The New Year began with the lost Friday, Jan. 6, of Chicago native Lou Rawls, who died after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
Not only did we lose one of the nations most versatile singers on Friday, but also the city of Chicago lost the South Side’s Pilgrim Baptist Church to fire. Pilgrim Baptist Church is known as the place where Gospel music was born and where people like Mahalia Jackson, The Staples Singers and Thomas Dorsey performed. Thomas Dorsey was the creator of Gospel music and authored many Gospel songs, one of the most famous, “Precious Lord Take My Hand.”
How ironic the connections between Rawls, who grew up singing gospel in his father’s church at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church on 4130 S. Indiana, and the burning down of Pilgrim Church on the same day.
Rev. Louis Rawls was a very well known minister in Chicago and held six degrees. He was pastor for 59 years at Tabernacle. He died April 26, 2002 at the age of 97.
During the regular meeting of Rainbow Push last Saturday, Rev. Jesse Jackson talked about his recent visits with Rawls, reflecting on his hometown of Chicago. Rev. Jackson has been asked by the family to deliver the eulogy at Mr. Rawls funeral on Jan. 13, in Los Angeles.
Lou Rawls’ grandmother is credited with introducing him to Gospel music. In the 1950s, he joined the Pilgrim Travelers gospel group. After serving two years in the Army, he rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers where he sang with his schoolmate Sam Cooke.
As youngsters in Chicago, Mr. Rawls and Cooke sang together in a gospel group called the Teenage Kings of Harmony. On Sam Cooke’s record “Bring It On Home To Me, you can hear Rawls singing background.
In 1958, Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls were on tour in the South. The car they were riding in crashed into a truck. Cooke escaped with minor injuries, a passenger was killed and Rawls, who was thought to be dead, was in a coma. He did not regain his memory for three months and took nearly a year to recover.
In 1962, Capitol Records signed Mr. Rawls. His debut album was called Stormy Monday or as many called it “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.” Long before “rap” was even thought of as form of musical expression, Lou Rawls was articulating lyrics in a narrative style. His famous rendition of “Tobacco Road” could be called the first rap recording.
Lou Rawls’ musical accomplishments are far to many to be recounted here, but some people may have forgotten Rawls’ one-man show on Broadway in 1999 called Smokey Joe’s Cafe. His song Wind Beneath My Wings was so loved, that the first African-American astronaut, Lt. Col. Guion Bluford took it with him on a 1983 Space Shuttle mission.
Mr. Rawls won numerous awards throughout his career, including three Grammys, and has sold more than 40 million albums.
Lou Rawls was a fixture each year for the United Negro College Fund telethon. Mr. Rawls raised $200 million through this telethon to allow black youth to attend historically Black colleges.
His last appearance on the telethon, which he taped some months ago, aired Saturday the day after his death on WGN television.
Although Mr. Rawls was known internationally he didn’t forget Chicago. He was involved in many projects, including being on hand for the ground-breaking ceremonies with Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) for the Harold Washington Cultural Center.
Mr. Rawls did many voice-over singing for children characters such as; Garfield, Rugrats and the postman on Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold.” Some of his more recent movie and television appearances included “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Blues Brothers 2000” and TV series “Baywatch”.
Mr. Rawls is survived by his third wife Nina, three adult children, Louanna Rawls, Lou Rawls Jr., Kendra Smith and infant son Aiden Rawls. The family has asked that donations be made to UNCF (United Negro College Fund), 8250 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, Fairfax, Va. 22031.
Public viewing will take place today at Angelus Funeral Home, 3875 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Funeral services are Friday at the West Angeles Church of God and Christ in Los Angeles.