Soul legend Percy Sledge died this morning at age 74, his agent has confirmed. Sledge, who had suffered from liver cancer, was at home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Sledge, a.k.a. “the King of Slow Soul,” is best-known for his hit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which topped the Billboard singles chart in 1966 and became one of the era’s most indelible classics, routinely appearing on lists of the greatest singles of all time. It made Sledge, an Alabama native, one of the South’s first soul stars. The single became the first gold record on Atlantic, and was also the first hit to emerge from the Muscle Shoals music scene.
Sledge primarily wrote “When a Man Loves a Woman” himself, though he gave the credit entirely to two of his band members. Sledge “works himself into such an ecstasy of passion,” wrote critic Dave Marsh in a 1989 assessment of the single, “that, until a full horn section jumps in at the last moment, it’s easy to forget that there’s anybody on earth except him, his girl, and you.” A cover of the song by Michael Bolton topped the Billboard chart again in 1991.
Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s Sledge had continued success, specializing in songs about heartbreak. In 1989, he became the first-ever recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Career Achievement Award; Sledge was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Sledge remembered when he was just a boy, “singing my songs in the fields, picking, chopping cotton, and my boss man tells me one day, ‘Perc, that voice that you’re using right now coming out of your throat, the whole world is going to hear one day.’”