Written by West Adams' Landmarks of African American History
From West Adams' Landmarks of African American History
His voice is as distinctive and instantly recognizable as any in music. From his early days in gospel to his collaborations with Sam Cooke, from The Dick Clark Show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1959 to the opening for The Beatles in 1962 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, from his monologues in the Seventies that presaged rap music to becoming a “crossover” artist before the term was invented, there has been one constant in Lou Rawls’ career — a voice that one critic has called “sweet as sugar, soft as velvet, strong as steel, smooth as butter.”
Not surprisingly, he began by singing gospel. Raised on the South Side of Chicago by his grandmother, he was a member of his Baptist church choir when he was seven. In the 1950s, Rawls ventured to Los Angeles and joined the Chosen Gospel Singers and, later, the Pilgrim Travelers. Early in his career, Rawls purchased this West Adams-area residence from Dr. William Jamison, a veterinarian.
Rawls was performing in Los Angeles at Pandora’s Box Coffee Shop for $10 a night plus pizza in late 1959 when Nick Venet, a producer at Capitol, was so impressed with his four-octave range that he invited him to make an audition tape. He did, and Rawls was signed to Capitol. I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water, his 1962 solo debut album, 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.
During this period, Rawls began his hip monologues about life and love on World of Trouble and Tobacco Road, each more than seven minutes long. Called “pre-rap” by some, for Rawls they grew out of necessity. “I was working in little joints where the stage would be behind the bar. There had to be a way to get the attention of the people. So instead of just starting in singing, I would just start in talking the song.” His “raps” were so popular that 1967’s Dead End Street won him his first Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance.
Sinatra once said of the two of them that they were saloon singers—voices reaching into hearts and souls. Through the years, Rawls stayed true to his voice. “People may not know what I’m doing,” he said of his changing styles, “but they know it’s me.”
Established in August of 2008 by writer, artist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.