Country music artist
Visual impairment : Blind since birth
Ronnie was born with a congenital defect that left him blind. Born into dire poverty in the Appalachian town of Robbinsville, North Carolina, Milsap's mother viewed her newborn's blindness as punishment from God. Shortly after his first birthday, he was cast off and given to his grandmother to raise. At age six, he was put into the Morehead State School for the Blind in Raleigh, and the young boy faced barbaric disciplinary treatment all through his grade school and high school years.
All along, the sightless child took refuge in music and the radio. The school stressed classical music training but Ronnie preferred country, gospel and rhythm-and-blues. Morehead put him through strict classical music training, a program that was heightened after the young boy showed the innate talent of a prodigy. At the same time, he obsessively listened to the radio, especially the late-night programs of country music, gospel and rhythm-and-blues. When he was seven, his instructors noticed his extraordinary musical talents and he began to study classical music formally. A single year after he began learning the violin, Milsap was declared a virtuoso ; he also mastered piano, guitar and a variety of other stringed instruments, as well as various woodwinds. Eventually, he became interested in rock & roll music and while still in school formed his first rock band, The Apparitions. He briefly attended college in Atlanta where he studied pre-law; though he was awarded a comprehensive scholarship, Milsap decided to become a full-time musician instead. His first professional gig was as a member of J.J. Cale's band in the early '60s.
By age 20, he released his first single, 'Total Disaster' produced by Huey Meaux on Princess Records. By 1965, the young blind pianist and singer was recording for renowned Scepter Records in New York . His single, 'Never Had It So Good,' written by Ashford and Simpson, was a top five hit on the Billboard soul chart. He went on to record R&B-styled songs in Houston and Memphis for a variety of labels, including Warner Brothers and Reprise in 1971 and 1972.
Even then, the talent was obvious; it just wasn't getting heard. The turning point came when Milsap moved from Memphis to Nashville on December 26, 1972 , to take a regular gig at the King of the Road hotel, at the time a top music industry hangout. In April 1973, the blind singer began a long-lasting association with RCA Records. His 40 No. 1 hits stand as a testament to his success and staying power as a country artist; only the late Conway Twitty scored more top country hits, and his included many duets with Loretta Lynn.
In 1965, Milsap started his own band and four years later, after having an R&B hit with 'Never Had It So Good,' moved to Memphis to become a session musician. There he frequently worked for Chips Moman and can be heard playing keyboards on Elvis' 'Kentucky Rain' and singing harmony on 'Don't Cry Daddy .' When not doing session work, Milsap and his backing group were the house band at TJ's Club.
Milsap had a handful of Top Ten hits in 1975 and in late 1976, he became a genuine star, with a string of six number one hits in a row. In turn, that string of hits begat a remarkable run where Milsap didn't leave the Top Ten for 15 straight years. During that time, he had a number of pop crossover hits, beginning with 1977's 'It Was Almost like a Song.' Between 1980 and 1982, Milsap had ten more consecutive number one hits including the crossover smashes 'Smoky Mountain Rain,' 'No Gettin' Over Me' and 'Any Day Now.' Milsap had yet another string of uninterrupted number one hits between 1985 and 1987, racking up eight consecutive chart toppers. He had his last number one hit in 1989, when 'A Woman in Love' spent two weeks on the top of the charts. In total, he had 35 number one singles.
In the early '90s, Milsap's commercial appeal began to decline – after 1992, he wasn't able to break into the country Top Ten. Nevertheless, he continued to record. In 1992, he left RCA and signed to Liberty , where he recorded 'True Believer', which failed to yield any major hits. Despite his decline in popularity, Milsap continued to record and perform successfully throughout the '90s.
For a performer, expressing emotion effectively requires a combination of experience and empathy. That being the case, no wonder Ronnie Milsap emerged as such a prominent and enduring country music artist. Perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, Milsap overcame unfathomable difficulties long before he ever put a song on the radio. He has created five gold albums, one platinum album and one double platinum album. He also won six Grammy Awards and eight Country Music Association awards including the coveted Entertainer of the Year Award.
Ronnie and his wife Joyce currently make their home in Nashville, Tennessee.
- 1988, ACM Instrumentalist of the Year
- 1988, GRAMMY Best Country Duet Performance (w/ Kenny Rogers)
- 1987, GRAMMY Best Country Male Vocal Performance
- 1986, GRAMMY Best Country Male Vocal Performance
- 1986, ACM Best Song of the Year
- 1986, ACM Best Album of the Year
- 1984, GRAMMY Country Song of the Year
- 1983, ACM Best Male Vocalist
- 1982, GRAMMY Best Country Male Vocal Performance
- 1981, BILLBOARD "Breakthrough" Award- Outstanding Achievement
- 1981, CASHBOX Male Vocalist Award/ Singles
- 1980, BILLBOARD Male Singles Artist of the Year
- 1980, CASHBOX Male Singles Artist of the Year
- 1979, CASHBOX Singles Artist of the Year
- 1979, CASHBOX Most Artistic Achievment Award
- 1978, CMA Album of the Year
- 1977, CMA Entertainer of the Year
- 1977, CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
- 1977, CMA Album of the Year
- 1976, GRAMMY Best Country Male Vocal Performance
- 1976, CMA Male Vocalist of the Year
- 1976, BILLBOARD Male Singles Artist of the year
- 1976, BILLBOARD Overall Singles Artist of the Year
- 1976, BILLBOARD Bill Williams Memorial Award- Artist of the Year
- 1975, CMA Album of the Year
- 1974, GRAMMY Best Country Male Vocal Performance
- 1974, BILLBOARD Best New Male Artist
- 1974, CMA Male Vocalist of the Year