James Loden (born May 1, 1929), known professionally as Sonny James, is an American country music singer and songwriter best known for his 1957 smash hit, "Young Love." Dubbed the Southern Gentleman, James had 72 country and pop chart hits from 1953 to 1983, including a five-year streak of 16 straight among his 23 number one hits. He is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. James is currently retired and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Loden was born on a farm in Hackleburg, Alabama into a family of musicians. By age three he was playing a mandolin and singing. At age four, Sonny joined with his parents and nine-year-old sister Thelma to perform on WMSD-AM in Muscle Shoals. Ruby Palmer also joined the group, and the singing Loden Family was soon playing theaters, auditoriums and schoolhouses throughout the Southern United States. The group dissolved in 1947 after years on the road, and the two girls married.
In 1950, Loden joined a country group in Memphis, Tennessee, but his music career was interrupted by service in the Korean War. On September 9, 1950, his Alabama Army National Guard unit was sent to Korea, returning home in the fall of 1952. Loden was honorably discharged and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he signed with Capitol Records with the help of Chet Atkins, with whom he had roomed. The company asked him to drop his last name professionally, and he released his first studio record as Sonny James.
While appearing on Louisiana Hayride he met musician Slim Whitman. James' performance on stage playing a fiddle and singing brought a strong crowd response, and Whitman invited him to front for his new touring band. James stayed with Whitman's group for a few months before returning to Nashville to make further recordings, including what became his first Top Ten country hit, That's Me Without You. Over the next few years, he had several songs that did reasonably well on the country music charts and he continued to develop his career with performances at live country music shows. He also appeared on radio, including Big D Jamboree, before moving to the all-important new medium, television, where he became a regular performer on ABC's Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri beginning in October 1955.
Top of the charts
In late 1956, James released "Young Love," a 45 rpm single for which he would forever be remembered. As the first-ever teenage country crossover single, it topped both the country and pop music charts in January, 1957. Dubbed the Southern Gentleman because of his polite demeanor. he gained more exposure with an appearance on the popular Ed Sullivan Show. After leaving Capitol Records for the first time in 1959, James signed with National Recording Corporation. His career also included stints with Dot (1960-1961), RCA (1961-1962), his second stint with Capitol (1963-1972), Columbia (1972-1979), Monument (1979), and Dimension (1981-1983).
James went on to a long and highly-successful career, and in 1962, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. From 1964 to 1972, he was a dominant force in country music. He was a guest on the Bob Hope Show and Hee Haw, and made minor appearances in several Hollywood motion pictures. In in 1969, Billboard magazine named him Artist of the Year. In 1971 James made a special music recording for the crew of Apollo 14, who later presented him with one of the small American flags they carried to the moon.
Number one streak
Beginning in 1967 with "I'll Never Find Another You" and ending with "Here Comes Honey Again" in 1971, James recorded 16 straight number one country singles of his 72 verified chart hits. His career number one total was 23, the last coming with 1974's "Is It Wrong (For Loving You)". During this time James also helped launch the solo career of Marie Osmond, producing her first three albums, including the 1973 smash hit, "Paper Roses".
The number one streak record, however, is a point of contention. Country supergroup Alabama surpassed James' record in 1985 with their 17th number one song, "Forty Hour Week (For a Livin')," but the dispute stems from their 1982 Christmas single, "Christmas in Dixie". The song peaked at 35 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in January 1983, during what could be considered a streak of 21 number one songs. Some sources, such as Joel Whitburn's "Top Country Songs: 1944-2005," disregard non-number one Christmas singles in determining chart-topping streaks, and consider Alabama to have surpassed the record; others, however, including the Alabama Music Hall of Fame Web site, state that the failure of "Christmas in Dixie" snapped Alabama's streak before it could achieve parity with James' 16.
In 1983, James retired to his home with wife Doris in Nashville, Tennessee. He came home to Hackleburg during Neighbor Day on April 25, 2009 and recognized the 100th birthday of the Town of Hackleburg on the main stage during the festival.
For his contribution to the music industry, in 1971 James received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6630 Hollywood Blvd., and in 1987 he was inducted into to Alabama Music Hall of Fame. In 2006, James was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and appeared on TV for the first time in nearly 20 years to accept his induction during the Country Music Association Awards on November 6, 2006.