Famed record producer and label executive Shelby Singleton died Wednesday (Oct. 7) at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, following a battle with cancer. He was 77.
As a record producer, Singleton was responsible for hits such as Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” and Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk on By.” A key figure in the careers of Roger Miller, Ray Stevens and others, Singleton spent his later years administering the release, licensing and marketing of Sun Records, the legendary label he purchased in 1969.
Born Dec. 16, 1931 in Waskom, Texas, he began working for the Starday and Mercury labels in the late ’50s, overseeing their regional radio promotion and retail business. He was named chief of A&R for Mercury’s Nashville division in 1961 before moving to New York to head the company’s A&R operations in New York and Nashville. During his tenure at Mercury and its Smash Records imprint, he signed Roger Miller, Jerry Lee Lewis and Faron Young to the company’s roster.
Singleton’s legend includes producing three major hits in a single day at Nashville’s Quonset Hut recording studio: Van Dyke’s “Walk on By,” Stevens’ “Ahab the Arab” and Joe Dowell’s “Wooden Heart.” He left Mercury in 1966 and created the Shelby Singleton Corporation in Nashville. After launching Plantation Records, he produced Riley’s recording of “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a pop crossover record that sold more than 8 million copies.
In purchasing Sun Records, Singleton controlled the Memphis-based label’s extensive catalog of recordings, including early sessions by Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, [artist id="330"]Johnny Cash,[/artist] Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison, along with blues legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Parker and Little Milton, among others. In addition to promoting the recordings, Singleton was also aggressive in marketing the Sun Records logo on a wide variety of merchandise aimed at fans of the legendary label.