Lifenotes: Country Artist Leon Ashley Passes

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• October 23, 2013
Leon Ashley

Leon Ashley

Country singer-songwriter Leon Ashley died at age 77 on Sunday, Oct. 20.

Ashley made history in 1967 when he became the first person to have a No. 1 hit with a song he wrote, published and sang on his own record label. That song, “Laura (What’s He Got That I Ain’t Got),” became a favorite also recorded by artists such as Marty Robbins, Claude King, Kenny Rogers, The Newbeats, Frankie Laine, Tom Jones, Hank Locklin, Tommy Collins, David Houston and Brook Benton.

Born Leon Walton in Mansfield, Ga., Ashley began his career by performing on local radio at age nine. His first recording appeared on Goldband Records in 1960, and he subsequently recorded for the Dot and Imperial labels. He married singer-songwriter Margie Singleton in 1965, and they became a duet team. He formed his own Ashley Records label in 1967.

Following the success of “Laura,” Ashley made the country charts with such singles as “Anna, I’m Taking You Home” (1967), “Mental Journey” (1968), the Top 10 hit “Flower of Love” (1968), “While Your Lover Sleeps” (1969), “Walkin’ Back to Birmingham” (1969) and “Ain’t Gonna Worry” (1969).

Ashley and Singleton co-wrote all of those songs. “Mental Journey” became a top-10 hit in Canada, and “While Your Lover Sleeps” was a No. 1 hit there. The couple’s charting duets included “Hangin’ On” (1967) and “You’ll Never Be Lonely Again” (1968). They also co-wrote Margie Singleton’s 1968 solo Ashley Records single, “Wandering Mind.”

Leon Ashley continued to record into the 1980s. Prior to his death, he had been ill for some time. He is survived by his wife Margie Singleton Walton, by sons Leon Walton Jr. and Tommy Walton, by stepsons Stephen and Sidney Singleton, by 10 grandchildren and by six great-grandchildren.

The funeral service will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to MusiCares.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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