Published yesterday at 8:00 am.
Candi Staton will always remember September 15, 1963.
The then 23-year-old singer was visiting Birmingham for Sunday mass when horror struck. A few blocks away, a Baptist church had just been attacked by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Spectacular explosion of 19 sticks of dynamite that killed four young girls and injured dozens.
“It was our Bloody Sunday,” says Ms. Staton, who will perform at the Rialto on Sept. 29 as part of the Pop Montréal Festival. “The riots started on the streets. I was there with my two boys. It has become too dangerous. We had to leave the city. »
The soul singer kept this important episode in the back of her mind for 60 years. But she has just brought it back to life in a new song, 1963, in which she recounts the tragedy in detail.
I believe the Lord wanted me to tell this story at some point. It felt like it was yesterday again. I cried the whole time I was recording it.
Candi Staton, circa September 15, 1963
The piece, which borders on documentary, contrasts with the apparent carefreeness of the songs that made Candi Staton her reputation. Soul singer, then disco, then pop, then gospel, the unforgettable singer of Young Hearts Run Free (1976) is more associated with the dance floor than with committed singing. But this image – necessarily reductive – is just one facet of a fairly profound body of work, spanning some thirty albums over a 70-year career.
“Run, be free”
Candi Staton was born in 1940 in the midst of segregation in Alabama and made a name for herself as a gospel singer in churches. In the mid-1950s she recorded for small labels and toured the Deep South of the USA with stars of the time such as The Soul Stirrers and Mahalia Jackson. Her gravelly voice instinctively led her to soul music and she recorded her first solo album in 1969 before scoring an international soul-disco hit in 1976 with “Young Hearts Run Free”, a song about the difficult relationship she was experiencing at the time .
“Young Hearts was inspired by my relationship,” she says. I wanted to leave him but he threatened me. I was afraid of him the whole time. It was the story of my life. This song was advice for young people. I told them: Run, be free, don’t like me! »
Young Hearts Run Free also received a second life in 1997 thanks to a house remix by singer Kym Mazelle. This version brings Candi Staton up to date, as do successive covers of the song You Got the Love by The Source (1997) and Florence and the Machine (2009).
These successes also contrast with a rather complicated private life. Between marital setbacks, abusive husbands, repeated divorces (five!), and life as a single mother, Ms. Staton can actually boast of having had it all. But she doesn’t complain. Because it is suffering, she says, that makes the best soul singers.
For the first time since 1977
Candi Staton also doesn’t hide the fact that she was cheated professionally while record companies got rich off her back.
“I always tell young people who ask me for advice: Read the contract carefully! You can find out everything on the first three pages. The next three pages cover everything! Personally, it took years before I was able to pay Warner again [sa maison de disques entre 1974 et 1980]. »
The limousine rides, the Dom Perignon, all the parties they threw: I didn’t know at first that I was the one paying for all of it. I ended up owing them hundreds of thousands of dollars and didn’t know it…
Candi Staton on the record label Warner
With the valuable help of a lawyer, the singer will finally get rid of this bad contract. But she regrets that she had to struggle so much to repay her debts and does not deny that she extended her career on stage to be able to pay off those debts.
On this subject, she is clear that it will actually be her last tour. “I will be 84 years old. It’s time, I don’t want to die on the streets,” says the woman who can’t wait to spend the rest of her life with her children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.
OK, but not without a final visit to Montreal, where the singer hasn’t been in full disco glory since 1977. An eternity, but she remembers it like it was yesterday.
“After the concert, this young girl came to see me in my dressing room. She put her head on my lap and thanked me for Young Hearts Run Free. She told me it freed her and stopped her from getting involved with the wrong boy… I wonder what happened to her. It would be nice if she would visit me again on Friday after the concert…”
Candi Staton, Janette King and ThatHonestGuy, Friday, September 29, 8 p.m., at the Rialto Theater