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The soul singer on overcoming an abusive marriage to become a young heart running free


TO DESCRIBE a music legend who boasts a long-lasting career as a ‘soul survivor’ is almost cliché.

But with numerous abusive marriages serving as a the backdrop to her professional life, along with a battle with alcoholism, and the challenges of juggling her early career with being a single mother, it’s a fitting description for soul, gospel and disco diva, Candi Staton.

Gearing up to perform at London’s Under The Bridge later this month as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of her 1986 hit Young Hearts Run Free, Staton has endured more than her fair share of heartache in abusive relationships, the most recent being her marriage to former Major League Baseball player, Otis Nixon, which ended in 2012.

“The biggest thing was the abuse – both physical and emotional,” Staton says, when asked what ultimately caused her to end her marriage to Nixon. “The verbal abuse… calling me names. The womanising – you know, a lot of the things that women can’t live with.

“He was also on drugs and most of his income went to drugs, while I was left with the burden of the household. I only lived with him for 18 months. I couldn’t take it any longer.”

Having gone through five divorces, Staton is no stranger to heartache. The lyrics of her 1976 hit Young Hearts Run Free, penned by producer David Crawford, were actually based around her experiences with husband number three, her then-manager, Jimmy James – a reportedly controlling and abusive man. (Who could forget the lyrics: “Say I wanna leave a thousand times a day/ It’s easier said than done, when I just can’t break away.”)

Now free and single, the 76-year-old is concentrating her efforts on an upcoming autobiography, which charts her life story; offering insights into her childhood in Alabama, as well as advice about relationships – “the types of things you should look out for when you get into a relationship,” Staton confirms. “I hope that information will help someone.”

Candi Staton

Candi Staton

Does the songstress feel at peace having overcome numerous abusive relationships?

“I feel calm and I feel peace,” says Staton, who finds solace in her strong Christian faith.

“Writing my book was therapeutic. I’ve forgiven everybody that did me wrong, in terms of relationships. When you read the book, there are some things that I’m sure will make you think, ‘How could she forgive that?’ But I’ve truly forgiven and I feel peace. And more than that, I feel sorry for them and I pray that they get their lives together.

“First of all, I’ve gotta live with me every day, so I have to be peaceful in my own spirit. I can’t be at peace in my spirit if I’m waking up every day hating someone else. That stops my creativity, it stops my progress and it stops me from doing what I know I need to do before I pass on to the other world. So I try to live at peace with all men. I believe in heaven and I wanna make sure that I get there.”


Herself a young heart running free, would Staton ever consider remarrying?

“You know what? I don’t know. He’d have to be a guy that was really sincere and I’d have to know that he really loved me, and not just my image. He’d need to be a guy who’s not in competition with what I do; someone that looks out for me and who was financially independent. If I find that guy, fine. If I don’t, I’m cool with that. I can very well take care of myself!”

Despite her numerous marriages, Staton is well-versed with taking care of herself – and her children. Reflecting on juggling music with motherhood in the early years of her career, Staton says: “Oh, it was very hard – that’s all in the book! But it was very hard. I had some of the worst nannies and people that looked after my children. My kids were very young when I started in my career and I had to leave them in the hands of strangers.

“I would worry all the time and that led me to start drinking – heavily. I’d have to do a show, but I’d be worried about my kids at home so I turned to drink. I was a single mum and I had no help from my children’s fathers, so yeah, it was rough.”

Nevertheless, Staton, whose early work saw her dubbed the ‘First Lady of Southern Soul’, went on to rack up hits in the words of soul, disco, and even UK dance music, when her 1986 track You Got the Love was remixed by UK collective The Source.


But Staton is equally well known among many audiences as a gospel artist – particularly in America – thanks to albums including, His Hands and Here’s A Blessing for You (2010). As such, the singer says that most of her performances now take place in Europe, as audiences in the US have largely categorised her as a Christian artist.

“I don’t have much of an audience in America anymore,” Staton explains. “I do tours in Europe, whereas in America I do isolated dates. The people in America that love me, truly love me. But in America, I’m known more as a gospel artist, so I don’t think they consider me a secular artist.

“Of course, Young Hearts Run Free is still a huge hit, but I’m not connected in the secular world. I’m not connected with the promoters and I don’t have management in America. But I don’t even know if I want that.

“I get so much joy coming to Europe, which I do once or twice a year. And I’m getting older now – I’m not trying to work myself to death!”

Even so, the songstress still has ambitions for the future.

“I wanna bit-part in a movie,” she laughs. “I wanna play somebody’s mother or somebody’s grandmother, or just stand there and say, ‘Can I help you?’

“Oh, and I want a Grammy Award,” chuckles the star, who has been nominated for four Grammies. “Those are the two things on my bucket list! After that, I’ll sit back in my rocking chair and finish writing the rest of my books!”

Candi Staton will perform at Under the Bridge, Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, London SW6 1HS on June 15. For more information,

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