Soul fan or not, surely everyone has heard of soul legend Percy Sledge and can sing his biggest hit, When A Man Loves A Woman, by heart. But, considering his enduring popularity, it’s strange that he had more than one job before pursuing music full time.
Percy was born on the 25th of November, 1940, in Leighton, Alabama. His parents’ names were Robert and Fanluceille Sledge. He had a sister named Donna and a brother whose name has never been published. “When a Man Loves a Woman” was written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright and first recorded in 1966 by Percy Sledge.
Even as a small boy, he loved music and sang at his local church every Sunday. Outside of church, however, he strayed away from gospel music and towards country. As he worked in the fields as a labourer, he’d while away the time by singing songs by Elvis, Jim Reeves and Hank Williams.
Although the name of his first wife is not known, Percy became a husband and father when he was just a teenager. He needed a better paying job, so he went to work at Colbert County Hospital as an orderly. He worked there for a while before moving on again to a chemical plant, and it was here that he was offered $50 dollars per gig to sing with the band Esquires Combo. Soon he was performing regularly at local clubs and colleges.
It was here that DJ Quin Ivy spotted him. He wanted to try his hand as a producer, and he convinced the band to make a record with him. The band showed up at Ivy’s studio, and it was there that When A Man Loves A Woman was born. Percy had already drafted out the bones of the song as a lament about a former girlfriend who had moved on to a new man.
It was originally called Why Did You Leave Me. In one of the biggest regrets of his life, Percy did not get the writing credit for his hit. At the recording, musicians were brought in from a nearby studio. They ended up taking the writing credit for the modifications they made.
When he received a demo of the song, Jerry Wexler, president of Atlantic records, offered Percy a recording contract and soon he had a manager too, Phil Walden. When A Man Loves A Woman was released in April 1966 and was an instant success. It went to number one in the UK, Canada, and on the Hot 100 and R&B charts in America. Overnight Percy Sledge was a star.
Over the following years he released a total of eleven albums and more than 30 singles. None of them ever matched the enduring popularity and success of When A Man Loves A Woman but Percy remained a popular artists for many years. Following his death the value of his estate was not made public but it is believed to have been between $5-10 million.
He toured extensively throughout his career but still made time for a life with his family. After the end of his marriage to his first wife, Percy married again to Rosa. At the time of his death he had twelve children so clearly he enjoyed being a dad.