To this point the musical appearances had been a part-time effort for the family, as they returned after each gig or tour to work the family farm. After a few years the father decided they were professional enough to immerse themselves into the field full-time, so the father leased out the farm and they took a daily spot on radio station KLCN, where they provided early-morning accompaniment for the area's early-risers. After that they had spots on several other radio stations around the South. In 1949 they returned to Alabama, with a show on radio station WSGN in Birmingham, Alabama. Near Christmastime that year, the two girls were married in West Memphis, Arkansas in a double ceremony and left the group. The parents found other girls to take their place, but the group soon disbanded (the parents returned to Hackleburg and opened a clothing store, where James worked while belatedly finishing his final year of high school). During the summer of 1950, James worked with a band, sometimes singing but he was most useful as a guitar player on the Memphis, Tennessee radio station WHBQ. His work at the radio station was interrupted near the end of the summer when James' National Guard unit was activated to participate in the Korean War.
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 only two months when Whitman felt he had to do some club work to keep up his income to be able to pay his band. The Loden family had only appeared in schoolhouses and such and Sonny agreed to stay on for a few shows until Whitman could find his replacement. For the remainder of his career he never played a club performance. 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.
Following his long streak of #1 hits, James is also remembered for his 1975 #6 song "A Little Bit South of Saskatoon" that was in the 1977 Paul Newman hockey comedy Slap Shot.
In 1956, as rock and roll was just beginning, Sonny's multi-million selling single Young Love became a #1 country and pop hit, one of the first such crossover hits by a country artist.
In 1957, James became the first country recording artist to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In 1961, honoring his contribution to the music industry, James was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6630 Hollywood Blvd.
In 1967, along with Bobbi Gentry, James hosted the first CMA Awards show.
In 1969, Billboard magazine named Sonny James Country Music's Artist of the Year.
In February 1971, James was the first country artist whose music went into space; he made a special music recording for the crew of Apollo 14. They later presented him with one of the small American flags that they had carried to the Moon.
In 1973, James produced Marie Osmond’s first three albums. The first single “Paper Roses” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart less than one month after her 14th birthday. Osmond thus became the youngest female and overall youngest solo artist to ever reach the No. 1 position on that chart, a record that still stands as of 2015.
In 1987, Sonny was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
In June 2001, honored with the Male Golden Voice Award. In November 2001 received the Master Achievement Award / R.O.P.E. Award. In June 2002 honored by the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame and Country Radio Broadcasters with the Career Achievement Award.
On November 6, 2006, he appeared on television for the first time in nearly 20 years when presenter Kris Kristofferson announced on the ABC television network's Country Music Association Awards that Sonny was to be one of its newest inductees. Sonny's acceptance speech opened with the words, "I want to thank my Good Lord for the career He has given me."
In May 2007, Sonny James and his Southern Gentlemen were officially inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum,
In 2009 James was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
On August 15, 2015, exactly 51 years to the day when he first teamed up with The Southern Gentlemen in 1964, James was inducted into The Birmingham Record Collectors Hall of Fame. Gary Robble, one of The Southern Gentlemen, accepted the award on behalf of James and all of The Southern Gentlemen.
James died on February 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 87.
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