Country music singer and composer O. B. McClinton, born and raised here in Senatobia, found his first musical success as a songwriter for 1960s Memphis soul labels. When Stax-Volt founded the Enterprise imprint for release of his country records, McClinton emerged during the 1970s and ‘80s as one of the most successful African American artists in the field, with fifteen chart hits.
Born Osbie Burnett McClinton in nearby Gravel Springs on April 25, 1940, “O.B.” was the son of clergyman George A. McClinton and his wife Mary, who owned and tended their own 700-acre farm here, the sixth of seven children, most of whom, in the family tradition, stuck with the farming. O.B. realized very early that cotton picking and plowing were not for him–and dreamed of being an entertainer, especially one like Hank Williams, whom he was hearing on the radio. He’d spend much of his spare time during high school learning guitar and toying with ideas for songs, briefly leaving home to work odd jobs in Memphis. After returning and graduating, he went to Rust College in Holly Springs on a choir scholarship, graduating in 1966, working as a D.J. at WDIA in Memphis before facing the draft.
He polished his skills as a singer and fledgling songwriter during four years in the U.S. Air Force, then landed a publishing deal with Fame music in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which led to considerable success as the composer of such hits as “You Got My Mind Messed Up” and “A Man Needs a Woman” for James Carr, and songs placed with Otis Redding and Clarence Carter. He had limited success as an R&B singer recording for Goldwax Records of Memphis, when the stunning success of Charley Pride in country suggested he might be able to turn to the genre he’d always favored. In 1971, Stax-Volt Records’ Al Bell spun off a new Enterprise label to feature McClinton as a country singer, on such singles as “Country Music, That’s My Thing,” “The Unluckiest Songwriter in Nashville,” and his highest ranking of 15 country songs he’d put on the charts, “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.”
Being in the small contingent of African-American performers in country music was never a cinch, but McClinton often dealt with the subject good-naturedly in shows and songs. One of his compositions, “The Other One,” corrected those who regularly mistook him to be Charley Pride. McClinton would go on to record country–some serious, some comic–with such major labels as Mercury, ABC/Dot and Epic, appeared frequently on country television, and was a popular live attraction. His loyal following enabled him to market new country records on his own, such as “The Only One”, through the 1980s, as label support wained. When it was announced that he was afflicted with cancer in 1986, such country royalty as Waylon Jennings, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Reba McEntire and Johnny Rodriguez threw a Nashville benefit for him to cover the bills, but O.B. McClinton died at age 47, on September 23, 1987.
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