Luther Ingram, R&B Singer, Dies at 69

Rhythm & Blues artist Luther Ingram died this week. He was best known for singing "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to be Right)," which topped the charts in the summer of 1972. Michele Norris talks with Deanie Parker, who worked for Stax Records, Ingram's record label, in the 1960s and 70s.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now an appreciation of a man who has left us with a soulful legacy. Rhythm & Blues artist, Luther Ingram, past away this week. He was best known for a siren song about forbidden love that topped the charts in the summer of '72, a song called "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)"

(Soundbite of song, "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to be Right)")

Mr. LUTHER INGRAM (Singer): (Singing) If loving you is wrong I don't wanna be right. If being right means being without you, I'd rather live a wrong doing life. Your mama and daddy say it's a shame. It's a downright disgrace. As long as I got you by my side, I don't care what your people say.

NORRIS: Luther Ingram was writing and performing when soul music was at its peak. And he was associated with one of the premier soul labels, Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Stax turned out a stack of hits from Booker T. and the MG's, The Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes.

Joining me from Memphis is Deanie Parker. She worked for Stax in the 1960s and '70s, and she's led efforts to preserve its legacy as president and CEO of a nonprofit group called Soulsville. Deanie, good to talk to you again.

Ms. DEANIE PARKER (President, Soulsville Foundation): Thank you, Michele. Likewise.

NORRIS: Now, let's go back in time. Do you remember when you first met Luther Ingram?

Ms. PARKER: Yes, I do remember Luther Ingram and having met him for the first time, although Luther just sort of eased into your space. He didn't make a lot of noise. He was a very, very quiet person, a gentle spirit, you might say, Michele.

NORRIS: Deanie, I want to talk to you about this hit "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to be Right)." You can almost tell as we listen how theatrical a performer he was. How did he not just perform these songs in the studio, but when he was onstage?

Ms. PARKER: That song, written by Homer Banks and company, was recorded by a couple of other artists including The Emotions, who are also former Stax artists before they found the right artist and the right person to deliver it with passion, which was certainly Mr. Ingram. And I can just picture him now standing there with this boyish look on his face and his eyes closed, and he's in a very pensive mood and he's singing this song with his fist clinched with all of the feeling that you can just imagine.

(Soundbite of song, "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to be Right)")

Mr. INGRAM: (Singing) If loving you is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

NORRIS: And you get the sense of, yes, he was actually engaged in something that was very wrong.

Ms. PARKER: Infidelity.

NORRIS: Yeah.

Ms. PARKER: Those always make the best messages in a song, don't they? Certainly Luther had the capacity to make you believe that, even though the relationship was not proper, you might say, it was so good. He was willing to stay in it. And he just didn't want to do right if doing wrong made you feel that wonderful.

NORRIS: I think it was a staple of a slow dance…

Ms. PARKER: Under the black light…

NORRIS: Uh-huh.

Ms. PARKER: Is that what they call it?

NORRIS: Yeah, under the black light, right.

Ms. PARKER: In the basement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Deanie, it was good to talk to you. Thank you so much for sharing memories of your friend.

Ms. PARKER: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: That's Deanie Parker, president of the Soulsville Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee. She was talking to us about Luther Ingram, who died Monday. He was 69 years old. This coming Sunday, friends and family will remember him with a jam session at a church in East St. Louis. And we're going to leave you with another Stax hit. This one written by Luther Ingram and performed by the Staple Singers, "Respect Yourself."

(Soundbite of song "Respect Yourself")

Mr. ROEBUCK STAPLES (Vocalist, Staple Singers): Respect yourself. Respect yourself. Respect yourself. Respect yourself. Respect yourself.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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