Jim Weatherly: Midnight Train to Georgia songwriter dies aged 77

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionWeatherly released nearly a dozen studio albums

US country singer-songwriter Jim Weatherly, best known for writing 1970s hit Midnight Train to Georgia, has died aged 77.

Weatherly passed away at his home near Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday.

Music publisher and friend Charlie Monk said the family attributed his death to natural causes.

Singer Gladys Knight, who had a number one hit with Midnight Train to Georgia with her backing group The Pips, said he had been "a sweetheart".

Born in Mississippi in 1943, Weatherly released nearly a dozen studio albums during his five-decade career.

In his student years, the singer was a gifted quarterback for the University of Mississippi's American football team.

But later in the 1960s he decided to leave sport and focus on music in Los Angeles.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionGladys Knight, pictured with The Pips, said he had been "about life and love"

Midnight Train to Georgia was recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1973. It went on to win a Grammy Award, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

A number of American artists, including Aretha Franklin, later recorded their own versions of the popular song.

Weatherly's biggest solo success was 1975's I'll Still Love You. He also penned more Gladys Knight hits, including Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) and You're the Best Thing (That Ever Happened to Me).

He recorded with a range of high-profile stars, including Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney.

Weatherly was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014.

"I'm missing him already," Gladys Knight said in a statement published by the Jackson Clarion Ledger. "I love him and always will. He was about life and love and he wrote it so simply, he grew my love for country music.

media captionDoes country music recognise its roots?

"When we were with him it was like we'd always been together, we fit together. He started playing his guitar, and I started humming and it was magic.

"His music propelled us to a whole different level," Knight continued. "I loved him and his music, he was a sweetheart and so gentle.

"We were just made for each other. At that time African Americans weren't into country music and he really helped us know it and love it."

Country singer Bryan White paid his own tribute on Twitter, remembering Weatherly as "a HoF [Hall of Fame] songwriter with a massive catalogue of hit songs spanning 4 decades".

Singer BJ Thomas echoed those sentiments, saying he had been "one of the great ones" and had "wrote some beauties".

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