Lou Rawls and Brooksie Harrington

Lou Rawls and Brooksie Harrington

Everybody, to some degree, can sing. Some carry tunes in a bucket, haphazardly scattering notes within the confines of a lifetime. Others sing a tad better, becoming household names, known more for performance antics than for vocal abilities. And yet there is still another group of singers, whose talents exceed even their imaginations and the public declares them vocal stars. Finally, there is the penultimate “chanteur,” unlike any of the aforementioned, for whose talents the English language almost seems too slightly inelegant to describe. Louis Allen Rawls (Lou Rawls), reared by his grandmother in a Baptist Church on South Side Chicago and mentored by high school friend Sam Cooke, is just such a person. So highly revered by his peers was he that even Frank Sinatra, “Chairman of the Board, deferred graciously when the l917 Downbeat magazine poll declared Rawls, not Sinatra, America’s most popular male vocalists. According to Sinatra, Rawls had the “silkiest chops in the singing game.”

Lou Rawls’ voice was a manifestation of an inward “giftedness” that not only enabled him to enjoy the privileges of stardom but also created deeply rooted dialogues, via aesthetics, with his fellow human beings. His songs were ones with which people could relate, according to Mr. Rawls, who wanted “the man on the corner waiting for the bus” to be able to say,” ‘Yeah that’s right.’ ” His indelible sense of communal otherness manifested itself in multiple ways. In terms of musical genres, Rawls traversed several different paths. With the help of Sam Cooke for whom he later sang backup, his professional musical roots began in African American Gospel Music. He became a member of several different quartets: the Highway QC’s, Soul Stirrers, and the Pilgrim Travelers. However, he didn’t record his first solo gospel album, I’m Blessed, until 200l. While many fans are aware of his “pre-rap musical forays with Dead End Street and Tobacco Road, few realize that the album ‘At Last’ garnered him a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocalist. Even less known to some fans is his work with children’s music. As the musical voice of Garfield, he received another Grammy for Best Recording for Children. Likewise he can be heard as Harvey the Mailman on the Nickelodeon series, Hey Arnold.

Lou Rawls and Brooksie Harrington

Lou Rawls and Brooksie Harrington

Lou Rawls, as a performer of the secular and sacred music, used his position in popular culture as a forum to do good. Having been in the military, he eventually, beginning in l980, rendered concerts to military bases around the world. Equally as magnanimous was his commitment, both monetarily and aesthetically, to the United Negro College Fund. While not a college graduate himself, he deeply believed in the power of higher education. (Eventually, he received several honorary doctorates.) Mr. Rawls said that-“For him entertainment was a privilege to be enjoyed, but education was a gift to be shared.” Through his work, he has raised over two hundred million dollars for this fund, which provided him with its humanitarian award during 2004. In September 2005, even though quite ill, he performed for the last telethon, his commitments to higher education being that strong.

As strong as his public persona was, the real crux of this man was his deep abiding spirituality that under girded his music and his life, rising to the surface only when he spoke privately. When a graduate student at Ohio State University, I was prithee to his rather less public conversations when I accompanied and subsequently interviewed him at the Governor’s Mansion in Ohio. From him, I learned the indelible imprint that spiritualism left upon the soul. And he spoke about the reasons for entering secular music and why its hold was more on his economics than his heart. For him, the aesthetics evident within African-American Gospel Music far outweighed any recognition he would acclaim as a Pop Star. In addition, he spoke about the way in which gospel music represents a ‘cross-genre’ that possesses a far reaching influence internationally. More importantly, Rawls helped me recognize how this characteristic resurfaces, often times through aesthetic moments codified through the metaphor of gospel music.

I am honored to have been your accompanist.

Brooksie



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