Soul Singing Icon Percy Sledge Passes Away

By Michael Nam

On April 14, the “King of Slow Soul” Percy Sledge died in hospice care in Louisiana of natural causes at the age of 74, according to the Associated Press. Sledge was most known for his No. 1 debut hit in 1966 “When a Man Loves a Woman” and is largely credited as being among the first breakout soul singers from the South.

The singer’s hometown was Leighton, Alabama, where he initially worked in the cotton fields and in the local hospital as an orderly. He sang in a gospel choir and played music with a band on weekends before he was recommended to a record producer, Quin Ivy.

Amazingly, Sledge gave the writing credits for “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a song featured in multiple films and re-recorded as massive hits by other artists, to his former bandmates, Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, despite it mostly being written by himself. Rolling Stone reports that Sledge viewed the relinquishing of the song rights as his “worst decision,” but said, “I am not at all bitter. I figure if God wanted me to do what I did, and say what I did to tell those guys they could have the song, then I’ll leave it that away and I would never change it.”

Sledge’s career did attract controversy, notably in 1970 when he traveled to South Africa to perform despite the country being under apartheid. This decision drew criticism from Black activists, but he defended his choice. According to The Telegraph, he said of his successful tour, “We played to whites, Blacks, Indians: they said nobody but Percy Sledge could do that kind of a show.”

Sledge underwent surgery for liver cancer in January of last year buttoured shortly afterwards. He is survived by his wife Rosa Sledge, 12 children, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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