The Story behind “A Song For You” by Leon Russell

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The Story behind “A Song For You” by Leon Russell

Leon Russell’s melancholy ballad, “Song for You,” is a well-known classic. This poignant composition, the first track on his self-titled debut album, recorded at Sunset Sound in LA in early 1970, continues to connect with people of all ages. The haunting melody and soulful lyrics capture love’s complexity, desire, and fragility. These genuine, emotion-filled phrases convey a love that transcends the limits of time and place.

It’s widely believed that Rita Coolidge was the inspiration for “A Song for You.” Russell’s emotive performance and the song’s lyrics express his love for Coolidge, with whom he was estranged. Their tumultuous relationship provided ample material for Russell to draw upon when crafting this emotional ballad. Earlier, Russell wrote “Delta Lady” for Rita during their courtship.

Leon denied it was Coolidge: “I wrote it for somebody I had an argument with…the person was very instrumental in teaching me about songwriting and writing in general.” Some think it was the singer-songwriter Greg Dempsey, who was included in the dedication of the 1970 album Leon Russell, in which “A Song For You” premiered, and who co-wrote “Prince of Peace” and later, “Roll Away the Stone.” Ultimately, the person has never been verified.

Russell said he composed “A Song for You” in 10 minutes and imagined it as a standard to be performed by Frank Sinatra or Peggy Lee. It is not surprising that it has been covered by over 200 artists, including Andy Williams, Donny Hathaway, Karen Carpenter, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Neil Diamond, Peggy Lee, Cher, Joe Cocker, Michael Bublé, Herbie Hancock with Christina Aguilera, Sam Harris, Amy Winehouse, and more. Ray Charles received the 1993 Grammy for Best Male R&B Performance with “A Song For You.” Tedeschi Trucks included it in their sets. Bizzy Bone’s rap version made the Billboard Hip-Hop charts in 2008.

Russell bares his soul in “A Song For You,” revealing the depths of his feelings. The beautiful music and sincere words express a love that transcends the boundaries of time and space, thus earning him the title of “Master of Space and Time.” Whether Coolidge, Dempsey or another muse inspired this song, and the passion is obvious in every note.

 

“A Song For You” is still being recorded today, more than 50 years after it was written, demonstrating its long-lasting appeal. In 2018, “A Song For You” was belatedly added to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Nancy Ruth

Nancy Ruth

Meet the woman behind the blog, Nancy Ruth, The Church Studio's PR and Development Director. During the week, she spends most of her time writing press releases and grants with a coffee in hand. She's passionate about music history and on a mission to share untold stories!

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