Man with a silky baritone dies at 72


Lou Rawls, the Grammy Award-winning singer whose velvety baritone was one of the most recognizable voices in pop music on hits such as "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing," "Lady Love" and "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 72.

Mr. Rawls died of lung cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said his publicist, Paul Shefrin. Mr. Rawls, who had lived in Scottsdale, Ariz., since 2003, was diagnosed with lung cancer about a year ago.

His career as a recording artist included more than 70 albums, three Grammys, 13 Grammy nominations, one platinum album, five gold albums and a gold single.

His distinctively rich baritone once prompted Frank Sinatra to describe Mr. Rawls as having "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game."

Widely praised as a song stylist, the Chicago-born singer defied categorization: He sang everything from gospel to blues to jazz to soul to pop.

"I don't put myself in any particular category," Mr. Rawls, who began singing in a Baptist church choir as a young boy, once said. "Whatever the occasion calls for, I rise to the occasion. There are no limits to music, so why should I limit myself?"

Singer-actress Della Reese, a longtime friend, said that no matter what type of music Mr. Rawls did, "he brought with him the roots of gospel music."

As a performer, she said, "He gave you your money's worth; he absolutely did"

A longtime advocate for education, Mr. Rawls viewed his annual fundraising telethon for the United Negro College Fund, An Evening of Stars, as his "proudest achievement."

Since 1979, the telethon has raised more than $200 million for 39 private, historically black colleges and the 60,000 students who attend them. The United Negro College Fund also provides more than 10,000 scholarships to students attending nearly 1,000 colleges and universities nationwide.

"This was a man who was passionate about black kids getting a college education, and he devoted a tremendous amount of his career to making that happen," said Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO.

The four-hour telethon, which Mr. Rawls taped in September, is scheduled to air tonight at 7 on the BET cable network (and locally on WBFF Channel 45). During Mr. Rawls' performances, a crawl at the bottom of the screen will acknowledge his death.

Mr. Rawls' first solo release was the 1962 jazz album Stormy Monday, which he recorded with the Les McCann Trio.

In his live act, Mr. Rawls began prefacing some songs with lengthy monologues. He said his onstage rapping grew out of necessity.

"I started talking because it was the only way to get people's attention," he told the Los Angeles Times' late jazz critic Leonard Feather in 1967. "For years I played nightclubs, working the chitlin' circuit. These clubs were very small, very tight, very crowded and very loud. Everything was loud but the entertainment."

His 1966 Lou Rawls Live! album went gold and marked the singer's crossover into the mainstream market. But it wasn't until later that year that Mr. Rawls had what is considered his star-making hit, "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing."

The single, part of his Soulin' album, reached No. 1 on the R&B; chart, almost cracked the pop Top 10 and received two Grammy nominations. Mr. Rawls' most famous spoken introduction was on "Dead End Street," for which he won his first Grammy for best R&B; vocal performance in 1967.

His second Grammy was for "Natural Man" (1971). And his 1977 album Unmistakably Lou earned him his third Grammy for best R&B; vocal performance.

After signing with producers-songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's hit-making Philadelphia International label, Mr. Rawls had the biggest album of his career in 1976 with All Things in Time. The platinum album included his most successful single: "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," a No. 1 R&B; hit that also rose to No. 2 on the pop charts.

Raised by his grandmother on the South Side of Chicago after his parents went their separate ways shortly after he was born, Mr. Rawls joined the junior choir at his grandmother's Baptist church at age 7 and sang with different gospel groups as a teenager.

After moving to Los Angeles in the 1950s, he joined the Chosen Gospel Singers, with whom he made his first recording. He next joined the Pilgrim Travelers, a gospel group that included a young friend from Chicago, Sam Cooke. After a two-year stint in the Army, Mr. Rawls rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers.

While the group members were driving to a gig in Memphis in 1958, their car collided with an 18-wheeler truck. One man was killed, and Mr. Rawls suffered a severe concussion.

He was in a coma for 5 1/2 days and suffered a three-month memory loss. It took more than a year to fully recover.

"I really got a new life out of that," he told the Los Angeles Sentinel in 1998. "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."

After the Pilgrim Travelers broke up in 1959, Mr. Rawls launched his solo career.

With his career riding high in 1976, Mr. Rawls was signed as national spokesman for Anheuser-Busch. This led the brewing company to co-sponsor -- at his suggestion -- a telethon to benefit the United Negro College Fund.

In 1979, Mr. Rawls began hosting The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars. It went national as An Evening of Stars in 1980.

On New Year's Day 2004, Mr. Rawls married his third wife, Nina, a 33-year-old flight attendant, with whom he adopted an infant son, Aiden. Less than two years later, Mr. Rawls filed for an annulment, saying he wanted to protect his financial assets.

It was during the annulment hearing in December that his wife revealed that the singer had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Mr. Shefrin said that the couple had recently reconciled and withdrawn their annulment proceedings and that Nina Rawls was at her husband's side when he died.

Besides his wife and young son, Mr. Rawls is survived by his three other children, Louanna Rawls, Lou Rawls Jr. and Kendra Smith. Funeral services are pending.

Dennis McLellan writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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