Person of the Week: Lou Rawls

"Sweet as sugar," was how one critic described Lou Rawls' baritone voice -- "soft as velvet, strong as steel, smooth as butter."

Music was in his blood. Louis Allen Rawls was born on the south side of Chicago in 1935. His grandmother introduced him to gospel singing when he was 5.

In the late '50s, he joined the gospel group Pilgrim Travelers with his high school classmate, legendary soul singer Sam Cooke.

He sang anything and everything -- gospel, rhythm and blues, doo-wop, jazz, soul and pop.

"From note one, even from note one, I knew when I hear him sing or even hear him say hello in that very, very deep voice, you knew who he was," said jazz singer Diane Reeves.

Rawls was a crossover artist before the term was even invented.

"You never saw Lou go on stage not looking immaculate," said colleague H.P. Barnum. "Even back to the early days, even when the suits didn't cost but $10, it was a suit, it was a tie. He was a gentleman in that respect."

Rawls was prolific, recording more than 60 albums and selling more than 40 million copies. His 1976 album, "All Things In Time," went platinum.

And the single from that album, "You'll Never Find," was his biggest hit. During his 40-year career he won three Grammys.

But music wasn't his only artistic outlet. He called acting his second love, appearing in dozens of films and television shows, and doing voice-overs for children's cartoons.

Humanitarian Work

There was a lot more to Lou Rawls' life than show business. He was also a humanitarian.

In 1979, he started "The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars," a musical telethon for the United Negro College Fund.

In his 25 years as host, he raised more than $200 million, helping many of the 65,000 students who receive scholarships every year. Rawls said his work that raised money for scholarships brought joy -- he himself never went to college.

"We could be walking down the street some place," said Barnum, "and someone would come up to him and say, 'Hey man, you're Lou Rawls,' and say, 'Thank you so much, man. I went to school because of you.'"

Late last year Rawls performed, for the last time, at a United Negro College Fund benefit, singing "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," as a tribute to his friend Stevie Wonder.

Early in his career Rawls won a magazine poll for favorite male artist, besting perennial winner Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra didn't care; he was a fan and once said that they both have "voices, that's all, reaching into hearts and souls."

ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas filed this report for "World News Tonight."

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...