R&B singer Percy Sledge, best known for the hit "When a Man Loves a Woman", died yesterday at the age of 74. The cause was liver failure due to cancer.
Percy Sledge was born on November 25 1940 in Leighton, Alabama. As a young man he worked in cotton fields in the Leighton area, and later took a job as an orderly at Colbert County Hospital in nearby Sheffield. During the weekend Percy Sledge sang with a rhythm and blues group called The Esquires. Someone who had been a patient at the hospital heard him and introduced him to music producer Quin Ivy. Mr. Sledge was soon signed to a recording contract.
Percy Sledge's very first song recorded under that contract would be not only be his first hit, but his biggest hit ever. "When a Man Loves a Women" was released on April 16 1966. It hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on May 28 1966. It also became the first record ever released by Atlantic Records to be certified gold. Percy Sledge would never again achieve the sort of success he had with "When a Man Loves a Woman", although he would have further hit singles in the late Sixties. In 1966 "Warm and Tender Love" reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "It Tears Me Up" reached #20. "Take Time to Know Her" reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968. Percy Sledge also released several albums in the late Sixties, including When a Man Loves a Woman (1966), Warm & Tender Soul (1966), The Percy Sledge Way (1967), and Take Time to Know Her (1968).
Percy Sledge's career faltered in the late Sixties, and by 1970 none of his singles were charting. He made a bit of a comeback in 1973 when 'Sunshine" charted on the Billboard R&B chart and again in 1974 when "I'll Be Your Everything" charted on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. He continued to play concerts throughout the world, and was particularly popular in both Europe and Africa. He released three more albums: Blue Night in 1994, Shining Through the Rain in 2004, and The Gospel of Percy Sledge in 2013.
There is little wonder why "When a Man Loves a Woman" became such a phenomenal hit. It was perhaps the perfect combination of singer and song. Written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, "When a Man Loves a Woman" was one of the most emotional R&B ballads of all time. Percy Sledge's soulful voice gave the song even more impact, transforming it into one of the most powerful love songs ever recorded. Others would record the song, but none were ever able to capture the sheer emotion packed into Mr. Sledge's vocals. Percy Sledge's incredible voice figured in his other hits as well, although sadly none would do as well as "When a Man Loves a Woman". He was definitely one of the most gifted singers to emerge in the Sixties.