Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 1 December 1933, Chicago; d 6 January 2005 of cancer, Los Angeles CA) Most references said he was born in 1935, but his family said he was 72 when he died. He was a gospel/soul/jazz-influenced pop singer and actor with a velvety voice, initially popular in black charts but soon crossed over. He began in gospel music, joining classmate Sam Cooke in the Teenage Kings of Harmony. He served in the U.S. Army, joined the Pilgrim Travelers on the west coast, turned secular and was badly injured in a car crash in the late 1950s while touring with Cooke. (They recorded a duet, 'Bring It On Home To Me' in 1962.) He was a solo regular in Los Angeles jazz clubs when he was signed by Capitol Records in 1960. His first album was Stormy Monday with pianist Les McCann. From the beginning his work was slick, but with his beautiful voice and his magnetic stage presence he was widely popular with black and white audiences alike. By the end of the decade he was recording with string orchestras. He continued having hit albums and dabbled in disco, but when the national radio station Jazz FM was launched in Britain in 1990 and played too many Lou Rawls tracks, the station became a rueful joke amongst jazz fans. There was no doubting his commitment to the community, however; his annual telethons for the United Negro College Fund raised over $200 million.