Howard Tate, a gifted 1960s soul singer who dropped out of music after his now-beloved records were ignored, only to reemerge decades later to a cult following, died Dec. 2 at his New Jersey apartment. A spokesman for the Burlington County medical examiner said Tuesday that Tate died of natural causes at his Burlington City home, while earlier reports indicated the cause was multiple myeloma and leukemia. He was 72.
Born in Georgia but raised in Philadelphia, Tate began singing gospel music as a youth but gravitated to soulful R&B by the time he released his classic debut album, "Get It While You Can," on Verve Records in 1967. Standout tracks that endeared Tate to critics included "Ain't Nobody Home," Look at Granny Run Run" and his debut's title track, which was soon covered by Janis Joplin.
Though a few of his early tracks charted on the Billboard R&B chart at this time, his followup albums did not catch on with fans. They included 1969's "Reaction" and "Howard Tate," released on Atlantic Records in 1972. That album reunited Tate with his musical partner Jerry Ragovoy and included covers by The Band and Bob Dylan.
Tate's agile voice was able to flow from smooth tenor to a ringing falsetto effortlessly and has often been compared to Al Green's.
Following a series of misfortunes, including a divorce and the death of his daughter in a house fire in 1976, Tate dropped out of music and turned to drugs and alcohol.
"I turned to cocaine, and it was the worst thing I could have ever done," he told the Philadelphia Enquirer in a 2004 interview. "It destroyed my willpower. I became homeless, roaming around those drug neighborhoods in Camden. I actually thought I was going to be found dead in an alley. It was like I was waiting to die."
By the mid-1990s Tate had cleaned up in rehab and began preaching in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. A Jersey City disc jockey found the ex-singer in 2001, by which time Tate had become a bit of a mysterious legend by music fans. Voice intact, he recorded a few more albums, including "Rediscovered" (2003) and "A Portrait of Howard" (2006), which included covers of songs by Lou Reed and Randy Newman.