Born Louis Allen Rawls, 1 December 1935, Chicago, Illinois

I'm not a great fan of Mr Rawls post-SAO era award winning work, bit too smooth n Philly for my more raunchy tastes, but anyone who sings harmony on one of my all time fav Sam Cooke classics, Bring It On Home To Me, (as well as being on Havin' A Party and Soothe Me) is definitely worthy of an SAO biog. From Ernie Freeman's brill bluesy piano intro right, the heart felt plea for forgiveness right through to the gospel styled call and responses this record just oozes quality and is a must in any decent R & B collection.

Louis was raised on the South Side of Chicago by his grandmother, he was a member of his Baptist church choir when his was seven. As a teenager, his horizons expanded with trips to the Regal Theatre to see Billy Eckstine, Arthur Prysock and Joe Williams. "I loved the way they could lift the spirit of the audience," he remembers. Influenced too by doo-wop, he'd harmonize with high school classmate Sam Cooke, and they joined groups such as the Teenage Kings Of Harmony. In the Fifties, Rawls ventured to Los Angeles and was recruited for the Chosen Gospel Singers, with whom he was first heard on record. He then moved on to the The Pilgrim Travelers before enlisting in 1955 as a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, the All Americans. Three years later, Sergeant Rawls left the service and rejoined the Travelers.Lou claims that Sam wrote Only 16 at his parents house in Chicago and that his sister's forthcoming birthday was the trigger.

It was during a tour of the South with Cooke and the Travelers that a serious car accident nearly ended his career and his life (strangely enough the accident happened close to where Bessie Smith had her fatal car crash in Arkansas). One passenger was killed, Cooke was slightly injured and Rawls was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital. Though he slipped into a coma for five-and-a-half days, suffered memory loss, and wasn't completely recovered for a year, he survived. "I really got a new life out of that," he says. "I saw a lot of reasons to live. I began to learn acceptance, direction, understanding and perception--all elements that had been sadly lacking in my life. I might have lived long enough to learn all this in the long haul, but I would have been just another soul taking up time and space for a long spell before I learned." Lou later sang Just A Closer walk With Thee at Sam's funeral service.

Playing small R&B, pop and soul clubs in LA, Rawls was performing at Pandora's Box Coffee Shop for $10 a night plus pizza in late 1959 when Nick Venet, a producer at Capitol, was so impressed with his four-octave range that he invited him to make an audition tape. He did, and Rawls was signed to Capitol. I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water, his 1962 solo debut album, became the first of more than 20 albums on that label in only a decade. It was Love Is A Hurtin' Thing in 1966 which shot Rawls to the top. It was also twice Grammy-nominated, for both Best R&B Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance.

During this period, he began his hip monologues about life and love on World of Trouble and Tobacco Road, each more than seven minutes long. Called "pre-rap" by some, for Rawls they grew out of necessity. "I was working in little joints where the stage would be behind the bar. So you were standing right over the cash register and the crushed ice machine. You'd be swinging and the waitress would yell, 'I want 12 beers and four martinis!' And then the dude would put the ice in the crusher. There had to be a way to get the attention of the people. So instead of just starting in singing, I would just start in talking the song." His "raps" were so popular that 1967's Dead End Street won him his first Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance.

In 1971 Rawls' popularity could be measured by the fact that he won the Downbeat magazine poll for favourite male vocalist, besting perennial champ Frank Sinatra, who has praised Rawls for having "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game." The Seventies began with a second Grammy win for Natural Man. But then came disco and Rawls, a symbol of quality and a relevance that transcended trendiness, balked. "A lyric has to mean something to me, something that has happened to me. I try to look for songs people can relate to because I know the man on the corner waiting for the bus has to hear it and say, 'Yeah that's right.'" So, in 1975, while other artists succumbed to the beat, Rawls moved to Philadelphia International, the mecca of producers/songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and their renowned Philly sound. His integrity was rewarded the next year when You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine) became his biggest hit. The next year he took home his third Grammy, Best R&B Vocal Performance, for Unmistakably Lou.

In 1976, Rawls became the corporate spokesman for Anheuser Busch, the world's largest brewery, which led in 1980 to that company's sponsorship of two events which have continued to this day. One was a series of concerts for American military personnel on bases around the world. The other was a telethon whose proceeds, now more than $200 million, are donated to the United Negro College Fund. Epitomizing cool, class and soul, his humanitarian efforts have won him more than honors, more even than a street named after him in Chicago, where South Wentworth Avenue is now Lou Rawls Drive. His work for the UNCF has been the joy of a man who never went to college but has since been awarded numerous honorary doctorates. "I remember a woman came up to me once and said, 'Thank you. You made my grandson the first college grad in our family.' That makes it all worth it."

In addition to singing, Rawls' talents extend to acting, a second love. Over the years he has appeared as a series regular, guest star and host in television series as well as TV Movie-Of-The-Weeks. In the past few years he has ventured in to the feature film arena, taking on lead roles in independent films as well as smaller parts in movies such as Oscar winning Leaving Las Vegas. In 1999 Rawls appeared on Broadway for a stint in Smokey Joe's Cafe. Rawls also brought his flair to children's programming, becoming the singing voice of the animated feline Garfield. In 1982, he was Grammy-nominated for Best Recording for Children for Here Comes Garfield and is the musical star of the "Garfield" TV specials. More recently, he sings the title song for "Jungle Cubs," an animated series. He is also the voice of the Harvey the Mailman on Nickelodeon's "Hey Arnold" series.

In 1998 Rawls released his most recent album Seasons 4 U on his own newly created record label, Rawls & Brokaw Records. As always, he continues to tour extensively, from clubs to jazz festivals, from America to Europe to Asia.In his 40-some years as a recording artist, spanning an astonishing 60-plus albums, three Grammy wins, 13 Grammy nominations, one platinum album, five gold albums and a gold single."

(Taken from the biography page on the excellent official Lou Rawls web site, http://www.lourawls.com)

Recommended reading:

Life & Times Of Sam Cooke -You Send Me by Daniel Wolff and others, essential read for all SAOers

Recommended listening:

Sam Cooke -Bring It On Home To Me RCA featuring Lou on harmony vocal, "yeah!!!!"

also Havin' A Party and Soothe Me, sublime soul serenadin', suits me sir! Sam's Movin' & Groovin' was co-written by Lou

SAR Records Story -V artists, Sam Cooke's gospel/pop label, Lou sings backing vocals on some of disc 2's pop tracks

Lou Rawls -The Anthology, 2cd Capitol, a career and style spanning collection, early 60s versions of Kansas City, Stormy Monday, Tobacco Road, I'd rather Drink Muddy Water and a prev unissued 62 song What makes the Ending (written by Sam Cooke) it also has Lou's homage to Sam, Bring It On Home (what else)

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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