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'When a Man Loves a Woman' singer Sledge passes away

Tribute: Soul singer Percy Sledge
Tribute: Soul singer Percy Sledge

Soul singer Percy Sledge, who learned his trade singing in the cotton fields of his native Alabama, has died aged 74 almost half a century after the release of his biggest hit When A Man Loves A Woman.

He got to number four with the ballad in May 1966 and saw it do even better in 1987 when a reissue got to number two after it featured in an advert for Levi's jeans.

Coroner Dr William "Beau" Clark of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, confirmed to The Associated Press that Sledge died early this morning.

Speaking about his early years in the south, Sledge told a documentary: "I was a little guy working in the fields chopping cotton singing to the older people in the field and they would always say that one day my voice would be heard all over the world but I never thought that would happen."

Sledge was working as a hospital orderly, where he would sing to his patients, when he played a college gig and impressed a producer with the song that would become his first - and most famous - release.

He said the song, which became part of the blueprint for southern soul, had been with him a long time telling the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame: "I hummed it all my life, even when I was picking and chopping cotton in the fields."