was one of the major figures of country music in the 1970s, developing a hybrid of country and pop that brought him a large audience.
was born in Robbinsville, NC, and was raised by his father and grandparents following his parents' divorce. He was born blind from congenital glaucoma, and when he was five, he began attending the Governor Moorhead School for the Blind. When he was seven, his instructors noticed his extraordinary musical talents and he began to study classical music formally. A single year after he began learning the violin,
was declared a virtuoso; he also mastered piano, guitar, and a variety of other stringed instruments, as well as various woodwinds. Eventually, he became interested in rock & roll music and while still in school formed his first rock band, the Apparitions. He briefly attended college in Atlanta where he studied pre-law; though he was awarded a comprehensive scholarship,
decided to become a full-time musician instead. His first professional gig was as a member of
's band in the early '60s.
In 1965, Milsap
started his own band and four years later, after having an R&B hit with "Never Had It So Good," moved to Memphis to become a session musician. There he frequently worked for Chips Moman
and can be heard playing keyboards on Elvis
' "Kentucky Rain" and singing harmony on "Don't Cry Daddy." When not doing session work, Milsap
and his backing group were the house band at TJ's Club. In 1970, he had a pop hit with "Loving You Is a Natural Thing." Following its success, in 1971 he released his eponymous debut. Two years later, Milsap
moved to Nashville in hopes of jump-starting his flagging career and became a client of Charley Pride
's manager, Jack D. Johnson. Within a year, he signed to RCA Victor, where he would remain for the bulk of his career. "I Hate You," his first single for RCA, reached the country Top Ten in the summer of 1973. The following year, he had three number one hits in a row -- "Pure Love," "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends," and "(I'd Be) A Legend in My Time," a cover of Don Gibson
's classic. Milsap
had a handful of Top Ten hits in 1975, but in late 1976 he became a genuine star, with a string of six number one hits in a row. In turn, that string of hits began a remarkable run where Milsap
didn't leave the Top Ten for 15 straight years. During that time, he had a number of pop crossover hits, beginning with 1977's "It Was Almost Like a Song." Between 1980 and 1982, Milsap
had ten more consecutive number one hits, including the crossover smashes "Smoky Mountain Rain," "No Gettin' Over Me," and "Any Day Now." Milsap
had yet another string of uninterrupted number one hits between 1985 and 1987, racking up eight consecutive chart toppers. He had his last number one hit in 1989, when "A Woman in Love" spent two weeks on the top of the charts. In total, he had 35 number one singles.
In the early '90s, Milsap
's commercial appeal began to decline -- after 1992, he wasn't able to break into the country Top Ten. Nevertheless, he continued to record. In 1992, he left RCA and signed to Liberty, where he recorded True Believer
, which failed to yield any major hits. Despite his decline in popularity, Milsap
continued to record and perform successfully throughout the '90s.