Sonny James — the mellow-voiced singer, guitarist and producer known as “the Southern Gentleman” — died Monday (Feb. 22) at age 87, according to his official website.

A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, James was that rarest of artists, one who moved fluidly for years between country and pop music with equal authenticity and acceptance.

Born into a performing family in Hackleburg, Alabama, on May 1, 1928, James Hugh Loden began learning the guitar when he was 3 and moved on to become a skillful fiddle player in his teens.

Working with his four sisters as the Loden Family, James became a familiar voice and figure on such high-profile live radio shows as the Louisiana Hayride and the Big D Jamboree.

After serving in the Army for 15 months during the Korean War (some of that time spent entertaining the troops), James made friends with fellow guitarist Chet Atkins, who, in turn, introduced him to Ken Nelson, the head of artist & repertoire for Capitol Records.

Nelson signed James to a recording contract in 1952 that ultimately would yield the label 21 No. 1 country singles over the next 20 years — as well as the No. 1 pop single, “Young Love.” Seventeen other of James’ singles also went pop, albeit at significantly lower level than they reached in country.