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He was born Shelby Sumpter Singleton, Jr. in Waskom, Texas. His parents were Shelby Sumpter Singleton, Sr. and Alvina Marcantel. As a youngster, living in Shreveport, Louisiana, Singleton was known as "Sonny Boy". He graduated from high school at age 15, then attended the Louisiana Business School.
Singleton joined the Marine Corps, and after his military discharge was hired by Mercury Records to do promotional work, based in Shreveport, Louisiana. He rose in the company to become a record producer and executive in Mercury's Nashville office. In 1960, he achieved his first hit single, Brook Benton's recording of "The Boll Weevil Song", which became a #2 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart the following year. Singleton spent nine years at Mercury and its sister label, Smash Records, during which he was involved in producing many hit records, including Leroy Van Dyke's "Walk On By"; "Ahab the Arab" by Ray Stevens; and "Wooden Heart" by Joe Dowell. Singleton also acted as producer for such artists as Jerry Lee Lewis, Roger Miller, Charlie Rich, Dave Dudley, and Brook Benton.
In 1962, Singleton bought the master recording of "Hey Paula" by Jill and Ray, originally released on LeCam Records. He changed their names to Paul & Paula and issued the song on Mercury's sister label, Philips Records. The song spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1966, Singleton resigned from Mercury and formed several music labels, including SSS International and Plantation Records. He achieved his first #1 hit in 1968 with Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA". The following year, Singleton purchased Sun Records and its rock and roll catalog from Sam Phillips. Singleton was also on the nominating committee of the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Singleton was known to find talent in all parts of the country. For example, The Flatlanders were brought to his attention by freelance producer Royce Clark. In 1972 the Flatlanders traveled from Lubbock to Nashville to record with Clark for Singleton's Plantation label. Singleton and Clark worked closely together in later years, finding and recording undiscovered talent which Clark produced for Singleton's Plantation label, such as Ron Daisley and The County Fair from Long Island, New York.
Singleton graduated from Byrd High School in Shreveport, Louisiana at the age of 15. Two years later he married Margaret Ebey, who later rose in the country music scene as Margie Singleton. After 16 years of marriage they divorced. Singleton married three more times and had four children: Stephen, Sidney, Shana, and Stuart; and several grandchildren. He married Barbara MacCollum right before achieving fame with "Harper Valley PTA". Shortly after that they were divorced.
Singleton resided in Nashville, where he died, aged 77, on October 7, 2009, following a battle with brain cancer. He had been admitted to St. Thomas Hospital a week earlier after suffering a seizure, according to his longtime friend and associate Jerry Kennedy.
- "Famed Record Producer, Label Executive Shelby Singleton Dies at Age 77". MTV.com. 2009-10-07. Retrieved 2016-06-27. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- "Shelby Singleton, Jr". Rockabillyhalloffame.com. Retrieved 2007-07-17. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 2009 July to December". Thedeadrockstarsclub.com. Retrieved 2016-06-27. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Shelby Singleton dies at 77; maverick country music mogul Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 9, 2009.