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R.I.P. Lou Rawls..So smooth so Sad

The Chameleon

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Lou Rawls, the smooth-voiced, enduring singing star whose career traced a line from gospel to jazz and pop, died early yesterday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 72.

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Rose Prouser/Reuters

Lou Rawls in 2001.


Audio clips of the music of Lou Rawls. (All mp3 format.)

• 'Love Is a Hurtin' Thing'

• 'You'll Never Find a Love Like Mine'

• 'Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood'


Forum: Jazz

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Associated Press

Lou Rawls poses with his award at the 1972 Grammy ceremonies.

The cause was cancer, said his longtime manager and publicist, David Brokaw.

Successfully modeling himself partly on his friend Sam Cooke, as well as on Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, Mr. Rawls was a suave entertainer who appealed nearly equally to black and white audiences. He became best known for the unmistakable, mentholated baritone end of his vocal range, especially as heard on his biggest hit, "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)."

After his greatest successes, in the 1960's and 70's, Mr. Rawls became something of an elder statesman, raising millions for black colleges; providing a recognizable face in movies and on television, and a familiar voice for cartoons and commercials; and continuing to tour as a singer. His songs are still as likely to be played on jazz and easy-listening stations as on rhythm-and-blues and gospel outlets.

Born in Chicago and reared by his father's mother, Mr. Rawls began singing at 7 in the choir of her church, the Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church. His singing became known around town, where he had what would become an important connection: Mr. Cooke, with whom he sang in a group called the Teenage Kings of Harmony.

Later Mr. Rawls joined another local gospel group, the Holy Wonders. In 1951, he took Mr. Cooke's place in the Highway QC's, staying for two years. In 1953, when the Chosen Gospel Singers came through Chicago, they hired him, giving him his first exposure on a recording, in 1954. He later sang with another group, the Pilgrim Travelers.

In 1955 Mr. Rawls enlisted as a paratrooper in the Army, and upon his return to civilian life, rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers as a lead singer. In 1958, while the group was touring with Mr. Cooke - who by that time had crossed over to the pop charts with "You Send Me"- both Mr. Rawls and Mr. Cooke were injured in a car accident that killed Eddie Cunningham, Mr. Cooke's driver. Mr. Rawls was in a coma for several days. After his recovery, he often said he felt he had been given a new life, and new reasons to live.

Like Mr. Cooke, Mr. Rawls was then leaning more and more toward secular music. (He sang on a number of Mr. Cooke's records, and can be heard singing low harmonies in the Cooke hit "Bring It On Home to Me.") In 1959, having recorded some singles of his own for the Candix label, he was performing at the Pandora's Box in West Hollywood. There the producer Nick Venet heard him, and soon signed him to Capitol Records, where he spent a decade.

His Capitol debut, in 1962, was "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," teaming with the pianist Les McCann for a set of blues and jazz standards.

In his performances during the 1960's - a good example is "Lou Rawls Live!," a hit record from 1966 - he became famous for his monologues, sequences in which he would just talk over a chugging vamp, leading into and away from a song's refrain. In 1966 he had his first R&B No. 1 single, "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing," and in 1967, he won his first of three Grammy Awards for the song "Dead End Street."

"I was born in a city that they call the Windy City," his drawled spoken sequence on that hit song began. "They call it the Windy City because of the Hawk, the almighty Hawk. Mr. Wind. Takes care of plenty business, round wintertime." Mr. Rawls talked about growing up fighting, bootstrapping and shivering through cold Chicago weather for almost half the song's length; then he broke into an impassioned, rugged, baleful cry, rough around the edges and imperturbably cool at the center.

Having also won the public admiration of Mr. Sinatra for his pop singing, Mr. Rawls signed with Philadelphia International, the label run by the producers and songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. In 1976 the team made Mr. Rawls's signature recording, "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)," a lavish ballad with disco rhythm. As a single, it sold a million copies and reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts.

That same year, he became a spokesman for Anheuser-Busch; it was his voice heard intoning the slogan "When you say Budweiser, you've said it all."

In 1980 he started the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon, a yearly television event that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund.

Mr. Rawls also acted, appearing in about 20 films, including "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995), and many television series. He lent his voice to children's television shows, including "Garfield," "Hey Arnold!" and "The Rugrats," and provided the voice of the grandfather on Bill Cosby's animated series "Fatherhood." From 1989 to 1992, he made three albums with Blue Note.

In 2003 Mr. Rawls moved to Scottsdale, Ariz. On Jan. 1, 2004, in Memphis, he married his third wife, Nina, a former flight attendant, who managed his career for a time. In 2004 he learned he had lung cancer.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Rawls is survived by their son, Aiden. He is also survived by another son, Lou Rawls Jr. of Los Angeles, and two daughters, Louanna Rawls of Los Angeles and Kendra Smith of Los Angeles, and four grandchildren.

Over the years, Mr. Rawls's hits ranged from material that recalled rough roots, like "Tobacco Road" and "Natural Man," to the good-humored flirtation of "Fine Brown Frame" and the romance of "Lady Love." In another sign of his versatility, he released a Savoy Jazz tribute to one of his early pop models, "Rawls Sings Sinatra," in 2003, the same year he released "How Great Thou Art," an album of gospel and spiritual favorites.

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