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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 high school at 15 years old and went on to the Louisiana Business School.
Singleton joined the Marine Corps, and after his military discharge he was hired by the Shreveport, Louisiana branch of Mercury Records doing promotional work. He rose in the company until he was a record producer and executive. 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 "Walk On By", Leroy Van Dyke; "Ahab the Arab", Ray Stevens; "Wooden Heart", Joe Dowell; and producing acts such 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 the duo's names to Paul & Paula and issued the song on Mercury's sister Philips. 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, achieving his first #1 hit in 1968 with "Harper Valley PTA". The following year, he purchased Sun Records from Sam Phillips, including its rock and roll catalog. Singleton was 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 went on to work closely together in later years finding and recording undiscovered talent such as Ron Daisley and The County Fair from New York, among others, which Royce Clark produced for Singleton's Plantation label.
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. His youngest son Stuart Singleton has his own music company called Mattress House Music, which Stuart started on his own at age 18.
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, October 7, 2009
- "Shelby Singleton, Jr.". rockabillyhalloffame.com. Retrieved 2007-07-17.
- Dead Rock Stars Club site - accessed October 2009
- Shelby Singleton dies at 77; maverick country music mogul Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 9, 2009.
- Cooper, Daniel (1998). "Shelby Singleton". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 485.