Lou Rawls: Smooth Soul
Born with a baritone that has yet to be excelled or even approached, in terms of sleekness and beauty, Lou Rawls was more than just a singer. His time to shine musically coincided with the dreadfulness known as Disco, but his voice was a timeless sound. His death from cancer in 2006 was the loss of one of the greats among people as well as singers.
Lounge lizards of the ‘70s schmoozed to that voice, and divas danced to it, but the glitter-ball times in which the voice of Rawls rose to fame and acclaim do not diminish the artistry of a voice so masculine and moving in its soulful grace. The man had polish without even trying to shine.
I’d not been aware of the acting ability of Mr. Rawls until I saw an episode of The Big Valley, a stunner in Season 4 called “Joshua Watson”. Oh my, the man could act! And sing, with flowing force, in the midst of showing off his dramatic skills — for his first acting credit!
The song was “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and the rendition was show-stopping. It seemed as if Rawls knew his talents ran that deeply in his veins, in his blood. He took on this role as if Hollywood had sent him, from the Golden Era. Even Barbara Stanwyck must have been impressed.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1933, Louis Allen Rawls grew up on the South Side of that always-violent city, which is to say, he grew up rough and tough. He, of course, sang in the Baptist Church of his childhood. That soulful singing of his started young, and he never strayed from it, even when he had to move with the groove of disco.
He made any song his own. “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” was his “breakout” hit, but given another era, Lou Rawls might have made it just as big with “I’m a Fool to Want You” or “The Very Thought of You”.
Rawls released over 60 albums during his long career that brought to him three Grammy awards, all for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Rhythm and Blues nowadays lack rhythm and blues. Lou could teach the boys and girls today a thing or two about the art of singing, and singing for real.
He was the undisputed master of smooth. The moody baritone of Lou Rawls first struck No. 1 on the R&B charts with “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing”, a song that started the sale of over 40 million records for him.
With a sensuous voice that combined calm strength with clear tones and precise fluidity and the texture of rich velvet, Rawls forever left a mark on the history of pop music in America. Classy, charming, polite, dedicated to the cause of the United Negro College Fund, dedicated to the cause of life, Rawls owned magnificence as if it were a gift from God. And it was.
He nearly died in a car crash in 1958 while touring the Southern states of America with Sam Cooke and his band, The Travelers. Rawls was pronounced dead before he even got to the hospital. He beat the odds, coming out of a coma and recuperating for a year, re-discovering his memory during that fight for life. He quietly considered that crisis a life-changing event.
The voice of Louis Rawls sounded like an event every time that he sang. I’ve no doubt lives were changed because of his opulent romantic tones. We’ll never find another voice like his.