Al Green, born on April 13, 1948 in Forrest City, Arkansas, is known as one of the great rhythm and blues singers of the 1970s. He was born Albert Greene to Cora and Robert Greene who were sharecroppers and parents of ten other children. Greene and some of his siblings were part of a family gospel quartet called the Greene Brothers. The group started when Greene was nine and toured around the South until the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan in the mid-1950s. Greene was kicked out of the band by his father when he was caught listening to Jackie Wilson, a popular R&B artist.
At 16, Green dropped the “e” off his last name and with high school friends created a R&B group called Al Green & the Creations. The group recorded a few songs including “Back Up Train” which reached number five on the R&B charts in 1968. Subsequent singles were less popular, and in 1969, 21-year-old Green signed to Hi Records where he and Willie Mitchel, the company’s vice president, recorded his debut album, Green is Blues. Released in early 1970, the album was well received and set the stage for Green’s successful career.
Green released his next album, Al Green Gets Next to You, at the end of 1970 which featured his first hit single, “Tired of Being Alone.” In 1972, Green released “Let’s Stay Together,” which reached number eight on the pop charts, and four months later he released “I’m Still in Love with You,” which reached number four on the charts. His singles “Call Me,” “Here I Am,” and “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy),” which became top ten gold singles, proved Al Green’s musical strength.
In 1974, however, Green’s girlfriend at the time, Mary Woodson, committed suicide with Green’s revolver. Green believed this violent act was a sign from God to enter the ministry. By 1976, 28-year-old Green was ordained and became the pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle, a church he purchased in Memphis, Tennessee. Despite focusing more time in the church, he continued to produce three more albums in 1975 and 1976, but lost much of his fan base as the music began to sound formulaic (and disco music became popular).
In 1977, Green left Hi Records to produce his music under his own record label, American Music. He produced two albums in this time, but in 1979, after a fall onstage he believed God wanted him to move away from secular music and sing more gospel. Besides recording the song “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” with Annie Lennox for the movie Scrooged in 1988, Al Green did not return to popular music until 2000. He recorded his last album, Lay it Down, in 2008.
In 1995 Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio, in 2004 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2009 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from BET.
Green married Shirley Kyles in 1977. In 1983, Shirley filed for divorce after years of domestic violence. They had three daughters together, Alva, Rubi, and Cora. He also has two more sons, Al Green Jr. and Trevor, and another daughter, Kala. Green lives in Memphis and remains the minister of Full Gospel Tabernacle Church.