorious for playing Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard when he was supposed to be training on classical Beethoven and Mozart.
Milsap earned a full college scholarship and attended Young Harris College in Young Harris, Georgia. He intended to become a lawyer but still played music on the side. His R& B group The Dimensions played frequently at the Royal Peacock Club in Atlanta. In fact, during one such gig, none other than Ray Charles encouraged him to pursue his passion.
“I was playing some songs at a piano in his dressing room,” Milsap said in an interview, “And [Ray Charles] said, ‘well, it sounds like that’s where your heart is, and that’s what you should follow.’ That sounded to me like an endorsement from Ray Charles.”
Milsap quit school to pursue music full time. In the late 1960’s, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee and began working with famed producer Chips Moman. Moman helped Milsap get a ton of work as a session musician, including several with the King himself, Elvis Presley.
The Meeting that Changed it All
During a gig at the Whiskey A Go-Go in 1972, Milsap met country music star Charley Pride. Pride encouraged Milsap to focus on country music and put him in touch with Pride’s manager. Milsap was signed to RCA Records in 1973, and released his first country music hit “I Hate You.” The song peaked at No. 10 on the country chart that year.
Milsap went on to become one of the country’s biggest stars, earning seven No.1 hits in a row between 1976 and 1978. Since then, Milsap has found crossover success. Though many credit today’s country music stars like Luke Bryan with pioneering country pop, Milsap was the first to crossover successfully in 1979. Over the next two decades, Milsap fused pop, classic rock, soul, R&B and country to create a signature sound celebrated all over the world.
Is Ronnie Milsap Married?
Love is a frequent topic in Ronnie Milsap’s discography, and you might assume as a famous entertainer for decades that he’d have been around the block a time or two. However, this is not the case. Ronnie Milsap met Joyce Reeves at a dinner party near Atlanta in the mid-60’s and married her in 1965. The two have been together for over five decades. Milsap said when he met her, it was “Love at first sound.”
What’s Next for Ronnie Milsap?
Is Ronnie Milsap still alive, you may ask. The answer is, he’s alive and well, and about to drop a truly iconic album slated to release in January of 2019. The album, entitled “The Duets” features duets with an incredible cast of performers. Both veterans of the country music industry and newcomers on the scene will perform songs with Milsap on the much-anticipated album. The album has been in the works for a few years and contains one of the final recordings of Troy Gentry (Montgomery Gentry) and Leon Russell. Here are the thirteen artists and groups to be featured:
- Billy Gibbons
- Luke Bryan
- Dolly Parton
- Jason Aldean
- Willie Nelson
- Lucy Angel
- Kacey Musgraves
- Little Big Town
- George Strait
- Jessie Key
- Leon Russell
- Steven Curtis Chapman
- Montogomery Gentry