Singer Bobby Hatfield of pioneering pop duo The Righteous Brothers died November 5 at the age of 63. His body was found in a Michigan hotel room, 30 minutes before he was scheduled to perform with partner Bill Medley. VOA's Bernie Bernard pays tribute to Bobby Hatfield and tells us about the impact of The Righteous Brothers on music history.
The Righteous Brothers' 1964 Number One hit, You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling is one of the most-played songs in radio history. The smooth baritone of Bill Medley combined with soaring tenor voice of Bobby Hatfield earned them countless hits.
Earlier this year, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for pioneering the type of music known as "blue-eyed soul." During his induction speech for The Righteous Brothers, singer and songwriter Billy Joel defined the term, remarking, "Sometimes people with blue eyes transcend the limitations of what their color and culture can actually be. Sometimes white people can actually be soulful. This was a life-changing idea. It changed my life."
Formed in 1962, The Righteous Brothers had a string of hits on both the pop, and rhythm and blues charts. Songs such as (You're My) Soul And Inspiration showcased the dramatic exchanges between Bobby Hatfield's high voice and Bill Medley's booming lower register.
Born in Wisconsin, and raised in Southern California, Bobby Hatfield sang with a group called The Variations, who eventually joined with Bill Medley's band, The Paramours. In a matter of months, all the other members went their separate ways, leaving only Hatfield and Medley, who became The Righteous Brothers. Bobby Hatfield explained the inspiration behind the name.
"We were working in a club in Southern California when we first started out," he said. "We used to get quite a few black Marines coming down from this Marine base, El Toro. Bill and I started doing more and more duets together. After one duet, one of the guys yelled out, 'That's righteous, brothers!'" During the height of their career, their producer was the legendary Phil Spector, known for his lush "wall of sound" recording technique. Between 1963 and 1967, the duo placed more than a dozen songs on the chart. They went their separate ways in 1968, and reunited in 1974 to score the Top Three hit, Rock And Roll Heaven. They had been performing constantly since then.
A new generation discovered The Righteous Brothers by hearing their classic songs in hit films such as Top Gun and Dirty Dancing. For the past few decades, the duo had been a popular concert act, playing 60 to 80 shows each year. They were scheduled to perform at Western Michigan University when Bobby Hatfield's body was discovered just before show time on the evening of November 5. The group's manager issued a statement that Bill Medley was "shocked, broken-up and not even coherent" when he learned about the death of his longtime partner. The cause of Hatfield's death has not yet been determined.