A native of Hollandale who picked cotton as a child, a University of Southern Mississippi graduate and Navy pilot, Ben Peters (1933-2005) went on to become a Nashville songwriting legend, penning fourteen number-one hits, including three of the most performed songs in country— “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” “Daytime Friends and Nighttime Lovers,” and “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Briefly a solo recording artist himself, Peters created hits for the cream of country vocalists for forty years.
Born in Greenville, Mississippi, on June 20, 1933, and raised here in Hollandale, Ben James Peters’s first musical experience was singing gospel with tenant farmers on the plantation where he picked cotton. At age thirteen he started playing a saxophone that he found in his grandparents’ attic, and a year later he was already good enough to play in local clubs with a swing band. He graduated from high school here in 1952 and went on to Mississippi Southern College (later, the University of Southern Mississippi), where he majored in business administration and continued to play music, graduating in 1956. There he met Jackie Macon, who became his wife of forty-eight years.
During four years as a U.S. Navy aviator, Peters continued to write songs. Later hired as a songwriter by rockabilly and funky pop producer/publisher Bill Lowery, in Atlanta, Peters gained valuable career experience but no significant songwriting credits. His first break came in 1966, when Bob Beckham of Shelby Singleton’s Fingerlake Music in Nashville placed one of his songs as the B-side of an early Dolly Parton single. Peters moved to Nashville as a songwriter and general manager of that firm, and crooner Roy Drusky took his song “If the Whole World Stopped Loving You” into the country top twenty. In 1967 Peters saw his tune “Turn the Whole World Around,” sung by Eddy Arnold, become his first number-one song. There would be thirteen more, among them Johnny Rodriguez’s “Love Put a Song in My Heart,” Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” and Charlie Pride’s “You’re So Good When You’re Bad.”
Peters had the country songwriter’s gift for spotting everyday comments that were great song material. Kenny Rogers’s “Daytime Friends and Nighttime Lovers” was inspired by a weatherman’s mention of daytime highs and nighttime lows, and one of Peters’s most well-known songs, “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” began with his wife’s reminder to kiss their daughter Angela, nicknamed “Angel,” before leaving for work. As a singer, Ben Peters recorded a handful of country pop singles for Liberty, Mercury, and Capitol Records (1969-1973), and he headed his own successful recording studio for decades. But it is as an extraordinary songwriter that he’s best remembered, with songs recorded by everyone from Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens, Kitty Wells, and George Jones to Dean Martin, Lou Rawls, and Ella Fitzgerald.
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