Percy Sledge Returns to Macon for Concert

12:00 PM, Oct 14, 2013   |    comments
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Thousands gathered at Washington Park for their Second Sunday concert featuring R&B and soul singer Percy Sledge.

The concert was free to the public Sunday night from 6 to 8 p.m., and Alan Walden, who managed Sledge, says he believes it was the largest Macon crowd at a Percy Sledge concert that he remembers.

The 71-year-old singer known is best known for his 1966 hit single "When a Man Loves a Woman."

The concert was a homecoming for Sledge, who has long ties to the city of Macon.

Before he rose to fame, he was an orderly working at a hospital in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, when Macon-based Capricorn Records owner Alan Walden came to give him his big break.

"He had just given an enema, and he was still wearing the rubber gloves," Walden recalls. "And he peeled off his rubber glove and I shook his hand and I said, 'Percy Sledge, you're gonna be a star,' and he said ,'Do you think I can quit this job?.'"

Shortly after that, when a Man Loves a Woman became Walden's first No. 1 single as a manager.

After the death of Otis Redding the next year, Walden decided to focus on Sledge's career and offered to help him move from Alabama to Macon.

He had helped Redding purchase his 'Big O' ranch, but because of segregation, had to include a clause in the contract that said if any white citizens in the neighborhood objected, that the contract would be voided.

Because residents had no issue, they didn't feel the need to include the same clause for Sledge, and found him a home in the then mostly white Shurlington neighborhood in East Macon.

But two days before Sledge moved in, someone burned the house to ground in what they believed to be arson.

It's the kind of unwelcoming attack that could have made Sledge not want to revisit Macon, but Sledge kept a positive attitude.

"It's just life must go on," Sledge says. "So I prayed that God got it out of my mind and just kept on going."

Almost 50 years later, Sledge returned to Macon Sunday night for the free Second Sunday concert at Washington Park in Macon.

Far from the reception he had before, Sledge got a key to the city from Macon Mayor Robert Reichert. Sledge says it was special to come back to a city that helped him launch his career.

"It's something you can't describe," Sledge says. "It's a deep, loving feeling that carries back so many memories."

Walden says authorities were never able to find out who burned down Sledge's home.

Follow 13WMAZ's Tom George on Twitter @thetomgeorge

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