An American soul music, jazz, and blues singer.
Rawls released more than 60 albums, sold more than 40 million records, appeared as an actor in motion pictures and on television, and voiced-over many cartoons. He was also known for his frequently used expression, "Yeah, buddy!" Rawls was also a three-time Grammy-winner, all for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Rawls was born on December 1, 1933 in Chicago and raised by his grandmother in the Ida B. Wells projects on the city's South Side. He began singing in the Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church choir at the age of seven and later sang with local groups through which he met future music stars Sam Cooke, who was nearly three years older than Rawls, and Curtis Mayfield.
After graduating from Chicago's Dunbar Vocational High School, he sang briefly with Cooke in the Teenage Kings of Harmony, a local gospel group, and then with the Holy Wonders. In 1951, Rawls replaced Cooke in the Highway QC's after Cooke departed to join The Soul Stirrers in Los Angeles. Rawls was soon recruited by the Chosen Gospel Singers and moved to Los Angeles, where he subsequently joined the Pilgrim Travelers.
In 1955, Rawls enlisted in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. He left the "All-Americans" three years later as a sergeant and rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers (then known as the Travelers).
In 1958, while touring the South with the Travelers and Sam Cooke, Rawls was in a serious car crash. Rawls was pronounced dead before arriving at the hospital, where he stayed in a coma for five and a half days. It took him months to regain his memory, and a year to fully recuperate. Rawls considered the event to be life-changing.
Alongside Dick Clark as master of ceremonies, Rawls was recovered enough by 1959 to be able to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. He was signed to Capitol Records in 1962, the same year he sang the soulful background vocals on the Sam Cooke recording of "Bring It On Home to Me" and "That's Where It's At," both written by Cooke. Rawls himself charted with a cover of "Bring It On Home to Me" in 1970 (with the title shortened to "Bring It On Home").
Soul is truth, ... no matter where it comes from, no matter how it is presented
Lou Rawls, 1968 Pop Chronicles interviewRawls' first Capitol solo release was Stormy Monday (a.k.a. I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water), a jazz album, in 1962. On August 21, 1966, he opened for The Beatles at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
Though his 1966 album Live! went gold, Rawls would not have a star-making hit until he made a proper soul album, appropriately named Soulin', later that same year. The album contained his first R&B #1 single, "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing". In 1967 Rawls won his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, for the single "Dead End Street." In 1967, Rawls also performed at the first evening of the Monterey International Pop Music Festival.
In 1969, the singer was co-host of NBC's summer replacement series for the Dean Martin Show along with Martin's daughter, singer Barbara Gail Martin.
After leaving Capitol in 1971, Rawls joined MGM, at which juncture he released his Grammy-winning single "Natural Man" written for him by comedian Sandy Baron and singer Bobby Hebb. He had a brief stint with Bell Records in 1974, where he recorded a cover of Hall & Oates' "She's Gone."
In 1976, Rawls signed with Philadelphia International Records, where he had his greatest album success with the million-selling All Things in Time. The album produced his most successful single, "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine", which topped the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts and went to number two on the pop side, becoming Rawls' only certified million-selling single in the process.
Subsequent albums, such as 1977's When You Hear Lou, You've Heard It All yielded such hit singles as "Lady Love". Other releases in the 1970s included the classic album Sit Down And Talk To Me.
Rawls' 1977 Grammy Awards performance of "You'll Never Find" was disrupted by a coughing fit.
In 1982, Rawls received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Sang the lyrics to WGN-TV's 1983 "Chicago's Very Own" ad campaign, a slogan that the station still uses to this day.
On January 19, 1985, he sang Wind Beneath My Wings at the nationally-televised 50th Presidential Inaugural Gala the day before the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan. He was introduced by Patricia Neal.
In 1989, he performed vocals for "The Music and Heroes of America" segment in the animated television miniseries This is America, Charlie Brown.
On the night of September 29, 1977, Rawls performed the national anthem of the United States prior to the Earnie Shavers-Muhammad Ali title fight at Madison Square Garden. He would be requested to sing the anthem many times over the next 28 years, and his final performance of it came on October 23, 2005.
The crowd at that performance may not have known that Rawls was extremely ill with cancer, but he reportedly delivered a well received performance to kick off Game Two of the 2005 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros at U.S. Cellular Field in his hometown of Chicago.
He had also sung the National Anthem at two previous World Series games: the 1982 World Series opener between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers and Game Three of the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals, both at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.
Rawls appeared in a segment of the first season of Sesame Street, to sing the alphabet. He dismissed the concept of using cue cards for the performance, but reversed that decision when he forgot the order of the letters.
Throughout Rawls' singing career, he had the opportunity to appear in many films, television shows, and commercials. He can be seen in such films as Leaving Las Vegas, Blues Brothers 2000, and Angel, Angel, Down We Go. He had a supporting role in the Baywatch spin-off, Baywatch Nights. He also appeared in the western television series, The Big Valley, (starring legend Barbara Stanwyck, along with Lee Majors and Linda Evans) where he played a hired hand. Here, he delivered the memorable line: "Ain't a horse that can't be rode; ain't a man that can't be throwed".
Rawls lent his rich baritone voice to many cartoons, including Hey Arnold! as the voice of Harvey The Mailman, Garfield, and The Proud Family (also appearing in animation form in one episode). For many of the Film Roman Garfield specials, Rawls would often compose songs for them, which he would then sing usually doing a duet with Desiree Goyette, as well as the singing voice of the title character himself.
For many years, he was a spokesperson for the Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company, helping promote the brand on radio and TV to African-American markets much as Ed McMahon did for the white audience (and Alex Trebek continues to do to this day).
He was also a spokesman for brewing companies. First appearing in television and radio commercials in the mid-to-late 1960s for Spur Malt Liquor. A Rainier Brewing Company product out of Seattle. He later appeared in a number of Budweiser advertisements. Budweiser was a key sponsor for the Rawls telethon and UNCF.
There was no attempt to avoid the similarity between the title of the 1977 album When You've Heard Lou, You've Heard It All and his corporate sponsor's slogan "When You Say Budweiser, You've Said It All". A track on the 1978 album Lou Rawls Live, features Rawls singing the commercial slogan. Anheuser-Busch, the brewers of Budweiser, also suggested his telethon work to him.
Rawls was also a regular guest host on "Jazz Central", a program aired on the BET Jazz cable channel.
Personal lifeIn January 2003, Rawls was arrested in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after getting into an argument with his then-girlfriend, Nina Malek Inman. During the course of the argument, he reportedly shoved her resulting in one charge of battery on a household member. The charge was later dropped. Rawls and Inman married later that same year.
On December 19, 2005, the Associated Press reported that Rawls tried to annul his two-year marriage to Inman, who had been acting as his business manager, after it was discovered she had made unauthorized transfers amounting to nearly $350,000 from his bank account into an account solely controlled by her. She later stated that she had transferred the funds to protect them from one of Rawls' daughters from a previous relationship.
It was also announced in December 2005 that Rawls was being treated for cancer in both his lungs and brain. With his wife by his side, Lou Rawls succumbed to his illness on January 6, 2006, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.
In addition to his wife of three years and their young son, Aiden Allen Rawls; Rawls left behind adult daughter Louanna Rawls (a wardrobe stylist and future Launch My Line contestant); adult daughter Kendra Smith; adult son Lou Rawls, Jr.; and three granddaughters: Brianna, Katrina, and Chayil.
Rawls is the subject of an upcoming biopic, tentatively titled Love Is a Hurtin' Thing: The Lou Rawls Story. Rawls' son, Lou Rawls Jr., is the author of the script. Rawls will reportedly be portrayed by the actor Isaiah Washington.
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