Louis Allen Rawls (December 1, 1933 – January 6, 2006) was an American soul music, jazz, and blues singer. He was known for his smooth vocal style: Frank Sinatra once said that Rawls had "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game". Rawls released more than 70 albums, sold more than 40 million records, appeared as an actor in motion pictures and on television, and voiced-over many cartoons. He had been called "The Funkiest Man Alive".
After graduating from Chicago's Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, Rawls enlisted in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. He left the "All-Americans" three years later as a sergeant, and hooked up with The Pilgrim Travelers as he traveled to Los Angeles. 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." Rawls himself charted with a cover of the song 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. On August 21, 1966, he opened for The Beatles at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
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."
After leaving Capitol in 1971, Rawls joined MGM, at which juncture he released his Grammy-winning single "Natural Man." 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've Heard 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.
In 1982, Rawls received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
According to an Associated Press article, dated December 19, 2005, Rawls tried to annul his two-year marriage to Nina Malek Inman Rawls, a former flight attendant, in order to "protect hundreds of thousands of dollars" that his wife "absconded" with. Nina Rawls, who acted as his manager for two years, explained that she transferred nearly $350,000 of his into an account she solely controlled in order to prevent one of Rawls' daughters from seizing it. The couple had a son together, Aiden Allen Rawls.
In December 2005, it was announced that Rawls was being treated for lung and brain cancer. The singer died on January 6, 2006 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from complications of the cancers, with his wife at his side. Besides his wife and youngest son, he left behind two adult daughters - Louanna Rawls and Kendra Smith, and an adult son, Lou Rawls, Jr.
In 1980, Rawls began the "Lou Rawls Parade of Stars Telethon" which benefits the United Negro College Fund. The annual event, known since 1998 as "An Evening of Stars: A Celebration of Educational Excellence", consists of stories of successful African-American students who have benefited from and/or graduated from one of the many historically black colleges and universities who receive support from the UNCF, along with musical performances from various recording artists in support of the UNCF's and Rawls' efforts. The event has raised over US$200 million in 27 shows for the fund through 2006.
In January 2004, Rawls was honored by the United Negro College Fund for his more than 25 years of charity work with the organization. Instead of hosting and performing as he usually did, Rawls was given the seat of honor and celebrated by his performing colleagues, including Stevie Wonder, The O'Jays, Gerald Levert, Ashanti, and many others. His final television performance occurred during the 2005-2006 edition of the telethon, honoring Stevie Wonder in September 2005, just months before entering the hospital and after having been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year. This program, aired in January, 2006, contains his final public television performance, where he performed two classics, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," and a final ode to Frank Sinatra with, "It Was A Very Good Year."
At the time of Rawls' death, news and UNCF figures noted the significance of Rawls' final performance, "It Was a Very Good Year." The song is a retrospective of one's life and its lyrics include, "When I was seventeen, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for small town girls and soft summer nights...And now those days grow short, it is the autumn of years, and now I think about life as vintage wine from fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs, it pours sweet and clear, it was a very good year."
Throughout Rawls' singing career, he had the opportunity to appear in many films, television shows, and commercials. He can be seen in such films as Leaving Las Vegas, Blues Brothers 2000, and Angel, Angel, Down We Go. He had a supporting role in the Baywatch spin-off, Baywatch Nights. He also appeared in the western television series, Big Valley, (starring legend Barbara Stanwyck, along with Lee Majors and Linda Evans) where he play a hired hand. Here, he delivered the memorial line: "Ain't a horse that can't be rode; ain't a man that can't be throwed".
For many years, he was a spokesperson for the Colonial Penn Life Insurance Company. He was also a spokesman for Budweiser, helping promote the brand on radio and TV to African-American markets much as Ed McMahon did for the white audience. Budweiser was a key sponsor for the Rawls telethon and UNCF.
Rawls was also a regular guest host on "Jazz Central", a program aired on the BET Jazz cable channel.
He appears as "the colon doctor" in a dream on My Wife and Kids, where he breaks into song.
Rawls appears as a commentator in the second half of the unrated commentary of "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"
Rawls was also a guest star during the second season of The Muppet Show.