Percy Sledge sang soulful ballads in the mid to late 60's that were a hit on the soul charts and crossed over to pop. Recording in Muscle Shoals in his home state of Alabama, Sledge did a series of songs in a pleading, passionate style that resulted in some of the best soul music of the 60's. Included was a smash number one hit in 1966, the song that will always be associated with him, When A Man Loves A Woman.
He was born in Leighton, Alabama in 1941. Percy started to sing as a teenager. He sang in church and joined a group that played club dates called the Esquires Combo. After graduation from high school he worked in the early 60's as a hospital nurse. People around Alabama began to notice him, including disk jockey/producer Quin Ivy in Sheffield, Alabama and promoter Phil Walden. With their encouragement, Percy went solo in 1966.
Percy Sledge was and is a talented singer. Ivy agreed to promote Sledge's When A Man Loves A Woman and hired Spooner Oldham to play a distinctive organ background on the record. Ivy produced it on his own and licensed the record to Atlantic Records. The executives there liked what they heard and bought out Sledge's contract. When A Man Loves A Woman became a huge hit in the Summer of 1966, topping both the R&B and pop charts.
Sledge released two records that Summer that became big hits on the R&B charts and crossed over to pop, Warm And Tender Love and It Tears Me Up. He frequently recorded songs at the Muscle Shoals studios that had been written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. He also helped to establish a county/soul movement, recording tunes from songwriters such as Kris Kristofferson and Charlie Rich. Sledge just missed the top ten in pop with Take Time To Know Her in 1968, and had a number of hits on the R&B charts throughout the remainder of the 60's.
In the early 70's Sledge's record sales began to decline but he continued working in the music business. He toured the United States and England performing in clubs throughout the 70's. In 1974 he left Atlantic and signed a recording deal with Capricorn Records, resulting in a return to the top twenty R&B with I'll Be Your Everything.
Sledge's signature song, When A Man Loves A Woman, has never really gone away. It has been used in movies and television commercials many times. One such advertisement on British television in 1987 for Levi's resulted in a re-release of the song, and it returned to the charts going as high as number two in Great Britain. His popularity somewhat revived, Sledge continued to tour on into the 90's, performing in as many as 100 shows a year.
Percy Sledge was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. He suffered from liver cancer and died at his home in Baton Rouge on April 14, 2015 at the age of 74. He is buried in Baton Rouge.
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