In Concert, April 27, 2002
Rawls' voice is as distinctive and instantly recognizable as any in
music. He's recorded more than 60 records, won three Grammy Awards,
and raised over $200 million for the United
Negro College Fund.
From his early days in
gospel to his collaborations with Sam Cooke; from the Dick Clark
Show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1959 to the opening for The Beatles
in 1962 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati; from his monologues in the
Seventies that presaged rap music to becoming a "crossover"
artist before the term was invented, there has been one constant in
Lou Rawls' career -- a voice that one critic has called "sweet as
sugar, soft as velvet, strong as steel, smooth as butter."
In his 40-some years as a recording
artist, spanning an astonishing 60-plus albums, three Grammy wins, 13
Grammy nominations, one platinum album, five gold albums and a gold
single, Rawls has epitomized the ultimate song stylist.
Raised on the South Side of Chicago by
his grandmother, he was a member of his Baptist church choir when his
was seven. As a teenager, his horizons expanded with trips to the
Regal Theatre to see Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock and Joe Williams.
"I loved the way they could lift the spirit of the
audience," he remembers. Influenced too by doo-wop, he'd
harmonize with high school classmate Sam Cooke, and they joined groups
such as the Teenage Kings Of Harmony.
a tour of the South with Cooke and the Travelers, a serious car
accident nearly ended his career and his life. One passenger was
killed, Cooke was slightly injured and Rawls was pronounced dead on
the way to the hospital. Though he slipped into a coma for
five-and-a-half days, suffered memory loss, and didn't recover for a
year, he survived. "I really got a new life out of that," he
says. "I saw a lot of reasons to live. I began to learn
acceptance, direction, understanding and perception--all elements that
had been sadly lacking in my life."
Playing small R&B, pop and soul
clubs in LA, Rawls was performing at Pandora's Box Coffee Shop for $10
a night plus pizza in late 1959 when Nick Venet, a producer at
Capitol, was so impressed with his four-octave range that he invited
him to make an audition tape. He did, and Rawls was signed to Capitol.
I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water, his 1962 solo debut album, became
the first of more than 20 albums on that label in only a decade. It
was Love Is A Hurtin' Thing in 1966 which shot Rawls to the
top. It was also twice Grammy-nominated, for both Best R&B
Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance.
During this period, he began his hip
monologues about life and love on World of Trouble and Tobacco
Road, each more than seven minutes long. Called
"pre-rap" by some, for Rawls they grew out of
necessity."I was working in little joints where the stage would
be behind the bar. So you were standing right over the cash register
and the crushed ice machine. You'd be swinging and the waitress would
yell, 'I want 12 beers and four martinis!' And then the dude would put
the ice in the crusher. There had to be a way to get the attention of
the people. So instead of just starting in singing, I would just start
in talking the song." His "raps" were so popular that
1967's Dead End Street won him his first Grammy for Best
R&B Vocal Performance.
In 1971 Rawls' popularity could be
measured by the fact that he won the Downbeat magazine poll for
favorite male vocalist, besting perennial champ Frank Sinatra, who has
praised Rawls for having "the classiest singing and silkiest
chops in the singing game." The Seventies began with a second
Grammy win for Natural Man.
In 1975, Rawls moved to Philadelphia
International, where You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine) became
his biggest hit. The next year he took home his third Grammy, Best
R&B Vocal Performance, for Unmistakably Lou.
In 1976, Rawls became the corporate
spokesman for Anheuser Busch, the world's largest brewery, which led
in 1980 to that company's sponsorship of two events which have
continued to this day. One was a series of concerts for American
military personnel on bases around the world. The other was a telethon
whose proceeds, now more than $200 million, are donated to the United
Negro College Fund.
Epitomizing cool, class and soul, his
humanitarian efforts have won him more than honors, more even than a
street named after him in Chicago, where South Wentworth Avenue is now
Lou Rawls Drive. His work for the UNCF has been the joy of a man who
never went to college but has since been awarded numerous honorary
doctorates. "I remember a woman came up to me once and said,
'Thank you. You made my grandson the first college grad in our
family.' That makes it all worth it."
In addition to singing, Rawls' talents
extend to acting, a second love. Over the years he has appeared as a
series regular, guest star and host in television series as well as TV
Movie-Of-The-Weeks. In the past few years he has ventured in to the
feature film arena, taking on lead roles in independent films as well
as smaller parts in movies such as Oscar winning Leaving Las Vegas.
In 1999 Rawls appeared on Broadway for a stint in Smokey Joe's
Rawls also brought his flair to
children's programming, becoming the singing voice of the animated
feline Garfield. In 1982, he was Grammy-nominated for Best Recording
for Children for Here Comes Garfield and is the musical star of
the "Garfield" TV specials. More recently, he sings the
title song for "Jungle Cubs," an animated series. He is also
the voice of the Harvey the Mailman on Nickelodeon's "Hey
Sinatra once said about the two of them
that they were saloon singers--voices that's all, reaching into hearts
and souls. Throughout the years, Rawls has stayed true to his voice.
"People may not know what I'm doing," he says of his
changing styles, "but they know it's me."
In the end, that's the only
way to truly describe that voice--Lou Rawls.
Lou Rawls will perform at the
Saturday Night Banquet, April 27, at the Ohio Credit Union's 2002 Convention & Expo at the Hyatt
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