Musicheads Essential Artist: Sonny Knight

Sonny Knight and the Lakers
Sonny Knight performing live in The Current studio (Nate Ryan | MPR)
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Musicheads Essential Artist: Sonny Knight
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Click above to hear an audio version of this biography, with musical selections. Audio hosted by Sanni Brown and produced by Derrick Stevens.

Twin Cities soul legend Sonny Knight is a Musicheads Essential Artist.

Calvin Alphonso "Sonny" Knight was born in Mississippi in 1948. He and his grandmother moved to St. Paul when he was about seven. As a kid, he listened to Elvis, Sam Cooke, and the gospel musicians at his grandmother's church, recognizing his own love for music in theirs. At the age of 17, he recorded his first 45-inch as Little Sonny Knight.

After Knight turned 18, the Army sent him to Korea, then Vietnam. Upon his return home, he was "just dibbling and dabbling into the music game," he told The Current. In the mid-'70s, he joined Haze, the funk band that had just scored a hit with "I Do Love My Lady."

Haze had a bumpy road, and although Knight would perform in other bands throughout the years, he spent most of his life as a truck driver. He wouldn't revive his musical career until 2013, when the Minneapolis label Secret Stash Records invited him to perform at a soul revue.

Sonny Knight's big break came in 2014, when he and his band the Lakers released their first album, I'm Still Here. He and the Lakers ended up touring Europe and performing at prestigious jazz festivals. At 66 years old, Knight was the life of the party, a warm, charismatic singer who could howl and croon.

In 2017, just after the release of his second album, Sonny Knight was diagnosed with cancer. Within a half a year, he was gone.

During his 69 years, Knight witnessed and contributed to decades of Minnesota soul, wrapping gospel, blues, and jazz into his big, brassy sound. Just before he passed, he told The Current, "The last four years of being a part of the Lakers have been the best years of my life."

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