Lou Rawls, the velvet-voiced singer who started as a church choir boy and went on to sell more than 40 million albums has died, his publicist said. He won three Grammy Awards in a career that spanned nearly five decades and a range of genres. He was 72.
Rawls died early Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was hospitalized last month for treatment of lung and brain cancer, his publicist Paul Shefrin said. His wife Nina was at his bedside when he died, Shefrin said.
The family and Shefrin said Rawls was 72, although other records indicate he was 70.
Rawls’ voice was his inimitable trademark.
Jazz historian Leonard Feather wrote in “The Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties” that Rawls “has a vigorous, confident style, a strong affinity for the blues and a personal sound.”
“I’ve gone the full spectrum, from gospel to blues to jazz to soul to pop,” Rawls once said on his Web site. “And the public has accepted what I’ve done through it all.”
Rawls’ grandmother introduced him to gospel in his hometown of Chicago. The singer moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s to join a touring gospel group, the Pilgrim Travelers.
After a two-year stint in the Army, Rawls returned to Los Angeles and rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers, where he sang with Sam Cooke. Rawls performed with Dick Clark at the Hollywood Bowl in 1959, and later, he opened for the Beatles at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
Rawls was playing small blues and R&B clubs in Los Angeles when his four-octave range caught the ear of a Capitol Records producer, who signed him to the label in 1962.
His debut effort, “Stormy Monday,” recorded with the Les McCann Trio, was the first of 28 albums Rawls made with Capitol.
His 1966 hit, “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing,” topped the charts and earned Rawls his first two Grammy nominations. He received 13 during his career.
Rawls, whose hits included “Dead End Street” and “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” released his most recent album, “Seasons 4 U,” in 1998 on his own label, Rawls & Brokaw Records.
The stalwart singer also appeared in 18 movies, including “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Blues Brothers 2000,” and 16 television series, including “Fantasy Island” and “The Fall Guy.”
A longtime community activist, Rawls visited schools, playgrounds and community centers in the 1960s, encouraging children to continue their studies and have confidence in their abilities. In the ’80s, he helped the United Negro College Fund raise more than $200 million through telethons.
In 1976, Rawls became the corporate spokesman for the Anheuser-Busch Cos. breweries.
Rawls was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2004 and brain cancer in May 2005.
Besides his wife Nina, Rawls is survived by four children, Louanna Rawls, Lou Rawls Jr., Kendra Smith and Aiden Rawls.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete, Shefrin said.
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