You’ve heard the song plenty of times, probably danced to it if you’ve been around long enough. It used to be on the radio a lot; still is, once in a while on oldies stations. Maybe you remember it from its initial release in 1976, or perhaps you heard the 1997 cover version by Kym Mazelle, from the soundtrack of “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”:

What’s the sense of sharin’
this one and only life,
endin’ up just another lost and lonely wife

You count up the years,
and they will be filled with tears . . .

But you might not have known who sang it, who had that voice, who was the woman that sang that song, “Young Hearts Run Free”, and made it sound like every word came from deep down inside.

The singer was Candi Staton, born Canzata Maria Staton in 1940. She grew up on a farm in Hanceville, Alabama, and like so many other soul sisters, began singing in church as a small girl. Even then, Candi’s voice got their attention, and she began to be featured in smaller vocal ensembles.

By the time Candi was twelve, the family had moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Candi attended Jewel Christian Academy and it wasn’t long before her voice was noticed again. She was asked to be part of Jewel’s gospel vocal trio, and soon Candi was on the southern gospel circuit. The trio sang all across the South, recorded for Nashboro Records, and appeared with other hopefuls such as Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers.

Around the age of seventeen, Candi left the group. She’d been encouraged, by Sam Cooke, to try her luck as a solo act in secular music. Candi had gotten herself married, however, and was more interested in being a wife and mother. The marriage went sour, but now there were three children added to the mix.

Never one to give up, Candi decided it was time to pick up the pieces and get back to singing. Now living in Birmingham, she started appearing in local clubs. Slowly, she rebuilt the reputation she’d left behind, some seven years ago.

Candi entered a talent contest on a dare, and caught the eye and ear of soul man Clarence Carter. He secured a recording contract for her with Capitol Records, leading to her first album, “I’m Just A Prisoner”, in 1970. The album went up to #5 on the R & B charts and suddenly Candi had a much wider audience for her talents. She married Carter and another child came along to go with the hit record.

Over the next few years, Candi built her career with more hits. She moved into the southern rock sound with more hits, covers of “Stand By Your Man” and “In The Ghetto”-- the last winning her praise from Elvis himself. Candi was everywhere; appearing on TV’s “American Bandstand”, and headlining in Las Vegas.

Love only breaks up
to start all over again.
You’ll have the babies
but you won’t have your man.

While he is busy lovin’
every woman that he can . . .

Clarence Carter turned out no different than Candi’s other husbands. Fed up with his roving eye, Candi divorced him, took the kids, and moved on. It was 1974, and a new sound was making its way out of New York and into dance clubs all over the world. People were dancing to this new stuff called disco.

Candi signed with Warner Bros. Records, and was given a new song by Dave Crawford to record. Crawford produced the single, and “Young Hearts Run Free” became one of Candi’s signature tunes. A year and a half later, she followed that up with another Crawford song, “Victim”. Just as before, the song could’ve been taken right from Candi’s story:

I told ya ‘Young Hearts Run Free’
then I didn’t listen
to myself,

Engulfed by the power of love
I just fell right in . . .

In 1980, Candi tried her luck at songwriting and producing herself, on her album “Candi Staton”. This one didn’t do as well as expected and, in true music industry form, the offers began to dry up. She’d married again, this time to drummer John Sussewell, and by 1982 Candi had hit rock bottom. Her popularity waned, and she was back to (as she put it) the “chitlin’ circuit”, those places where they don’t care who you are or what you sing. “I was tired of those runny bathrooms where I had to stand on chairs to get dressed,” she said. “Not even a mirror in the bathroom. I got tired of it.”

For both Candi and her husband, religion was the way out of the clubs, her alcoholism, and Sussewell’s cocaine habit. They returned to the gospel music of Candi’s roots, and launched their own label, Beracah Records. She proved again that adversity hadn’t taken anything away from her, when both her “Make Me an Instrument” (1983) and “Sing A Song” (1986) albums received Grammy nominations.

The secular world hadn’t completely forgotten her, though. Candi recorded an inspirational dance track, “You Got The Love” in 1986, and it enjoyed moderate success. A fresh dance groove remix in 1991 went to #4 in England, and provided Candi with the biggest hit of her career.

Candi and her husband have remained with gospel music, and expanded their record label into television production with a faith-based variety show, “Say Yes”. It’s still found on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Candi is spending more time working with troubled inner-city individuals and families. Her latest album, Proverbs 31 Woman, was released in late 2002.


SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY

"Music Speaks Louder than Words", Warner Bros. LP (1977)
"House of Love", Warner Bros. LP (1978)
"Candi", Warner Bros. LP (1979)
"Candi Staton", Warner Bros. LP(1980)
"The Best of Candi Staton", Warner Bros CD (1995)
"Stand Up and Be A Witness", Blue Moon CD (2001)
"Proverbs 31 Woman", Beracah CD (2002)
"Young Hearts Run Free/House of Love" (reissue), Rhino CD (2002)

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