Al Green was one of the greatest soul and pop singers but when his lover Mary Woodson threw hot grits on him in the shower, it changed his life prompting him to become a preacher.
In his Memphis, Tennessee home on October 18, 1974, Woodson poured a pot of scalding-hot grits on Green’s back then retreated to a bedroom and shot herself dead with Green’s own gun.
Green had become a born-again Christian one year earlier before the incident believing that he had strayed from the righteous musical and spiritual course intended for him, but after the attack he renounced pop superstardom and all that it stood for becoming a minister.
Green, renowned as one of the greatest voices in soul-music history was at the absolute height of his powers in 1974. He had seven critically and commercially successful major-label albums behind him that included such timeless hits as “Tired Of Being Alone” (1971), “Let’s Stay Together” (1971) and “I’m Still In Love With You” (1972). He also, in the words of Davin Seay, who collaborated with Green on his 2000 autobiography, Take Me To The River, had a “basic animal appeal to women” that attracted many admirers, including Mary Woodson.
Green didn’t find out Woodson was a married woman with four children in New Jersey until after she committed suicide. He even unknowingly sent roses to Woodson and her husband’s home on numerous occasions, according to family and friends.
According to boombox.com, Al Green and Woodson met at a prison, where she was visiting a friend while he was doing a charitable performance for the prisoners. He was instantly attracted to her and they started dating. Although Green said he loved her, she seemed to have wanted to take things a lot faster in their relationship than Al was ready for.
On the night prior to his third degree burns, Woodson had been arrested for smoking marijuana. Green had been called to bail her. Afterwards he took her to the studio to calm her. However his friend, flight attendant, Carlotta Williams later showed up unannounced and greeted Green with a big hug. The trio returned to Green’s home after the session. He informed the ladies, he had spare rooms.
Green found Woodson in the kitchen at the stove, stirring a simmering pot of water. He thought nothing of it and entered the bathroom stripping to his underwear and was brushing his teeth, later recounting.
“I looked up just in time to see Mary’s reflection in the mirror. She had the steaming pot in both hands. In the next second, my world exploded into a thousand splatters of pure agony. Mary had added grits to the water, making a thick, boiling hot paste. With all her strength, she hurled it at me, splashing the bathroom walls and scorching my naked back. The pain was so intense that I wasn’t sure what was happening for a moment.
“I screamed again, bent over, and started to black out when I suddenly heard, over the thundering spray of the shower, the sound of a loud bang. I looked at Carlotta and she looked at me. It was as if we both knew that something terrible was unfolding around us and all we could do was stand in horrible, helpless witness. Then another bang, and the sickening, unmistakable sound of something heavy hitting the floor.”
Woodson had retreated to a bedroom after scalding Green. Grabbing Green’s gun, she fired one shot into a wall before killing herself with the second bullet. A suicide note was found in her purse.
Green had severe burns that required eight months of hospitalization. The incident also left him severely shaken emotionally and spiritually.
Al Green, whose full name was Albert Leornes Greene, was a singer, songwriter and record producer later becoming an ordained pastor at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church located in his hometown of Memphis. He turned to gospel music but later returned to secular music. He also went by the name The Reverend Al Green.
Green was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He has been described on the museum’s site as being “one of the most gifted purveyors of soul music”. He has also been referred to as “The Last of the Great Soul Singers.”
Green is the winner of 11 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also received the BMI Icon award and is a Kennedy Center Honors recipient. He was included in the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, ranking No. 65 as well as its list of the 100 Greatest Singers at No. 14.
Al Green in his autobiography notes that he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in 1973 from which he started doing charity work, singing in hospitals and jails or staging prison concerts.
He met Woodson at the New York State Correctional Facility. “She was the kind of woman that when you first saw her, you’d take a look, then a second, and then a third, and then, after a while, your eyes would just become accustomed to turning her way,” he said of her.
“She was pretty and I like having pretty women around me,” Green also noted adding “She was a real woman, not like all the giggling girls who flocked around me on the road, and everything about her was new and exciting. But there was something else that I’d never experienced before – her moody times and the way she stared off into the distance like she was listening to someone else from very far away. To me, that just added to the mystery.”
One of such mysteries was her predicting that Al Green would be a preacher man.
“You’re going to stand in front of great congregations. And you’re going to preach wonderful sermons that will turn the hearts of many,” she told him while on a picnic.
“Me? Preach?” I laughed again. “All the preaching I do is a little Love and Happiness.” I joked about it, but I was starting to get a little nervous. She stared like she was looking right through me, then gave me a dreamy smile and turned away. When she looked back, tears were welling up in her eyes. “When you do that,” she said, “when you preach in your church, will you save a seat up front for me?”
Al Green married Shirley Kyles in 1977. The couple had three daughters together, namely Alva, Rubi and Kora.