Friday, January 06, 2006


Even the date of birth is contentious when it comes to Lou Rawls, who died today. Most sources suggest he was born 70 years ago, although his family insist his death has come at the age of 72.

What is certain, though, is he was born in Chicago, and it was there he was introduced to gospel music by his grandmother. It was the music which would carry him to Los Angeles in 1950s, where he joined a touring act, The Pilgrim Travelers. Two sessions, bracketing a three-year period rising to Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Regiment, saw him working with Sam Cooke and opening for the Beatles, but it was to be his smaller gigs on the LA R&B circuit which would lead to his big break. A Capitol Records talent scout heard him and, impressed by his four-octave range, signed him to a partnership which would last for nearly a decade, kicking off with Stormy Monday in 1962. In 1971, Rawls jumped ship to MGM. Eventually, Rawls founded his own label, Rawls & Brokaw, on which he released 1998's Seasons 4 U.

1966's Love Is A Hurtin' Thing won his first two Grammy nominations; he would have to find space for three small decorative record players across his work. He's also credited by some for inventing rap - he would deliver some tracks in a semi-singing, semi-talking way, originally designed to make himself noticed over the noise of the waitresses and ice machines in small night clubs. In 1971, Rawls beat Frank Sinatra for the coveted Best Male Singer award in the Dowbeat readers poll, and he would continue to ride the wave of popularity until the musical tide turned towards the dancefloor.

Unwilling to sing lyrics he believed to be meaningless ("A lyric has to mean something to me, something that has happened to me. I try to look for songs people can relate to because I know the man on the corner waiting for the bus has to hear it and say, 'Yeah that's right.'"), Rawls swapped labels again to avoid being bounced into following the herd. His gun-sticking obstinacy paid off, as his new label, Philadelphia International, delivered his biggest hit, You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.

Rawls had a habit of turning up as an actor in some frightening spin-offs: he had a part in Baywatch Nights and, at the movies, Blues Brothers 2000. As a voiceover artist, he could at least hide his face as he took cash for Captain Planet and Garfield.

More fittingly as a legacy, he can be remembered as a tireless charity and civil rights campaigner - his Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon series have raised more than $200million for the United Negro College Fund.

Rawls had previously died: in 1958, he was pronounced dead following a car crash. He remained in a coma for nearly a week, and recovery was slow: his memory took two months to return; full health took another ten.

His health has been failing for a while now - he was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2004, and brain cancer in May 2005. Optimistically, he posted a message on his website pledging his intent to survive: "I want to thank everyone for your prayers and expressions of love. Your concern touches me...but don't count me out. There's been many people who have been diagnosed with this kind of thing, and they're still jumpin' and pumpin.' I'm thinking good thoughts." Sadly, that wasn't enough, and he died earlier today.

1 comment:

AK said...

I've got some tunes from Lou up at Soul Shower.


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