Arthur Conley (1946-2003) is the late American soul singer-songwriter who attained a considerable success during the 60s music era. He is known for his #2 Billboard pop and R&B hit “Sweet Soul Music.” The hit single was actually re-written by Conley and his mentor and another oldies music legend Otis Redding, from the original song by Sam Cooke titled “Yeah Man.” Later in his life Conley moved to Europe where he saw more success in his musical career.
Early life and career
Soul singer-songwriter Arthur Conley was born in McIntosh County, Georgia on January 4, 1946 but spent his early life in nearby Atlanta.
In the late 1950s Conley began his music career as the lead vocalist of Arthur and the Corvets, who released a handful of singles on the Atlanta-based imprint National Recording Company.
Conley and his hit “Sweet Soul Music”
Conley was signed to Ru-Jac Records in Baltimore, Maryland where he released a record titled “I’m a Lonely Stranger.” The legendary singer/songwriter/producer Otis Redding heard the song and liked it. Redding later asked Conley to re-record a different version of the song, which was issued on Jotis Records, Redding’s new label.
When Conley finally met Redding in 1967, together they re-fashioned Sam Cooke’s “Yeah Man” and retitled it as “Sweet Soul Music.” Released on Atco in 1967, it eventually rose to its peak position at #2 on the Billboard pop and R&B singles chart apiece. It also became a big hit in several countries, including the United Kingdom where the song peaked at #7 that same year.
The song sold over a million copies in the US and was given a gold disc by the RIAA.
Throughout the 1960s Conley continued recording, yielding a few more hits such as his version of “Shake Rattle and Roll” (#31 pop, #20 R&B) and “Funky Street”(#14 pop, #5 R&B) which he wrote with Earl Simms.
Later life and career
Conley relocated to Europe in the mid-1970s, first settling in England, then in Belgium, and finally in the Netherlands. His move may have been incited by the fact that he was a closet homosexual. You must have known that during his time homosexuality was still considered a taboo, especially in the United States; it doesn’t help either that racism was still much prevalent there. As a gay black man, he knew that his race as well as his sexual orientation were impediments to further musical success in his home country.
When he settled in Europe, Conley legally changed his name to Lee Roberts. This kind of anonymity enabled him to live peacefully and freely.
He saw success in the Netherlands in particular as Lee Roberts. Along with his backing band Lee Roberts and the Sweaters, he staged several concerts in the Netherlands during the 1980s which became highly profitable. He and his band also released recorded music there, including an album Soulin’ in 1988.
Conley passed away in Ruurlo, the Netherlands on November 17, 2003 due to intestinal cancer. He was 57. His remains are interred in Vorden, a town in eastern Netherlands.