Born Louis Allen Rawls, December 1, 1936, in Chicago, IL; son of Virgil (a Baptist minister) and Evelyn (a homemaker) Rawls; married Lana Jean, 1962 (marriage ended, 1972); children: Louanna, Lou Jr.; Military service: United States Army, 1956-1958. Addresses: Record company--Philadelphia International Records care CBS Records, Inc, 51 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019.

Lou Rawls is a rhythm and blues (R & B) singer with extraordinary career longevity and great generosity. His soulful singing career spans over 30 years, and his philanthropy includes helping to raise over 150 million dollars for The College Fund/United Negro College Fund (UNCF). His lengthy singing career began ironically after his life nearly ended in 1958 in a car accident.

Rawls was born on December 1, 1936 in Chicago, home to many great blues musicians. Son of a Baptist minister, he was raised on the South Side of Chicago where he started singing in church at age seven. In the mid-1950s, he toured with his gospel group, The Pilgrim Travelers, until he joined the United States Army in 1956. He served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina for two years. When he returned from military service, he toured again in 1958 with The Pilgrim Travelers. One rainy night the group was on their way to one of their concerts when they were in a car wreck. They collided with an 18-wheeler. Rawls was initially pronounced dead; Eddie Cunningham was killed; Cliff White broke his collarbone; Sam Cooke was hardly injured. Rawls wasn't dead, but lay in a coma for five days before waking and eventually recovering from the severe concussion.

In 1959, The Pilgrim Travelers broke up, and Rawls embarked on a solo career. The Pilgrim Travelers were based in Los Angeles, so Rawls stayed there after the breakup and toured the nightclubs and coffee shops. His location helped him earn a small acting role in the television series 77 Sunset Strip. Rawls' big break came when he sang in a coffee shop called Pandora's Box. A producer from Capitol Records, Nick Benet, was in the coffee shop. To Rawls' surprise and delight, Benet asked him to record an audition tape. Capitol eventually signed Rawls to a contract in 1962. That same year, Rawls recorded a duet with Sam Cooke called "Bring It on Home to Me," now considered a classic. Sam Cooke moved on to a very successful singing and songwriting career before his untimely death at the age of 33.

Rawls first recordings were fairly successful. His first album was Stormy Monday. His 1963 album, Black and Blue, made the pop chart, but it wasn't until the 1966 album, Lou Rawls Live, that he crossed over to major market success. Lou Rawls Live was his first gold album. In 1966 the song "Love Is a Hurtin' Thing" went to number 13 on the pop charts, and hit number one on the R & B charts. Finally, Rawls was reaching white audiences with his smooth baritone. During the mid-1960s, Rawls liked to mix his songs with spoken monologues. In 1967 one of those songs, "Dead End Street," was number 29 on the pop charts and number three on the R & B charts. "Dead End Street" earned him his first Grammy Award. In the mid and late 1960s, Rawls guest-starred on many television variety shows and played the Las Vegas nightclub scene. In 1969 he even appeared in a movie, Angel Angel Down We Go.

In 1970 Rawls recorded a single called "Your Good Thing Is About to Come to an End," a title that contradicted the success he experienced in the Seventies. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award. Rawls changed record companies in 1971, signing with MGM Records. A Natural Man was the first album he recorded with MGM. His first single "A Natural Man" earned Rawls a second Grammy Award in 1972. The song reached number 17 on the pop and R & B charts. Rawls released only one more album with MGM before signing with Philadelphia International records.

The signing with Philadelphia International was memorable because it paired Rawls with legendary producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. His first album with Gamble and Huff was his only platinum album: All Things in Time. It reached number 3 on the R & B charts. Rawls' most notable single was the first single recorded with Gamble and Huff in 1976 called "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine." It reached number two on the pop charts and number one on the R & B charts, and was played in virtually every disco across the country. The song was Rawls' first gold single and it won him an American Music Award and a Grammy nomination. "Groovy People" was the next single recorded with Gamble and Huff; it also earned a Grammy nomination. Other singles released with Gamble and Huff include: "See You When I Git There," "Lady Love," and "Let Me Be Good to You."

In 1977 Rawls won his third Grammy Award. This time it was for the best male rhythm and blues performance for the album Unmistakably Lou. Rawls was seen on television often in the 1970s on variety shows and as an actor. Rawls also represented Budweiser as a national spokesperson in the late 1970s. His voice was heard in the background of many Budweiser commercials. One of Rawls' album titles, When You've Heard Lou, You've Heard It All, was based on the famous Budweiser slogan.

Rawls' last notable single was "I Wish You Belonged to Me," which reached number 28 on the R & B chart and was also produced by Gamble & Huff. At Last, recorded in 1989, earned a Grammy nomination and included many guest stars. James T. Jones of Down Beat suggested the title was appropriate and added, "Rawls returns to singing blues and supper-club jazz within the same acoustic setting of his '62 debut Stormy Monday...." On that album, Rawls included some Lyle Lovett tunes. He told Down Beat, "I like his songs. They have a light touch; they're not so heavy. He's a country singer. But when I get through with his tunes, they're hardly country." When Portrait of the Blues was released in 1993, Phyl Garland of Stereo Review commented on Rawls, "Central to his longevity have been the undeniable appeal of his deep baritone voice and his craftsmanship as a singer." Underscoring the accomplishment of his longevity, Garland also remarked, "In a pop world where the duration of fame seems to have been cut back from 15 to 10 minutes, Lou Rawls has maintained his popularity over more than thirty years."

Rawls still tours and records, and has appeared in many television shows and films, including the 1995 Mike Figgis film Leaving Las Vegas. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, however, he mainly established himself as a generous humanitarian. He put his money where his mouth is when he was quoted as saying, "Educating the youth of our nation is priority one." Through his efforts as honorary chairman, he has raised over 150 million dollars for The College Fund/UNCF as their honorary chairman. He has accomplished this by hosting a televised telethon every January called the "Parade of Stars." Since 1980 Rawls has invited fellow performers to appear live on the show to raise money for this important fund. Guests have included: Marilyn McGoo, Gladys Knight, Ray Charles, Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross, Peabo Bryson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Take 6, Jody Watley, Tevin Campbell, Anita Baker, Boyz II Men, Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopi Goldberg. Anheuser- Busch Companies Inc. is the founding sponsor of the telethon. Rawls is adamant in his opinion about the role of education in guiding today's youth. He told Jet, "If you look around you, you see the adults constantly pointing the finger at the kids, saying, 'You're doing wrong.' But do you give them an option? I think the option should be education. Our future depends on it, man."

In 1989 Rawls' hometown of Chicago named a street after him. South Wentworth Avenue was renamed Lou Rawls Drive. In 1993 Rawls attended ceremonies for the groundbreaking of the Lou Rawls Theater and Cultural Center. His cultural center includes a library, two cinemas, a restaurant, a 1500-seat theater, and a roller skating rink. The center is built on the original site of the Regal Theater on the south side of Chicago. The gospel and blues music played at the Regal Theater in the 1950s inspired a young Lou Rawls. Now his name is immortalized at the site of where it all began.

by Christine Morrison

Lou Rawls's Career

Started singing gospel music in church at age seven; member of the gospel group Pilgrim Travelers, mid-1950s; near fatal car wreck on way to Pilgrim Travelers' concert, 1958; solo career as rhythm and blues singer started 1959; toured Los Angeles nightclubs until signed by Capitol, 1962; first album Stormy Monday, 1962; major market success began with first gold album Lou Rawls Live, 1966; starred in numerous television variety shows and Las Vegas shows, 1960s and 1970s; national spokesperson for Budweiser, 1976; honorary chairman for The College Fund/United Negro College Fund (UNCF), 1980; began hosting the "Parade of Stars" televised telethon for The College Fund/UNCF, 1980; still tours and records; acted in several films 1969-1995.

Lou Rawls's Awards

Three Grammy Awards for "Dead End Street," 1967, A Natural Man, 1971, and Unmistakably Lou, 1977; one Platinum and four Gold albums; American Music Award for "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," 1976; street named after him in Chicago, 1987.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

January 1, 2004: Rawls married flight attendant Nina Malek Inman in Memphis, Tennessee. It is his third marriage, her second. Source: Entertainment Weekly, January 16, 2004, p. 18.

January 10, 2005: Rawls and his wife, Nina, welcomed the birth of their first child, a son named Aiden Allen Rawls. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-01-14-rawls-baby_x.htm, January 16, 2005.

January 6, 2006: Rawls died on January 6, 2006, in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 72. He had been receiving treatment of lung and brain cancer. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, January 6, 2006.

January 6, 2006: Rawls died on January 6, 2006, in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 72. He had been receiving treatment for lung and brain cancer. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com, January 6, 2006.

Further Reading

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 7 years ago

I really miss this man and his voice; what a terrific talent he had that still inspires until this day. There was no one else who could fundraise as he did for a Mind is a terrible thing to waste for Black Colleges. He was simply the best!