Percy Sledge Biography

Singer (1940–2015)
Soul singer Percy Sledge recorded the 1966 hit "When a Man Loves a Woman."


Born in Leighton, Alabama on November 25, 1940, Southern soul star Percy Sledge started out performing with the Esquires Combo. In the mid-1960s, he decided to launch his solo career, and thus Sledge scored his only No. 1 pop and R&B hit in 1966 with "When a Man Loves a Woman." Over the next few years, he also scored such successes as "Warm and Tender Love" and "Take Time to Know Her." Sledge was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. He died in 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana after struggling with cancer. 

Early Life and Career

Born on November 25, 1940 in Leighton, Alabama, singer Percy Tyrone Sledge is best known for his 1966 hit "When a Man Loves a Woman." He always had an interest in music. The tune for his most famous song first came to him as a child working "on the cotton fields," he explained to Blues and Soul magazine. "I dreamed of being famous as a singer, when I was on those cotton fields. I wanted to see the world and meet people."

Sledge moved from toiling in the fields to working at Colbert County Hospital as an orderly in the early 1960s. On his own time, he pursued his musical aspirations and performed with the Esquires Combo on the weekends. Sledge met producer Quin Ivy through a former patient, and before long the singer was on his way to musical stardom.

'When a Man Loves a Woman'

The first single Sledge recorded was "When a Man Loves a Woman," which hit the top of the pop and R&B charts in 1966, selling a million copies and helping pave the way for Southern-based soul to have a major airwave presence. Sledge originally made the lyrics up during a performance, drawing from his experience of being left by a woman for another man. The powerful ballad showcased Sledge's emotive singing style. 

Only in his mid-20s at the time, he opted to let two other musicians take official credit for the track after they'd helped in its development, while he in fact wrote most of the song. He thus wasn't able to receive any of the royalties "When a Man..." earned over time. "Worst decision I ever made. But I am not at all bitter,” he said to Blues and Soul. “It was God’s will for me to give it to them. But if I had my time again, I wouldn’t do it. Because of my children." 

Additional Chart Success

Sledge soon followed up this hit with such successful tunes as "Warm and Tender Love" and "It Tears Me Up," both of which reached the Top 10 on the R&B charts, as well as "Take Time to Know Her," which was a Top 20 pop hit. After dropping off the charts for a time, he came back in the 1970s with "Sunshine" and "I'll Be Your Everything." 

"When a Man Loves a Woman" enjoyed a pop revival in 1987 when it was featured in the Oliver Stone film Platoon as well as a British Levi's ad, with the single reaching No. 2 on the U.K. charts. Fellow crooner Michael Bolton went to No. 1 in 1991 and earned a Grammy with a cover of the song as well. Plus the Sledge version was recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the "Greatest Songs of All Time." (The publication ranked the track No. 53 out of 500.) Sledge also received stellar reviews for his 1995 album Blue Night.

Later Years and Honors

In 1989, Sledge was recognized for his contributions to R&B music as one of the first performers to receive the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award. He was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. At the induction ceremony, singer Rod Stewart paid tribute to Sledge, calling the musician "brilliant" and championing "When a Man Loves a Woman" as "one of the best performances I've ever seen."

Sledge died in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on April 14, 2015. He had been battling cancer in the months before his death.

Percy Sledge full - Atlantic Records Publicity Photo

Percy Sledge - Atlantic Records Publicity Photo

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!