Boone sold more records during the late 50s than any other artist except Elvis Presley. From 1955 to date, only six artists (Presley, the Beatles, James Brown, Elton John, Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder) are ranked above him in terms of total singles sales and their relative chart positions. Boone had a total of 60 hits in the US singles charts during his career, six of which reached number 1. A bona fide 'teen-idol', Boone was, however, a personality quite unlike Presley. Where Elvis represented the outcast or rebel, Boone was a clean-cut conformist. He was a religious, married family man, who at one point turned down a film role with Marilyn Monroe rather than having to kiss a woman who was not his wife. While Elvis wore long sideburns and greasy hair, Boone was recognized by his 'white buck' shoes and ever-present smile. Boone even attended college during the height of his career. Accordingly, Boone's music, although considered to be rock 'n' roll during his first few years of popularity, was considerably less manic than that being made by Presley and the early black rockers. Boone, in fact, built his career on 'cover' records, tame, cleaned-up versions of R&B songs originally recorded by black artists such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ivory Joe Hunter, the Flamingos and the El Dorados.
Boone grew up in the Nashville, Tennessee, area, where he began singing in public at the age of 10. He appeared on the national Ted Mack Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts television programmes in the early 50s, and had his own radio programme on Nashville's WSIX. In 1953, he married Shirley Foley, daughter of country star Red Foley. The following year, Boone recorded his first of four singles for the small Republic label in Nashville, all of which failed. That year the Boones moved to Denton, Texas, and began raising a family of four daughters, the third of whom, Debby Boone, had a chart hit in 1977 with the ballad 'You Light Up My Life'. Pat signed to Dot Records and recorded his first single for the company, 'Two Hearts' (originally by R&B group Otis Williams And The Charms) in February 1955. Admittedly unfamiliar with the genre, Boone quickly adapted the raw music to his own crooning style. His second single, Domino's 'Ain't That A Shame', went to number 1, and was followed by a non-stop procession of hits. Boone stayed with the R&B cover versions until 1957. Even today it is a controversial question whether Boone's cover records helped to open the door to the black originators or shut them out of the white marketplace. By 1957, when Presley had established himself as the reigning white rocker, Boone had given up rock and switched to ballads. Among the biggest sellers were 'Friendly Persuasion (Thee I Love)', 'Don't Forbid Me', 'Love Letters In The Sand' and 'April Love'. Some of Boone's recordings by this time were taken from films in which he starred. He also frequently appeared on television, toured the country, and was the subject of magazine articles praising his positive image and outlook. Boone even wrote several books giving advice to teenagers.
From 1957-60, Boone hosted his own television show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. Although still popular, by the beginning of the 60s, his place at the top had slipped somewhat lower. 'Moody River' in 1961, and 'Speedy Gonzales', a novelty rock number of the following year, were his last major pop hits. By 1966 Boone's contract with Dot ended. He drifted from one label to the next, trying his hand at country music and, primarily, gospel. Although he had started recording Christian music as early as 1957, his concentration on that form was near-total by the late 70s; he recorded over a dozen Christian albums during that decade, several with his wife and children as the Boone Family Singers.
Boone continued to make live appearances into the 90s, and became an outspoken supporter of politically conservative and religious causes. By 1991 he had begun discussing the possibility of singing rock music again. In 1993, Boone joined another 50s legend, Kay Starr, on 'The April Love Tour' of the UK. In 1997, Boone recorded with Ritchie Blackmore and Guns N'Roses' Slash for his heavy metal tribute album. Ridiculous although it may seem, Boone tackled classics such as 'The Wind Cries Mary', 'No More Mr Nice Guy', 'Smoke On The Water' and, of course, 'Stairway To Heaven'. In addition he owns his own record company Gold Label, whose featured artists include Glen Campbell.
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