Percy Sledge, the R&B and soul singer best known for singing “When a Man Loves a Woman,” died of natural causes at 73, today. He was in a hospice facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“When a Man Loves a Woman” was written by Andrew Wright and Calvin Lewis, although Sledge has long noted his contributions to the song in interviews with the press, believing he should have been given a co-writing credit. All that aside, the real power of the song, which has enabled it find its way into the hearts of fans around the world, has always been Sledge's powerhouse vocals.
Released April 16, 1966, the song, which has Sledge's voice aching in a state of desperation most people who've been head-over-heels in love with someone can relate to, quickly hit #1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles charts. It was recorded at Norala Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, just 20 minutes down the road from Sledge's hometown of Leighton, as Sledge's debut single.
Rolling Stone later listed the song as the 53rd greatest song of all time.
As a child Sledge worked in the fields picking cotton before getting a job as an orderly in a hospital and then ultimately going on to start his music career. When he was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, he opened his speech with a memory about his boss in the fields commenting on his vocal abilities.
“10 years old, singing my songs in the fields, picking, chopping cotton. And my bossman tells me one day, he said 'Perc, that voice that you're using now, coming out of your throat, the whole world is going to hear it one day,'” Sledge said.