In addition to the old favorites, Milsap found inspiration in a group of newer songs that round out Then Sings My Soul. On Up to Zion, he immerses himself in the electrifying immediacy of traditional gospel, while When Jesus Was All I Had — penned by Muscle Shoals-based Donnie Fritts — brings a bluesy-yet- introspective tone to the proceedings.
Ronnie Milsap spent the first six years of his life in a small rural town in the Great Smoky Mountains hamlet of Robbinsville, North Carolina before moving to Raleigh to attend a school for the blind — where he began studying violin and piano, studies he’d continue for the next 12 years. Music’s lure proved powerful for the young Milsap, and while he’d pursued his studies diligently in order to make the grade at law school, a chance meeting with Ray Charles prompted him to take another path that was about to open to him.
I went to a Ray Charles show while I was in college and somehow they let us backstage, he recalls. I was introduced to Ray Charles and I said, Mr. Ray Charles, you’re my hero. You’re the man I look up to. I emulate your music, but I’m faced with a dilemma. I’d love to be in the music business, but all my advisors tell me I have to have an academic life. So I’m going on to study law and become a lawyer. And there was a piano in the dressing room, and Ray said, Well, play me something. So I played him three songs, and Charles said, Well, son, you can be a lawyer if you want to, but there’s a lot of music in your heart. If I were you, I’d follow what my heart tells me to do.
Milsap did just that, recording a handful of singles in Atlanta before moving to Memphis, where he joined forces with super-producer Chips Moman and, by 1969, with Elvis Presley — for whom he played piano on hits like Kentucky Rain and Don’t Cry Daddy. Although he was making a name for himself as a versatile studio musician, Milsap was set on being at center-stage, rather than in the supporting cast, a goal he’d achieve by 1974, when he scored his first number-one country single, Pure Love.
He’d go on to top the country chart more than a dozen times in the e70s, with such enduring hits as Let My Love Be Your Pillow and What a Difference You’ve Made in My Life . His peers responded just as strongly as the public, awarding Milsap six Grammys and a dozen CMA Awards, including four turns as Male Vocalist of the Year.
And even with 40 #1 chart-toppers under his belt — not to mention avidly-received live shows across the world, Ronnie Milsap is still growing and surprising long-time fans.