In the summer of 1966, R&B singer Percy Sledge had a #1 pop and R&B hit with his debut single, the intensely romantic ballad "When a Man Loves a Woman." While he never experienced that level of success again in his career, Sledge's big song often has been resurrected in films and TV and is one of the most popular soul classics of all time.
Sledge was born in 1940, in Leighton, Ala. He spent some time as a hospital orderly before performing in Mississippi and Alabama in the mid-'60s as a member of the Esquires Combo. He quickly achieved stardom upon deciding to go solo in 1966.
Sledge wrote "When a Man" and DJ Quin Ivy helped produce it, which included hiring Spooner Oldham to play the track's famous organ phrase. Ivy also helped Sledge release the single independently, licensing it to Atlantic Records. It became the label's first gold record.
After the song's success, Sledge continued to turn out intense, tearful soul ballads, many written by Oldham and Dan Penn. Sledge's hits included two 1966 tunes that reached the top 20, "Warm and Tender Love" and "It Tears Me Up." He also had a #11 pop and #6 R&B hit with "Take Time to Know Her" in 1968.
Other R&B successes were "Any Day Now," "Out of Left Field" and "Sudden Stop." In the '70s, Sledge was less active, scoring only minor soul hits with "Sunshine" and "I'll Be Your Everything." But he toured the U.S., Britain and Japan for years.
Then in 1986, director Oliver Stone used "When a Man Loves a Woman" in his Academy Award-winning film, "Platoon." The song was soon re-released in the U.K. and shot to #2, resurrecting interest in Sledge's music. It also was used in TV commercials, including a British ad for Levi's jeans in 1987.
Sledge helped pioneer country-soul by singing songs written by such artists as Kris Kristofferson and Charlie Rich. In 1989, Sledge was awarded the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Career Achievement Award. Sledge also was a 1993 inductee in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, receiving the Lifework Award for Performing Achievement.
In 1994, Sledge was sentenced to five years' probation for tax evasion, but his career began to flourish again. In 1995, Sledge issued the critically hailed Blue Night, his first LP of new music in more than a decade. It was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
Living in Baton Rouge, La., Sledge now plays approximately 100 gigs each year. This year, WEA/Atlantic/Rhino issued The Very Best of Percy Sledge.
Other birthdays: Roy Lynes (Status Quo), 55; Val Fuentes (It's A Beautiful Day), 51; Steve Rothery (Marillion), 39; Amy Grant, 38; Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), 34; and Stacy Lattisaw, 32.