Article published in on January 16, 2006

Lou Rawl Dies at 72 (1933-2006)

By Regina Washintong (co-authored by Dino M. Zaffina)

Louis Allen Rawls died on January 6, 2006, while a patient at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Rawls had been hospitalized in December for lung and brain cancer treatment. Lou Rawls was 72. Rawls’ wife Nina was with him in his final hours. He is also survived by his three children, Lou Rawls, Jr., Louanna Rawls, and Kendra Smith who are all adults, and his infant son, Aiden.

Rawls began singing gospel in the South Side of Chicago after he was introduced to the sweet sound of church music by his grandmother. At age seven he joined his Baptist church choir. Rawls loved doo-wop; he would spend numerous hours harmonizing with his childhood friend Sam Cooke. Later, they joined singing groups together such as the Teenage Kings of Harmony.

Just after turning 21, Rawls moved to Los Angeles to join a touring gospel group, the Pilgrim Travelers. He remained with the group until he enlisted in the Army in 1955 and became a paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, the “All Americans.” Three years later, Sergeant Rawls left the service and rejoined the Travelers.

Rawls death on the 6th of January was not his first. After a car accident in 1958, he was pronounced dead at the scene. Rawls spent five days in a coma before awaking with some memory loss. Afterwards, he spent the next year in rehabilitation. As a result of this accident, one passenger died, and his good friend Cooke suffered some minor injuries.

After his recovery, Rawls began to play small R&B, pop, and soul clubs in Los Angeles. During one of his performances at Pandora’s Box Coffee Shop, he was discovered by Nick Venet, a producer at Capitol Records. Venet was impressed with Rawls’ four-octave range, so he suggested that he make an audition tape. Without missing a beat, Rawls made that tape and was signed to Capitol.

In 1962, Rawls solo debut album, I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water, 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. This hit single provided Rawls with two nominations for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance.

In the ‘80s, Rawls was instrumental in the sponsorship by Anheuser Busch of two events, which continue to this day. The company organizes a series of concerts for U.S. military men and women on bases around the world. They also produce a telethon whose proceeds, now more than $200 million, are donated to the United Negro College Fund. 

Rawls entertainment career has span over four decades. During this time he has created over 60 albums which have earned him three Grammy Awards, 13 Grammy nominations, one platinum album, five gold albums, and a gold single.

Writing and singing is not the only talent that Lou Rawls had. He also appeared in 18 movies, including Don King: Only in America and Leaving Las Vegas; and 16 television series, including Martin and Roc.

If anyone would like to pay their respect to Lou Rawls, in lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the United Negro College Fund, 8260 Willow Oaks Corporate Drive, P.O. Box 10444, Fairfax, VA 22031-8044


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