R&B and soul singer Percy Sledge has passed away at 73. He had a number of hits, including 15 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, but the piece of his legacy likely to be remembered by most fans is his 1966 No. 1 hit, "When a Man Loves a Woman."
Sledge started out working in the cotton fields, later working at a hospital and finding his way into a record contract when a former patient introduced him to a producer. He discussed his early career in the documentary "Muscle Shoals," which focused on FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. (The "Muscle Shoals" documentary is available for streaming on Netflix.)
"I was an orderly, working with the sick people," Sledge recalled. "I'd sing a song for them, and they'd go to sleep. I got such a big kick out of that, when I could see my patient laying up there smiling and feeling better."
"When a Man Loves a Woman" was the first song he recorded while under contract, and has proven his longest lasting. Sledge co-wrote it with his bassist and organist after being inspired to write the song after he was laid off from a construction job, and his girlfriend left him for a career in modeling. He ended up giving full songwriting credits to his bandmates who wrote the song with him.
Sledge said in the "Muscle Shoals" documentary that "When a Man Loves a Woman" was the "same melody that I sang when I was out in the fields. I just wailed out in the woods and let the echo come back to me." He had little experience with singing professionally, and said that he was shaking in the studio. It helped lead to a memorable take of the legendary song.
The song was covered several times, the most notable version being when Michael Bolton took the song to No. 1 in 1991, 25 years after the original, which also won Bolton a Grammy.
Sledge and Bolton eventually teamed up to perform the song together.
Listen to more of Sledge's classic songs below.