Percy Sledge

  • R&B and soul singer born in 1940 in Leighton Alabama. Died in 2015 from liver cancer.
  • Sledge first sang gospel music at his church, and he enjoyed listening to The Grand Ole Opry and other country and western artists. He worked in the fields as a young man, and in the early 60s, he found a job as an orderly at a hospital – he often would sing on the job, to the delight of staff and patients. On the weekends, he performed with a soul vocal group called the Esquire Combo. One of his patients at the hospital introduced Sledge to a local DJ and record producer who was looking for R&B talent and who also appreciated the country music that was so prevalent in the South. The producer signed Sledge to a record contract after an audition in 1966.
  • Sledge had written a song about losing his girlfriend after getting laid off of work. Two musicians from the Esquire Combo helped with the song, and Sledge gave all the songwriting credits to them. It fit well with his style of soulful singing with anguish and passion. When his record producer heard it, they recorded When a Man Loves a Woman, and they released it as a single in 1966. A national label heard it and quickly bought out Sledge’s contract. The song shot to #1 on both the Hot 100 and R&B chart. It reached #4 in the UK. After it was used in a Levi’s jeans commercial 20 years later, it peaked again at #2 in the UK. The song ranked at #52 on Rolling Stones’ Greatest Song of All Time list.
  • Between 1966 and 1968, Sledge released three more soul ballads that charted in the top 10 of the R&B chart – Warm and Tender Love, It Tears Me Up and Take Time to Know Her (which peaked at #11 on the Hot 100). Many other recordings by Sledge were considered classics among fans of soul singers, but after 1968, Sledge had trouble making hits that charted highly. Between 1970 and 2004, he released four albums. He received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album for 1994’s Blue Night. 
  • In 2004, he released the Shining Through the Rain album, and the following year, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – another inductee who earned his entry based on his legacy and his influence on an entire music genre. His was the voice of what became known as the Muscle Shoals sound, which included a touch of country music in the soulful vocal.
  • When a Man Loves a Woman became iconic as a soul music masterpiece. In 1987, it was featured in the film Platoon, and it created renewed interest in Sledge for a new generation. He performed the song on Saturday Night Live in March 1987, and he received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1989, the inaugural year of the award.
  • Sledge was dubbed “the Golden Voice of Soul.” Watch Mr. Sledge belt it out in this live performance.

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