A Tribute as Lou Rawls Laid to Rest

Commentator Betty Baye remembers the music of Lou Rawls, the smooth-voiced R&B and soul music icon who will be laid to rest Friday. Rawls died January 8 of lung cancer at age 72. The Rev. Jesse Jackson will preside over the funeral mass.

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ED GORDON, host:

Singer Lou Rawls will be laid to rest today in Los Angeles, but commentator Betty Baye says she won't dwell on the sadness of his death. She prefers to remember him as the sweet voice that serenaded her into adulthood and was the soundtrack to her early years in New York City.

(Soundbite of music)

BETTY BAYE:

(Singing) They called it stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad. Oh, they called it stormy Monday, but Friday's oh-so-sad.

And it's sad news indeed that Lou Rawls has died, so sad. But even in my sadness, I'm recalling how much joy, how much happiness Lou Rawls brought to my life, especially in those years just after I graduated from high school. I was 17 years old, was earning $68 a week from my secretary job, enough to eat, buy clothes, party and pay rent on my first apartment. Baby, you couldn't tell me that I wasn't grown. It was the 1960s and still a beautiful time to be coming of age in New York City. Great music was still in vogue. And like a baby sucking on its mama's nipple, I latched on to the songs that were being played on every jukebox in Harlem, the soothing sounds of such singers as Nancy Wilson--(singing) `Guess who I saw today, my dear'--Gloria Lynn, Arthur Prysock, Sam Cooke, Dinah Washington--(singing) `This bit of earth'--and Lou Rawls.

Of the many things that have, could and will no doubt be said about Lou Rawls, not to be left out is that he was an original rapper, that when you listened to a recording of Lou Rawls performing live, nine times out of 10 he'd rap. Matter of fact, with his sweet baritone, Lou Rawls could have recited the dictionary or the names in a telephone book and it would sound like a love poem. I mean, Lou Rawls had it like that. I read one obituary that said Frank Sinatra gave Lou Rawls his blessing. That's nice, but among his own people, black people, no such endorsement was needed. Lou Rawls was the man. He had a distinctive sound, memorable phrasing and an overall intelligent approach to his music. You could understand every word. I mean, when Lou Rawls sang about the hawk, which is the way he described how cold it gets in Chicago, his hometown, and Chicago winds can cut through you like a giant razor blade, you could be laying on the beach in the Bahamas and unconsciously pull a blanket around you to ward off the chill.

Lou Rawls is so bad that when he cuts loose singing "St. James Infirmary," you're convinced that he means every word. As he gazes down on his lover stretched out on her cooling board at St. James Infirmary, dead though she may be, the singer croons that she'll search the world over and never find a sweet man like him.

So goodbye, Lou Rawls. You've had a long run. Often when an entertainer passes, people say `There'll never be another.' I don't believe that. Great singers are still being born, a sure sign that the master creator loves us. But I will say this to the great singers of tomorrow: Take your place behind microphones on grand center stages, but don't forget who came before you. Remember, it's nice being the flavor of the month, but it's better to be endowed with the staying power of a singer like Lou Rawls. He had one of those voices that didn't just beg to be heard; it demanded to never be forgotten.

GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky.

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