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Rawls Leaves Rich Musical, Philanthropic Legacy

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Rawls Leaves Rich Musical, Philanthropic Legacy

Rawls Leaves Rich Musical, Philanthropic Legacy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Singer Lou Rawls died early this morning in Los Angeles from complications of cancer. His family says he was 72 years old. The silky-voiced baritone had a career that spanned over 40 years. Rawls was also a philanthropist who helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

Louis Allen Rawls grew up in America's coldest musical forge.

Mr. LOU RAWLS (Singer-Songwriter; Philanthropist): I was born in the city that they call the Windy City. They called it the Windy City because of the hulk. The hulk, oh, mighty hulk: Mr Wind.

ULABY: A South Side Chicago Baptist church choir was where a little Lou Rawls developed his oversized pipes.

Mr. RAWLS: God gave them to me. People said, `Your voice has been like this all the time?' I said, `Well, they put me in the baritone section in junior choir when I was eight.'

ULABY: But as a grown-up, Lou Rawls made his name with a different kind of music.

(Soundbite of "Dead End Street")

Mr. RAWLS: (Singing) They say, they say this is a big, rich town, but I live in the poorest part. I know I'm on a dead-end street in a city without a heart.

Mr. JERRY BUTLER (Soul Singer; Chairman Emeritus, Rhythm and Blues Foundation): I wish I could sing like that.

ULABY: Jerry Butler is the Iceman of Soul. He's also chairman emeritus of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

Mr. BUTLER: Lou Rawls was the sound of Chicago in the sense that he incorporated blues, jazz and gospel. In all three of those genres, Lou Rawls was a master.

ULABY: The difference between gospel and blues, Lou Rawls told NPR in 2002, lies in the lyrics.

Mr. RAWLS: Instead of saying, you know, `Oh, Lord, take my hand and lead me on,' say, `Oh, baby, hold my hand and love me long.' Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of "Tobacco Road")

Mr. RAWLS: (Singing) Gonna leave and get a job with the help and the grace of God.

ULABY: As a teen-ager, Rawls hit the road with another neighborhood musician named Sam Cooke. Their gospel quartet was touring when their car was hit by a truck, killing one musician. Rawls was pronounced dead at the scene and lay in a coma for five days. After recovering, Rawls went solo. He was discovered in Los Angeles, and by 1966 Rawls' resonant baritone seduced both black and white audiences.

(Soundbite of "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing")

Mr. RAWLS: (Singing) For every little kiss there's a little tear drop. For every single thrill there's another heartache. The road is rough. The going gets tough. Yes, love is a hurting thing.

ULABY: Rawls was a mutable entertainer. He acted in film and TV, he performed in jazz clubs, but his biggest hit was the disco sensation.

(Soundbite of "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing")

Mr. RAWLS: (Singing) You'll never find as you long as you live someone who loves you tender like I do.

ULABY: Rawls won multiple Grammy Awards and recorded over 60 albums, but he devoted the last quarter century of his life to charity. Jerry Butler says to him, one song sums up Lou Rawls the best.

Mr. BUTLER: "Groovy People" expresses kind of who he is, just a big ol' country boy who happened to grow up on the South Side of Chicago and absorbed all of that into his beat.

(Soundbite of "Groovy People")

Mr. RAWLS: (Singing) Give me the simple life filled with love and joy. Can't you see I'm just a big, ol' country boy?

ULABY: Lou Rawls lived to see Chicago honor him with a South Side street named Lou Rawls Drive.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of "Baby Come Home")

Mr. RAWLS: (Singing) ...home, baby, home. Come home. Come on home. Well, if you don't come, girl, I'll be in misery. Oh, yeah!

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

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