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Lou Rawls, 72; Grammy-Winning Singer With a Voice Like Velvet

January 07, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

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 Friday. He was 72.

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

Rawls' career included more than 70 albums, three Grammys, 13 Grammy nominations, one platinum album, five gold albums and a gold single.

His distinctively rich baritone has been described as "dark as mahogany, as deep as a rolling river" and "as warm as smooth gravel heated over a fireplace."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 11, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Rawls obituary -- The obituary of singer Lou Rawls in Saturday's California section misspelled the first name of record producer Nik Venet as Nick.

After hearing a performance in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra described 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: During his career, he sang gospel, blues, jazz, soul and pop.

"I don't put myself in any particular category," said Rawls, who began singing in a Baptist church choir as a young boy. "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, told The Times on Friday that no matter what type of music, Rawls "brought with him the roots of gospel music."

As a performer, she said, "He gave you your money's worth; he absolutely did. When you came to see him, you felt like you had a good time."

A longtime education advocate, 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 across the country.

"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," Michael Lomax, president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, told The Times on Friday.

A four-hour telethon, which Rawls taped at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood in September, is scheduled to air at 3 p.m. today on KNBC-TV Channel 4. It will also be broadcast on the BET cable network beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday.

During Rawls' performances, text at the bottom of the screen will acknowledge his passing.

Originally signed to Capitol Records, Rawls made his first solo release in 1962 with the jazz album "Stormy Monday" (also known as "I'd Never Drink Muddy Water"), which he recorded with the Les McCann Trio.

In his live act, Rawls had begun prefacing some of his songs with lengthy monologues, explaining that his remarks grew out of necessity.

"I started talking because it was the only way to get people's attention," he told The 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. The only way to establish communication was by telling a story to lead into the song. That would catch people's attention."

Rawls' monologues were memorably showcased in his 1966 jazz and blues album "Lou Rawls Live!"

In his richly voiced lead-in to the song "World of Trouble," he painted a vivid portrait of a young Chicago hustler standing on the corner of 47th Street and South Parkway looking for his girlfriend:

"He has on his silk mohair $250 hustler suit, fresh out of the pawnshop, the highly shined alligator shoes, the white-on-white shirt, the very thin, silk hustler's necktie, the very large artificial diamond stickpin ... his hair is very heavily conked; he is quite patent-leatherish about the head ... he is wearing his hustler's shades ... as you see how elated this young man is, you can't help but notice his Cadillac parked at the curb; white on white in white ... the finance company wonders where he is keeping his car tonight."

Feather wrote: "The monologue lasts about as long as the song (3 1/2 minutes). It sets up the mood so perfectly that the audience lives every moment of it.... After eight years of scuffling, the simple process of telling it like it is took Lou Rawls out of the neighborhood bars into the millionaire belt."

The 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 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.

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