On the Lighter Side: Age doesn’t stop music legend Ronnie Milsap

Joe Guilbeau

Age is merely a number, and for people who love what they do for a career, it’s not what stops them from doing what they enjoy, regardless of their age.

I’ve often written about the great country music performers, and no list of its finest musicians would be complete without Ronnie Milsap, the legendary singer and pianist.

Joe Guilbeau

He was one of country music’s most influential performers of the 1970s and 1980s. He became one of the most successful and versatile country “crossover” vocalists of his time.

He appealed to both country and pop music genres with chart-toppers that incorporated pop, R&B and rock & roll elements.

His biggest crosser hits include “It Was Almost Lie a Song,” “Smokey Mountain Rain,” “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me,” “I Wouldn’t Have Missed It for the World,” “Any Day Now,” and “Stranger in My House.”

He has won six Grammy Awards and notched 35 No. 1 songs on the Billboard Country charts, third only to George Strait and Conway Twitty. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

Milsap was born Jan. 16, 1943, in Robbinsville, N.C. A congenital disorder left him almost completely blind from birth. Abandoned by his mother as an infant, he was raised in poverty by his grandparents in the Smokey Mountains until he was sent to the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, N.C., at age 5.

During his childhood, Milsap developed a passion for music, particularly through the late-night radio broadcasts of country music, Gospel music and rhythm & blues. When he was 7, his instructors noticed his musical talents.

Soon after, he began studying classical music formally at the Gov. Morehead School and learned several instruments, eventually mastering the piano. When he was 14, an accident at the home of one of the school’s house-parents caused him to lose what very limited vision he had in his left eye.

With the national breakthrough of Elvis Presley in 1956, Milsap became interested in rock & roll and formed a rock band called “The Apparitions” with fellow high school students.

In concert, Milsap has often paid tribute to the musicians of the 1950s who inspired him, including Presley, Ray Charles, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Milsap was awarded a full college scholarship and briefly attended Young Harris College in Young Harris, Ga., with plans to become an attorney.

During this time, Milsap joined the popular local R&B group “The Dimensions” that played gigs in the Atlanta area. He became a regular attraction at the rough and rowdy Royal Peacock Club.

Two years shy of his 80th birthday, Milsap remains very active on the music scene. He recently released his new album “A Better Word for Love” and will begin a 22-city tour Aug. 27 in Greensburg, Pa. It ends Dec. 11 in McMinnville, Tenn. The tour will take to 20 states across the country, including The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

He’s living proof that as long as you do what you love and the audience wants to see you perform, you never grow old.