- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

BAKER, La. (AP) - Percy Sledge was remembered for phenomenal talent and extraordinary kindness during a Tuesday funeral service marked by warm reminiscences from fellow musicians, family members and friends he made during a five-decade career that launched with his first and biggest hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”

“Heaven’s choir just got a whole lot more soul,” said Rev. Dane Blankenship, a Baton Rouge area pastor and hospice chaplain who spent time with Sledge during his final days.

Sledge, an Alabama native who lived much of his life with second wife Rosa in Baton Rouge, died last week at age 74 after battling liver cancer.

Upbeat spirituals from a trio of gospel singers opened and closed the three-hour service, billed as a celebration of Sledge’s life, at Bethany Church in Baker, near Baton Rouge. Sledge’s body lay in an open casket, adorned on the outside with musical notes and a treble clef. His name and likeness were emblazoned in black on the white interior lid.

Preachers from the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, area, where Sledge’s signature song was recorded in 1966, read Bible verses. Performers included his daughter Sanricca, who sang a Whitney Houston song, and son Howell, who sang a hymn.

Testimonials came from his children and from friends he made inside and outside of the music business.

“There’s not a kinder person in the world. There’s not a more giving person in the world and there’s not a smile like that in the world anywhere,” said Alabama record producer David Johnson, who met Sledge in 1966 and worked on a recent gospel album with him.

“I’ll love him until I’m up there in heaven with him.”

Longtime R&B; and gospel singer Dorothy Moore sang a song about departing: “When you hear of my home-going, don’t worry ‘bout me … I’m just another soldier, oh yeah, going home.”

Little Rock, Arkansas, car dealer Frank Fletcher recalled a decades-old friendship with Sledge and said he asked the singer to appear every time he opened a business. “I bought 13 car dealerships I really didn’t need because I got him to come every time.”

Sledge’s hits included “Warm and Tender Love” and “Take Time to Know Her.” But “When a Man Loves a Woman” - his first hit - became a standard that sustained his long touring career in the U.S., Europe and South Africa and led to his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was the first No. 1 hit from Muscle Shoals, and the first gold record for Atlantic Records.

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