Louis Allen “Lou” Rawls (December 1, 1933 – January 6, 2006) was an American recording artist, voice actor, songwriter, and record producer.
He is best known for his singing ability: Frank Sinatra once said that Rawls had “the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game”.
Rawls released more than 60 albums, sold more than 40 million records, and had numerous charting singles, most notably his song “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”. He worked as a television, motion picture, and voice actor. He was also a three-time Grammy-winner, all for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.
Rawls was born in Chicago on December 1, 1933, and raised by his grandmother in the Ida B. Wells projects on the city’s South Side.
He began singing in the Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church choir at the age of seven and later sang with local groups through which he met future music stars Sam Cooke, who was nearly three years older than Rawls, and Curtis Mayfield.
After graduating from Chicago’s Dunbar Vocational High School, he sang briefly with Cooke in the Teenage Kings of Harmony, a local gospel group, and then with the Holy Wonders.
In 1951, Rawls replaced Cooke in the Highway QC’s after Cooke departed to join The Soul Stirrers in Los Angeles. Rawls was soon recruited by the Chosen Gospel Singers and moved to Los Angeles, where he subsequently joined the Pilgrim Travelers.
In 1955, Rawls enlisted in the United States Army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. He left the “All-Americans” three years later as a sergeant and rejoined the Pilgrim Travelers (then known as the Travelers). In 1958, while touring the South with the Travelers and Sam Cooke, Rawls was in a serious car crash.
Rawls was pronounced dead before arriving at the hospital, where he stayed in a coma for five and a half days. It took him months to regain his memory, and a year to fully recuperate. Rawls considered the event to be life-changing.
Alongside Dick Clark as master of ceremonies, Rawls was recovered enough by 1959 to be able to perform at the Hollywood Bowl.
He was signed to Capitol Records in 1962, the same year he sang the soulful background vocals on the Sam Cooke recording of “Bring It On Home to Me” and “That’s Where It’s At,” both written by Cooke.
Rawls himself charted with a cover of “Bring It On Home to Me” in 1970 (with the title shortened to “Bring It On Home”).
Rawls’ first Capitol solo release was Stormy Monday (a.k.a. I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water), a jazz album with Les McCann in 1962.
The next two Capitol releases did well and used Onzy Matthews as the musical director along with a 17-piece big band; both these albums (Black and Blue, Tobacco Road) charted with Billboard and helped to propel him into the national spotlight as a recording artist.
Though his 1966 album Live! went gold, Rawls would not have a star-making hit until he made a proper soul album, appropriately named Soulin’, later that same year.
The album contained his first R&B #1 single, “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing”. In 1967 Rawls won his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, for the single “Dead End Street.” In 1967, Rawls also performed at the first evening of the Monterey International Pop Music Festival.
In 1969, the singer was co-host of NBC’s summer replacement series for the Dean Martin Show along with Martin’s daughter, singer Gail Martin.
After leaving Capitol in 1971, Rawls joined MGM, at which juncture he released his Grammy-winning single “Natural Man” written for him by comedian Sandy Baron and singer Bobby Hebb. He had a brief stint with Bell Records in 1974, where he recorded a cover of Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone.”
In 1976, Rawls signed with Philadelphia International Records, where he had his greatest album success with the million-selling All Things in Time.
The album produced his most successful single, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”, which topped the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts and went to number two on the pop side, becoming Rawls’ only certified million-selling single in the process.
Subsequent albums, such as 1977’s When You Hear Lou, You’ve Heard It All yielded such hit singles as “Lady Love”. Other releases in the 1970s included the classic album Sit Down And Talk To Me.
Rawls’ 1977 Grammy Awards performance of “You’ll Never Find” was disrupted by a coughing fit.
In 1982, Rawls received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He sang the lyrics to WGN-TV’s 1983 “Chicago’s Very Own” ad campaign, a slogan that the station still uses to this day.
On January 19, 1985, he sang Wind Beneath My Wings at the nationally-televised 50th Presidential Inaugural Gala the day before the second inauguration of Ronald Reagan. He was introduced by Patricia Neal.
In 1989, he performed vocals for “The Music and Heroes of America” segment in the animated television miniseries This is America, Charlie Brown.