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Lou Rawls, R.I.P.

Posted by Richard on January 9, 2006

I’m a bit late, but I don’t want to let the death of Lou Rawls go unnoted. His passing was no surprise, since he’d been suffering from cancer for some time. But it saddens me. Rawls was one of a kind — a marvelous, unique, smooth, smoky baritone who made any song he sang his own. Rawls’ career spanned fifty-some years and a wide range of musical styles — gospel, jazz, R&B, blues, pop, soul, and some people say his spoken-word song intros, monologues, and verses were the precursors to rap.

Rawls went to high school with the legendary Sam Cooke, and began his musical career harmonizing with him. I didn’t know until his death that Rawls had been a paratrooper. He enlisted in 1955 and served three years in the 82nd Airborne Division. That explains one of his longstanding missions in life: for 25 years, Rawls put on concerts for U.S. military personnel around the world and for the United Negro College Fund. Both were underwritten by Anheuser-Bush, with which he had a long relationship. To people significantly younger than me (which is most people), Rawls is probably most recognizable as a spokesman for Budweiser and the voice of Garfield the cat.

You youngsters who aren’t familiar with Rawls really ought to check out some of his music. Try Stormy Monday, which is an astonishingly polished, professional, and enduring first album, recorded in 1962 when he was 21. Then check out the more pop 70s recordings, the 80s Blue Note stuff, the love songs…

Listen to songs like St. James Infirmary, Good Intentions, Unforgettable  — compare them to the crap put out by Kanye West, and tell me which is real music that moves the soul.

Rest in peace, Lou.

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