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December 1, 1933 - January 6, 2006
Lou Rawls will be missed by many of his fans who have seen him in Tunica.
Rawls was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother. His first exposure to music was in church choir when he was seven years old. However, he was mostly influenced by Chicago’s Regal Theatre where he went to see the great Black entertainers of the day, including Billy Eckstein, Arthur Prysock and Joe Williams. “I loved the way they could lift the spirit of the audience,” Rawls says.
After graduation from Dunbar Trade Technical High School, Rawls joined the touring gospel group, The Pilgrim Travelers. It was the experience that laid the foundation for his style and ability to relate to an audience.
Rawls was traveling, singing background with Sam Cooke when an accident occurred, leaving Cooke unharmed, a third person dead and Rawls in a coma for five and one half days and memory loss for three months. “I really got a new life out of that, and saw a lot of reasons to live. I realized I had an immature attitude about life. I began to learn acceptance, direction, understanding and perception – all elements that I had been sadly lacking in my life. I might have lived long enough to learn all this in the long haul, but I would have been just another soul taking up time and space for a long spell before I learned.”
Many of Rawls’ keen feelings and perceptions go into his performances. “I’m proud to say that when I sing, people tell me they listen to the words and know what I’m saying. For example, when I do Love’s A Hurtin’ Thing or Close Company, I get a tremendous response,” he says. “Recently a woman came to me and asked, ‘How do you know what my life is about? I feel as if you’re singing to me,’ and that makes me feel wonderful. It proves that I can relate to what my audience feels and thinks.”
Rawls big break came in late 1959 when he was performing at Pandora’s Box Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. Nick Benet, a producer with Capitol Records asked Rawls if he wanted to make a record. Rawls did an audition tape and was soon after signed to a contract. He then made the rounds of the top Los Angeles clubs and coffee houses, and began to enjoy a loyal and growing following. “But I knew nothing about the business,” he admits. “I was in transition from gospel music, and I had a lot of trial and error in learning. I was lucky to hook up with good people.”
With the recording of his first album in 1966, Lou Rawls Live, he received national recognition. The album went gold and received critical acceptance, which led to the album Love Is A Hurtin; Thing, which received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rhythm and Blues Solo Vocal Performance. He won his first Grammy in 1967 for Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance on Dead End Street, which was also nominated for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance for Natural Man.
It was in 1976 that he signed with Philadelphia International Records and began his association with Gamble and Huff and You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine). The song was the ballad classic of the year and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance. That year he also was nominated for Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance for Groovy People.
Rawls captured another Grammy in 1977 for Best Vocal Performance for Unmistakable Lou and in 1978 the singer was again nominated for Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance for When You Hear Lou, You’ve Heard It All.
Rawls’ 1982 release, When The Night Comes garnered critical reviews, earned him two Beach Music Awards and produced the hit single Wind Beneath My Wings. The singer was honored with Lt. Col. Guion Bluford, the first black astronaut, chose to bring this album into space with him.
Rawls next released the Epic album Love All Your Blues Away, which featured a 41-piece orchestra and guest artists including Bill Champlin (“Chicago”), Richard Page and Steve George (“Mr. Mister”) and producer/writer/performer David Foster.
Rawls had gained popularity through his affiliation with the perennially-popular cartoon feline Garfield the Cat. He had provided his distinctive vocal styling for three animated Garfield specials produced by Lee Mendelson in association with United Feature Productions. Rawls was also featured on the Garfield soundtrack album released in conjunction with the first special.
Rawls continues to perform hundreds of concert dates each year. “And I’m always ready,” he says. “When I’m on the road I click into my ‘show business attitude’ about 6:00 p.m. and gear myself up for the evening. I’m completely energized before I go on stage. Then I click into overdrive,” he laughs. A perfectionist, he admits he “preaches” to his musicians before the concert. “I always tell them to leave their problems at home because they show up on stage and people in the audience don’t care – they want to be entertained. I know if there’s one cog in the wheel that does not function, it will show.”