The mellow voice of Lou Rawls covered a range of musical styles including gospel, soul, jazz, do wop, and contemporary easy listening classics. One of his last albums was even a tribute to the songs of Frank Sinatra. Like fellow-Chicagoan Nat King Cole before him, Lou Rawls was a crossover artist before that term was invented, meaning simply that he had many fans in both black and white audiences. Some of his most memorable hits included You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine and Love is a Hurtin' Thing.
Lou was born in Chicago on Dec. 1, 1933. He was raised on the south side by his grandmother Eliza Rawls who introduced him to gospel music in a Baptist Church choir when Lou was age 7. He attended the Doolittle Grammar School on 35th Street where one of his classmates was legendary rock-n-roll music writer and arranger Sam Cooke. The Staple Sisters were also friends in grammar school. As early teens, they formed a street-corner singing group called The Ditry Thirties. Lou and Sam were also classmates at Dunbar Vocational High School at 3000 S. Grand Boulevard (now called Martin Luther King Drive) where they formed a group called The Teenage Harmony Kings in about 1950.
A great influence on Lou's early life was The Chicago Regal Theatre then located at 4719 South Grand Boulevard. Lou saw many great artists perform at The Regal such as Billy Eckstine, Joe Williams, Arthur Prysock, Count Baise, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The Regal was demolished in 1973 and the lot remained vacant for more than twenty years. In the early 1990s, Lou Rawls and Third Ward Alderman Dorothy Tillman met with Mayor Richard M. Daley to push plans for a redevleopment of the site. But the project faced many delays and false starts with one ground breaking in 1993 and another five years later in 1998. Lou distanced himself somewhat from the project during the first series of delays. Finally the plan came together and the $4.2 million project that was started in 1998 was completed in 2004.
For a time during planning and early construction the project was called The Lou Rawls Theater Cultural Center. But Ald. Tillman unilaterally changed the name to The Harold Washington Cultural Center. Lou told reporter Dave Hoekstra of The Chicago Sun-Times that he was not unhappy about the name change, only that Tillman did not consult him after the two had collaborated closely on so many aspects of the redevelopment.
According to Dave Hoekstra, Lou Rawls very much wanted the project to succeed in any form.
"47th and King is too important of a corner and street to let it die," Mr. Rawls told Hoekstra in a 1993 interview. "Most of the entertainers from Chicago cut their teeth in that neighborhood. Myself. Sam Cooke. The Staple Singers. We saw all the live shows at the Regal. When I was growing up, everyone in your neighborhood knew you. They knew your folks. If they saw you doing something wrong, they would call you on it. Every neighborhood was a village."
Lou Rawls died in California on Jan. 6, 2006 at the age of 72.
For more about the life and music of Lou Rawls, see his official web site biography by clicking here.