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Soul Singer Percy Sledge Dies

Singer Percy Sledge died Tuesday.
Taylor Hill
Getty Images
Singer Percy Sledge died Tuesday.

Singer Percy Sledge, perhaps best known for his hit "When A Man Loves A Woman," has died, Artists International Management Inc., his talent agency, said.

Sledge died of natural causes a little after midnight at a hospice in East Baton Rouge, La., according to a coroner. The coroner said Sledge was 74, though the Encyclopedia of Music as well as his talent agency says Sledge was 73.

Born in Leighton, Ala., Sledge worked in the fields there before getting a job as an orderly at Colbert County Hospital in Sheffield, Ala., his talent agency's website said. It adds:

"By the mid-1960s, Sledge was touring the Southeast with the Esquires Combo on weekends and working at the hospital. A former patient who was a friend of producer Quin Ivy introduced the two, an audition followed, and Sledge was signed to a recording contract."

His first single, "When A Man Loves A Woman," released in 1966, became a massive international hit.

Sledge was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

In 2011, on NPR's Fresh Air, rock 'n' roll historian Ed Ward reflected on the story behindSledge's most famous song:

"Percy Sledge was unhappy. His high school sweetheart had dumped him and gone to Los Angeles to be a model, taking one of his best friends with her. It was Christmas Eve 1965, and he was performing with the Esquires Combo at a health club in Sheffield, Ala. In the middle of the set, he just lost it.

" 'Just hit me a chord on the keyboard,' he told the organist, 'Pop' Wright, and he began improvising a song, 'Why Did You Leave Me, Baby?' Quin Ivy, who'd been producing some records locally, was there and invited him to record it.

"It was the moment Sledge had been waiting for ever since he'd left Leighton, Ala., for Muscle Shoals — a larger town where his cousin Jimmy Hughes had already recorded hits. Hughes had recorded at Fame Studios, and Sledge had been bugging him to tell Rick Hall, the studio's owner, about him. A bunch of young white guys, including Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham and Jimmy Johnson, were hanging around the studio writing songs and playing in the house band; when Sledge approached them with 'Why Did You Leave Me, Baby,' they thought the melody was great but the lyrics needed work.

"Sledge went to his mother's house and worked steadily for three weeks, and finally came back to Ivy with the new version. Explaining his absence, he told Ivy, 'When a man loves a woman, he can't keep his mind on nothin' else.' Ivy's ears perked up, and he and Sledge and a few of the other guys got to work, and before long, they set Sledge up in the vocal booth and started recording."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.