THE ABUSIVE CHILDHOOD OF BLIND CELEBRITY RONNIE MILSAP:
Blind country star Ronnie Milsap had a devastating childhood, starting with his biological mother. She gave him away when he was just one. His father told him that his mother spent much of the first twelve months of his life, sobbing and blaming him (father) for Ronnie’s blindness. He endured a year of hysterical rantings. She demanded, ‘if my father really loved her, he would find a way to rid her of this pitiful disaster in diapers. Take away God’s punishment, she thundered.’ My father finally had all he could take, he took me in his arms and stormed out the door. He said my mother yelled after him: “Don’t take that baby out of this house without a blanket!” Funny, the woman who put me out in the cold wanted me to warm.
Daddy took me twenty miles away to live with his mother and stepfather. They raised me lovingly until I was sent away to the state school for the blind at age six. One of my greatest regrets in life is that my grandparents passed away before I became prosperous. I had a lifelong fantasy that someday I would buy my grandmother nice things.
Later, the doctor who delivered me, reaffirmed her diagnosis that I was born with congential glaucoma that caused my blindness. I was “not” born totally blind, I had light vision in my left eye. I couldn’t see forms or tell distances but I could detect light, very slightly if I looked into direct sunlight.
When I was young, I may have encountered my mother six times. The first time was when I was five. She surprised me by bringing along a baby daughter, my sister. I thought she was trying to be kind when she put my fingers on my sister’s eyes. Then she said something I will never forget. “Feel her eyes, Ron. They’re real clear, not like yours. She’s not like you, and she didn’t shame me. She can see.”
You can imagine how words like that would break the heart of a little boy. I can still remember holding back the tears. But I wasn’t about to let myself cry in front of her.
Another time, when I was a preschooler, my mother came to visit and surprisingly gave me a dollar. In those days, a dollar was a lot of money for a kid. It was the most money I’d ever had and I didn’t have it very long. My mother stayed for two days, before she left, she asked me for the dollar back!
My mother managed to visit me once at school before I graduated at nineteen. I didn’t hear from her again until I was twenty-five. She wrote a letter to her “beloved” son. She didn’t ask how I’d been. She didn’t ask if all was forgiven. She asked for money. She resurfaces every so often trying to steer my generosity in her direction. In 1975, after I’d had a few hits for RCA, she turned up again. She wanted money. Someone contacted the tabloids in 1986, and the result was a story about the uncaring Ronnie Milsap and the dire straits of his precious mother. The headlines screamed that my mother was starving while I lived like a king inside a mansion, a block away from the estate of the Governor of Tennessee. The story was wrong and it hurt me deeply. It also humiliated my family and friends. Do I ever plan to see my mother again? Why would I want to see her. Motherhood means more than just giving birth. Yet that was the extent of her involvement with me. In her womb, she carried me for nine months. In her house, she kept me for a year and often referred to me as a “curse.” She spelled out the rules of our relationship when I was a child. I learned to live with them. Now, she has to do the same. As for me giving her money, well, I guess she forgot that I gave her my last dollar when I was six years old.
When I was enrolled at the “Governor Morehead School Of The Blind,” we were taught on the first day how to make our beds and where to position our shoes and other personal property. Because we couldn’t see, we might leave a shoe an inch out of place. The housemother (Mrs. Maude Haroldson) wouldn’t say where the shoe was, instead, she’d make us get on our hands and knees and feel for it. Then we’d stand up to feel the sting of an unseen slap across a teary face. If we left a speck of soil on our knuckles, the backs of our hands were beaten repeatedly with steel rulers. When the families left us at the school, the housemother underwent an immediate transition that was straight from Snow White. Instantly, she was a wicked witch.
I often heard that spiteful woman bound into our quarters after it was time to be asleep. Boys might be whispering from bunk to bunk and she’d surprise them and jerk them from their beds, holding their ears in her hand. Then she’d bounce their heads off those plaster walls and the dizzy children would be left with splitting headaches and bleeding ears. She gripped the ears so firmly, her fingernails sliced into their cartilage.
Despite the constant abuse, I would go on and become a honor student with training in music and industrial arts.
In March 1957, near the end of the school day. We were all in the study hall where some students were giggling and talking when the house father told a student (Mack Grindstaff) to be quiet. Mack talked back, due to the violence directed towards the students at the school, this was unusual.
The house father was outraged when he slapped him. Mack was partially sighted and the blow knocked off his glasses. I heard them shatter on the floor. You have to understand the significance to a blind person of hearing the sound of someone’s glasses being broken. The shattering of Mack’s glasses on the floor sickened me. I didn’t think before I spoke. “You didn’t have to slap him! I said. Bam!
I took the hardest blow to the face I’ve ever taken. My head hit the floor in a split second after the strike. My face seemed to vibrate. My ears rang loudly. My light-vision eye throbbed. I had been hit so hard, the blow loosened my eye socket. From that day, my only “good eye” began disintegrating. The next morning, all I saw was a sea of red in that eye. I went to the doctor, a blood clot had developed and the eye had to be removed.
Before my surgery, I ran down the hall to the house father, I told him, I can no longer see out of my eye, everything is red, because you hit me! There was a long pause. I can’t see, I continued, almost hysterical, you shouldn’t have hit me!
“Well now, he said slowly. “We can’t cry over spilled milk, can we?” I will remember forever his chilly delivery of that sentence.
The surgery to remove my eye would be a success and the throbbing pain disappeared but I was shattered.
A few years later, I graduated and decided to pursue a career in country music. In the 1970’s, Milsap began his professional singing career singing in honky-tonk nightclubs in Memphis and Nashville where he came to the attention of Elvis Presley.
By 1976, Milsap was heading his own show and touring the world’s concert halls. A year later, one of his hit records was named “Album Of The Year,” and he was voted “Entertainer Of The Year,” and “Male Vocalist Of The Year.” Later, Milsap would host TV specials.
The singer has been a mega-star ever since.
Throughout the 1980’s, Milsap had numerous number one hits and he performed 150 concerts a year to sellout crowds in the nation’s largest concert halls.
Milsap also racked up numerous platinum albums and singles and he won several Grammys.
Over the years, Milsap became good friends with Stevie Wonder, the late Ray Charles and Gladys Knight.
Through music, Milsap became quite wealthy, a multi-millionaire.
He currently resides in a beautiful gated mansion with his wife Joyce and son Todd.
Source: “Almost A Song,” by Ronnie Milsap & Tom Carter.
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