Albert Greene (born April 13, 1946), better known as Al Green, is an American gospel and soul music singer. He reached the peak of his popularity in the 1970s, with hit singles such as “You Oughta Be With Me”, “I’m Still In Love With You”, “Love and Happiness”, and “Let’s Stay Together”. In 2005, Rolling Stone named him #65 in their list of the ‘100 Greatest Artists of All Time’. The nomination, written by Justin Timberlake, stated that “people are born to do certain things, and Al was born to make us smile.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Green in 1995, referring to him as “one of the most gifted purveyors of soul music.” Green has sold more than 20 million records.
Green was born in Forrest City, Arkansas. He was the sixth of ten children born to Robert and Cora Greene. The son of a sharecropper, he started performing at age ten in a Forrest City quartet called the Greene Brothers; he dropped the final “E” from his last name years later as a solo artist. They toured extensively in the mid-1950s in the South until the Greenes moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, when they began to tour around Michigan. His father kicked him out of the group because he caught Green listening to Jackie Wilson.
Green formed a group called Al Greene & the Creations in high school. Curtis Rogers and Palmer James, two members of the Creations, formed an independent label called Hot Line Music Journal. In 1967, under the new name Al Greene & the Soul Mates, the band recorded “Back Up Train” and released it on Hot Line Music; the song was an R&B chart hit. The Soul Mates’ subsequent singles did not sell as well. Al Green’s debut LP Back Up Train was released on Hot Line in 1967. The album was upbeat and soulful but didn’t do well in sales. This was the only album on the Hot Line label. Green came into contact with band leader Willie Mitchell of Memphis‘ Hi Records in 1969, when Mitchell hired him as a vocalist for a Texas show with Mitchell’s band and then asked him to sign with the label.
Rise to stardom
Mitchell predicted stardom for Green, coaching him to find his own, unique voice at a time when Green had previously been trying to sing like his heroes Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Sam Cooke. Green’s debut album with Hi Records was Green Is Blues, a slow, horn-driven album that allowed Green to show off his powerful and expressive voice, with Mitchell arranging, engineering and producing. The album was a moderate success. The next LP, Al Green Gets Next to You (1970), included a hit remake of the Temptations classic “I Can’t Get Next to You”, and more significantly, Green’s first of seven consecutive gold singles, “Tired of Being Alone“. Let’s Stay Together (1972) was an even bigger success, as was I’m Still In Love With You (1972). Call Me was a critical sensation and just as popular at the time; it is one of his most fondly remembered albums today. Al Green Explores Your Mind (1974) contained his own song “Take Me to the River“, which was later turned into an R&B hit (#7) by label-mate Syl Johnson and also covered by Talking Heads (#26 Pop) on their second album.
On October 18, 1974, Mary Woodson White, a girlfriend of Green’s, assaulted him before committing suicide at his Memphis home. Although she was already married, White reportedly became upset when Green refused to marry her, some four months after he peaked at #32 on the Hot 100 with the ironically titled “Let’s Get Married”. At some point during the evening, White doused Green with a pan of boiling grits while he was showering, causing burns on Green’s back, stomach and arms. The police found in her purse a note declaring her intentions and her reasons. “The more I trust you,” she’d written, “the more you let me down.”
Green cited the incident as a wake-up call to change his life. He became an ordained pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis in 1976 and continues to serve in this capacity, delivering services down the street from Graceland. Continuing to record R&B, Green saw his sales start to slip and drew mixed reviews from critics. 1977’s The Belle Album was critically acclaimed but did not regain his former mass audience. In 1979 Green injured himself falling off the stage while performing in Cincinnati and interpreted this as a message from God. He then concentrated his energies towards pastoring his church and gospel singing, also appearing in 1982 with Patti Labelle in the Broadway musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. According to Glide Magazine, “by the late 70s, he had begun concentrating almost exclusively on gospel music.”  His first gospel album was The Lord Will Make a Way. From 1981 to 1989 Green recorded a series of gospel recordings, garnering eight “soul gospel performance” Grammys in that period. In 1985, he reunited with Willie Mitchell along with Angelo Earl for He Is the Light, his first album for A&M Records. In 1984, director Robert Mugge released a documentary film, Gospel According to Al Green, including interviews about his life and footage from his church. In 1989, Green released “I Get Joy”, again with producer/guitarist Angelo Earl. In 2001, he appeared in the movie and soundtrack of On the Line featuring Lance Bass.
Return to R&B
After spending several years exclusively performing gospel, Green began to return to R&B (Rhythm & Blues). First, he released a duet with Annie Lennox, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” for Scrooged, a 1988 Bill Murray film. In 1989 Green worked with producer Arthur Baker writing and producing the international hit “The Message Is Love”. In 1991 he created the introductory theme song for the short-lived television series Good Sports featuring Ryan O’Neal and Farrah Fawcett. In 1992, Green recorded again with Baker, the Fine Young Cannibals, and reunited with his former Memphis mix engineer (this time functioning as producer) Terry Manning, to release the album Don’t Look Back. His 1994 duet with country music singer Lyle Lovett blended country with R&B, garnering him his ninth Grammy, this time in a pop music category. Green’s first secular album in some time was Your Heart’s In Good Hands (1995), released to positive reviews but disappointing sales, the same year Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 2000, Green published Take Me to the River, a book discussing his career. Green received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
In 2001, Green’s live cover of Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released on the soundtrack to Will Smith‘s film Ali (the song plays when Muhammad Ali learns of the death of close friend Malcolm X).
By 2003 Green released a non-religious (secular) album entitled I Can’t Stop, his first collaboration with Willie Mitchell since 1985’s He is the Light. In March 2005 he issued Everything’s OK as the follow-up to I Can’t Stop. Green also collaborated with Mitchell on this secular CD.
In 2004, Green sang a duet, “Simply Beautiful“, with Queen Latifah on her The Dana Owens Album. In 2006, Green worked on his latest studio album for Blue Note Records with The Roots‘ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. The album, Lay It Down, was released May 27, 2008 and includes tracks featuring John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae and Anthony Hamilton. Green said in an interview that he would have liked to duet with Marvin Gaye: “In those days, people didn’t sing together like they do now,” he said.
In 2008, Green’s album Lay It Down marked his full return to chart success, reaching number nine on the Billboard hit album chart. It was his most successful album release in 35 years.
In 2009, Al Green, along with Heather Headley, released a version of the song “People Get Ready” on the compilation album Oh Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration.
In June 2010 Al Green appeared on the BBC show Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and sang “Let’s Stay Together” accompanied by David Gilmour and Jools Holland.
In 2004, Green was inducted into the Gospel Music Association‘s Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Also in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #65 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 BET Awards on June 24, 2009 .
On August 26, 2004, Green was honored as a BMI Icon at the annual BMI Urban Awards. He joined an impressive list of previous Icon honorees including R&B legends James Brown, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley
In 2009, Al Green was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. Green’s biggest hit, “Let’s Stay Together”, was voted a Legendary Michigan Song that same year.
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