Sundazed Music mourns the loss of our dear friend Shelby Singleton, who passed away at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville on October 7 at the age of 77. Over the course of his five-decade career as a producer, promoter, A&R man and record-company owner, Shelby was renowned as a tireless nurturer of talent, a savvy dealmaker and a vivid character with a flamboyant sense of style. Singleton’s uncanny musical instincts made him a key in the development of country and R&B music and in the careers of a wide range of artists.
While working as a promotion man for Mercury Records, Louisiana-bred ex-Marine Singleton co-founded the subsidiary label Smash, whose eclectic roster included Roger Miller (who Singleton discovered and produced), Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown. After leaving Smash, Singleton produced Jeannie C. Riley’s seminal country-pop crossover smash “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” released on his own Plantation label; the song remains one of the biggest independent-label hits in country history.
During the same period, Singleton launched the now-legendary R&B label SSS International, which released music by such notable performers as Bettye LaVette, Betty Harris and Big John Hamilton. Going against the grain of the conservative Nashville establishment, Singleton was a longstanding champion of African-American artists, working with such legendary performers as Clyde McPhatter, Brook Benton and Ruth Brown, who often stayed at Singleton’s house rather than Nashville’s segregated hotels.
In 1969, Singleton purchased Sun Records from Sam Phillips, and oversaw the repackaging of the seminal label’s catalogue, which included classic masters by Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich, as well as marketing of the label’s famed logo on t-shirts and other products. Among his other achievements, Singleton may be the only producer to produce three different Number One country hits in the same day for three different artists: Ray Stevens, Leroy Van Dyke and Joe Dowell.