Renowned rhythm and blues vocalist Lou Rawls died of lung and brain cancer January 6 at a hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was 72 years old. Known for his rich, deep velvety voice, Rawls recorded more than 50 albums, made numerous television and movie appearances, and earned three Grammy Awards during a career that spanned more than five decades.
Lou Rawls was indeed a natural, a natural-born singer drawn as easily to gospel music as he was to pop, jazz and blues.
Born in Chicago, Lou Rawls was introduced to gospel by his grandmother. He sang in his church choir and improvised harmonies with his high school classmate, the future R&B star Sam Cooke. Lou made his first recording with the Chosen Gospel Singers before enlisting as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army. After serving three years, he joined another gospel group, The Pilgrim Travelers, reuniting with his friend Sam Cooke. While on tour, Rawls was nearly killed in a serious car accident that left him in a coma for five days. Sam Cooke was unhurt.
Big changes were on the way. Rawls moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s and began performing in small nightclubs around the city. It wasn't long before a producer for Capitol Records spotted him. Executives were so impressed with Rawls' four-octave vocal range they offered him a lucrative contract.
His first major hit for Capitol was "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing."
After breaking onto the charts in 1966, more hits followed, including "Dead End Street" which won Rawls a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal performance.
Some credit Rawls for being the first rap artist after the release of his monologues about love and life on "World Of Trouble" and "Tobacco Road." The trendy disco years of the 1970s didn't cramp his style. He moved to the soulful sound of the Philadelphia International label and recorded his biggest hit, "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)."
Grammy Awards and hit singles aside, Lou Rawls will always be known as a generous humanitarian. Over the years, he helped raise million of dollars for the United Negro College Fund, and performed concerts at American military bases around the world.
Lou Rawls was actively touring until a year ago when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in late-2004, and brain cancer last May. He was hospitalized for cancer treatment in December. Rawls died at the hospital in Los Angeles on January 6. Lou Rawls was 72.