J.D. Steele of The Steeles reflects, “Percy Sledge was one of the great soul singers of our time.” For, one might add, any time. Sledge’s signature sound epitomized the best of both gospel and poplar music.
His timeless Atlantic Records recording, When A Man Loves A Woman, was his most successful hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B singles charts, but it stands to this day as a hallmark. Waxed in 1966, the song dominated the airwaves; consequently, his vocals could be heard influencing Steve Winwood singing Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme Some Lovin’ and more directly, Gary Brooker’s performance on Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, to name a few.
When A Man Loves A Woman sold more than a million copies — which at the time earned a gold certification by the RIAA — and was soon covered by R&B immortal Esther Phillips, former Guess Who front man Burton Cummings, and then by Bette Midler for her film The Rose. The song eventually topped the charts again with Michael Bolton in 1991, who won a Grammy for his rendition.
While Sledge never repeated the success of When A Man Loves A Woman, he made it to the charts with I’ll Be Your Everything and Sunshine during the 1970s, and became an international concert favorite throughout the world, especially in Europe and Africa, averaging 100 concerts annually in South Africa.
In 1994, Saul Davis and blues notable Barry Goldberg produced Sledge’s album, Blue Night, featuring Bobby Womack, Steve Cropper and Mick Taylor, and took the 1996 W. C. Handy Award for best soul or blues album. In 2004, Davis and Goldberg produced Sledge’s album Shining Through the Rain, which preceded his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
In May of 2007, Sledge was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame where he made his home in Baton Rouge, LA. He made his tenth and last album, The Gospel of Percy Sledge, in 2013.
Percy Sledge, born in Leighton, Alabama, starting out as a farmhand and hospital orderly, had one of the singularly identifiable voices in industry history. Survived by his second wife, Rosa Singleton Pledge, he succumbed to liver cancer at his Baton Rouge, Louisiana home on April 14 at age 74.