Love and happiness. To her it seemed their destiny.

Wearing a plain white cotton dress, she stood next to her handsome groom, reciting their marriage vows on a warm Southern night.

It was a simple ceremony, held in the living room of the minister's home in Memphis. There were no flowers, no candles, no bridesmaids, no special guests. Just the bride, the groom, the minister and a single witness. But it was good enough. Perfect, almost.

Or so it seemed to Shirley Kyles when, in June 1977, she married the Rev. Albert Leornes Green, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church and a crooning soul singer.

"I love her," Green was quoted as saying in an interview a year later. "She is one of the most beautiful women I've ever met. I dig it {marriage}. She's super-understanding, and she's a business lady."

"He was always a gentleman," Shirley Green said in a recent interview. "There was nothing I could see that would make me think otherwise."

Just months before their first wedding anniversary, however, a disheartened Shirley Green filed for divorce, alleging her husband brutally beat her. He slapped, shoved and threatened her, she said. He kicked her. He once beat her with an acoustic guitar. Because she scratched his car once, he punched her in the face. Life with the eventual eight-time Grammy Award-winning gospel artist, who once sang of "Love and Happiness," was anything but.

Now, more than 11 years since their divorce, Shirley Green, 46, tells her story in the hopes it will help other victims of domestic violence and even help abusers understand the effects of their actions.

It was, in fact, the story of another abused wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, that led Green to break her silence, she said.

"I know I have to share," said Green. "It's not to tear him down, because that's still my children's father... .

"It's not so much focused on him as how I came through it. It's about the abuse I went through. Prayer and faith is what sustained me."

The couple's three daughters, Alva, Rubi and Kora -- now 16, 14 and 13 and living with Shirley -- were too young to remember the abuse.

Other members of her family, however, including sisters, and two children from a previous marriage, all corroborate her stories.

But perhaps the most damning witness is Al Green himself, who, under oath, admitted striking his wife. (Green agreed to be interviewed for this story but backed out a day later. Since then he has refused repeated requests for an interview.) Despite filings for divorce in 1978 and 1981, the Greens' marriage lasted more than five years. There were several separations, Shirley said, mainly when the beatings grew too frequent and too severe.

But, too afraid to try to make it alone, too believing of his promises to never hurt her again and too ashamed to face the prospect of a second divorce, she always went back to him.

"I had had one failed marriage, and I didn't want to face another," she said.

In the end, it was Al Green who, in a counter-complaint for divorce, accused his spouse of "cruel and inhuman treatment." And by then it had become clear to Shirley Green that she had stayed in the marriage too long.

A Sudden Proposal

The proposal for marriage on that sticky day in mid-June came unexpectedly and just hours before the ceremony at the minister's house.

Al had showed up bright and early that morning at Shirley's apartment in a Memphis subdivision. They hadn't seen each other since she had stopped singing backup for him two months earlier. She also had been the administrator of Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, which he had bought in 1976 after being called to the ministry.

She said she wanted to quit. Instead, she was fired. Either way, Shirley was happy not to be singing backup any longer because of the mix of Christian and secular music she said Al continued to sing at his concerts.

The couple had first met one Sunday in 1976 at the Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, where Shirley was the minister of music. And although she had years earlier opened two concerts headlined by Al at the Coliseum in Memphis, she had never met him.

In 1974, Green was badly burned when a scorned girlfriend, Mary Woodson, hurled a pot of boiling grits onto his back as he sat in a bathtub, then fatally shot herself with his revolver. Devastated, Green grew closer to the church and became an ordained minister.

When Shirley met Al in 1976, he was a changed man.

"He had just been called to the ministry and was changing over from rhythm and blues, he said, to do evangelistic crusades," recalled Shirley. "He asked me to come and help put a backup group together because he was changing his music to gospel.

"I wasn't just really swept off my feet. I cared about him, and I could see he was really going through a real tough time."

At his request, she joined his group that year. And in addition to starting a day-care center at Full Gospel, she set up the church's organizational structure. She was the daughter of a Baptist preacher in Chicago, and her experience in church matters made her a natural for the job.

As they worked closely together, she grew fond of Green, a handsome young man dripping with success and an apparent new-found zeal to do the will of the Lord. There were long talks and romantic dinners.

"He would just come by my apartment -- watch TV and talk," she said fondly of their days of romance. "Sometimes we would smooch a little bit."

But even as she worked at Green's church and toured with him, Shirley grew increasingly disenchanted by what she perceived as his failure to make a clean break from his past.

It was, in her estimation, a slow process. And by the time she stopped working for him in April 1977, it wasn't that hard to say goodbye.

That is until Green showed up out of the blue weeks later with a ring in his pocket and a proposal. He said he needed her to help "complete God's work," she said.

"He said the work couldn't be completed unless we did it together. He said, 'What are you doing for the rest of your life?' And I told him I'd be helping him."

He placed a glistening diamond ring, surrounded by 28 smaller stones, on her finger and said, "Let's do it," she said. "I was happy."

Hours later, the couple were married.

Later that evening, Mr. and Mrs. Al Green headed to their mansion outside Memphis. They frolicked like children, playing and laughing, she recalled.

"We were really having fun -- acting silly." And making love.

In the morning they flew to New York, where Green was scheduled to perform. Late that night, however, the phone rang. Al's father had died of a heart attack. They flew back to Memphis, not talking much to each other. Al, Shirley recalled, seemed distant. As they drove from Memphis International Airport in Al's two-tone green Cadillac, Shirley made a comment. She doesn't exactly remember what, but, she said, "it set him off." He slapped her repeatedly in the face, she said.

"I was going to leave at that point, but he was very apologetic. So, of course, I was trying to be understanding."

Two days later, she said, she was roused from her sleep in the middle of the night and beaten with an acoustic guitar over a disagreement about sex.

She bled and cried, she said, but she stayed.

It was, after all, only the first week of marriage. And she wanted to make it work. The summer passed slowly.

'It Never Let Up'

In August it was again time to go out on the road. The Greens traveled to Florida, where Al was scheduled to perform for two weeks at a hotel.

"We were on our way to the hotel and I did not know the lodging arrangements {as he expected me to}. And he beat me," she testified in a sworn deposition in 1982 as part of her divorce filing.

The next morning he beat her again, this time for not being ready on time, she testified in the deposition.

When the Florida gig ended, the Greens returned to Memphis.

Not long after, Shirley, who was eight weeks pregnant, suffered a miscarriage. Her sister, Lucille Watson, came from Chicago to take care of her, and Shirley eventually went back to Chicago for a while.

In September she returned to Memphis, moving into another house Al owned. She was afraid to go home to him, she testified.

Eventually she did, comforted by her husband's tears and promises that the abuse wouldn't happen again. Within the next few months she became pregnant again.

The abuse continued, she said in the interview: "It never let up. It was always pushing and shoving, like you're nothing and nobody."

The abuse continued over the next three years, she testified. She would leave, but she always went back.

Slowly she grew more isolated. Al wouldn't allow her family to visit, and she had few friends in Memphis. She grew tired, more alone and desperate.

That was her state of mind in November 1979 when, pregnant again and with their first child near her side, she waited for her husband to come home from church one night and then shot at him with a rifle, she testified. She missed.

In 1981, she filed for divorce.

Under oath, as part of Shirley's divorce filing, Al later answered questions about abuse against his wife.

Asked by Shirley's attorney how he felt about physical abuse, Al Green said, "I don't think it's justifiable under any circumstance. I just think that at the time that I did it I was coming out of the world. ... I was raised for the street, called for the ministry. And I had no other way to respond to what was going on in my particular lifestyle at that time other than to retaliate to my manhood being belittled." The Greens were officially divorced in February 1983.

Now living in the Chicago area, where she grew up, Shirley Green says she has found healing. She has also found difficulty raising three daughters as a single parent. Money is tight. Cora is approaching adolescence. Rubi has just entered high school. Alva is pregnant. And yet, for Shirley Green there is peace.

"I've learned to trust in Jesus," she sang recently on a local Christian TV program. "I've learned to trust in God." On a recent Sunday in Memphis, Green ministered to his small congregation. He sang a litany of gospel songs, backed up by a five-piece band. He preached a fiery sermon, leaping atop the altar.

"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?" he asked.

After the service, a dozen or so visitors lingered to meet Green, whose new rhythm-and-blues album is out overseas and is to be released soon in the United States. On Jan. 12, Green was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

CAPTION: Shirley Green and a young Al Green (inset), who said: "I don't think it's justifiable under any circumstance. I just think at the time ... I had no other way to respond ... other than to retaliate to my manhood being belittled."