Lou Rawls was born on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. His father abandoned the family and he was raised by
his grandmother. Lou began his career by singing gospel and was a member of his Baptist church choir when he was seven
years old. As a teen, he got to see Bill Eckstine, Arthur Prysock and Joe Williams at the Regal Theatre. He loved the way
they could lift the sprirt of an audience. He and classmate Sam Cooke were influenced by doo-wop and they joined
groups such as the Teenage Kings of Harmony.
In the fifties, Lou traveled to Los Angeles and was recuited for the Chosen Gospel Singers. This is where
he was first heard on record. He moved on to the Pilgrim Travelers. He enlisted in the Army in 1955 and was a Screaming
Eagle paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division, the All Americans. After three years, Lou left
the military with the rank of Sereant and rejoined the Travelers.
In 1958, while on tour in Arkansas with Sam Cooke and the Travelers, a serious car accident nearly ended
his life. The chauffeur was killed. Sam Cooke was fortunate enough to escape with slight injuries. But Lou was in serious
condition and was mistakenly pronounced dead on the way to the hospital. He survived the accident although he had slipped
into a coma for 5 1/2 days. He suffered from memory loss for months and it took a year to complete recovery.
The accident made him see life differently. He saw many reasons to live. He began to learn all of the elements that had been
lacking from his life like acceptance, direction, understanding and perception.
Lou played small R&B, pop and soul clubs in Los Angeles. He performed at Pandora's Box Coffee Shop for $10
a night plus pizza in late 1959. Nick Venet, a producer at Capitol saw him perform and was extremely impressed with
his four-octave range that he invited him to make an audition tape. With that done, Lou was signed to Capitol. His
debut album was I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water. It became the first of more than 20 albums on Capitol in only
a decade. Lou shot to the top with Love Is A Hurtin' Thing in 1966. It was nominated for two Grammy Awards, for Best
R&B Recording and Best R&B Solo Vocal Performance.
His records, World of Trouble and Tobacco Road were each more than seven minutes long. Today, some
critics consider it "pre-rap." But Lou had admitted that the style had grown out of necessity. He worked at small
joints where the stage was located behind the bar. The performer stood right over the cash register and crushed ice machine.
He would sing and the waitress would suddenly yell out the drinks order. And then the bartender would put the ice in
the crusher. Lou needed a way to get the attention of the audence. So it began that he just started talking the song
to the music. This style became so popular that Lou's 1967 album Dead End Street garnered him his first
Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance.
In 1971, he won Downbeat magazine's poll for favorite male vocalist. He had beat out perennial champ Frank Sinatra.
Frank Sinatra praised Lou for having "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game." He started out in the
1970's with his second Grammy Award for Natural Man. During the late 1970's disco was extremely popular. Lou
balked at the trend with its repetitionous beat. A lyric had to mean something to him, something that has happened to him.
He tried to look for songs that the average person could relate to. Other artists gave in to the beat. Lou,
on the other hand moved to Philadelphia International. Producers/songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were well
known for their Philly sound. The result was that Lou's next song, You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)
became his biggest hit. The following year, he had won his third Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance
for Unmistakably Lou.
Greatly known for his extensive charity work, Lou became the corporate spokesman for Amheuser Busch, the
world's leading brewery. In 1980, this lead to the company's sponsorship for two events which still continues today.
The first was a series of concerts for American military personnel on bases around the world and the second was a
telethon with proceeds which are now more than $200 million. They are donated to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
He also sponsors a celebrity golf tournament in Los Angeles to raise money for UNCF.
His humanitarian efforts have been extremely rewarding. They have earned him many honors and a street named after him
in Chicago. South Wentworth Avenue became Lou Rawls Drive. Lou never went to college, but his tireless
work and importance on getting a solid education has enabled others to go. He has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates.
The most recently noted from Florida Memorial College. But his work for UNCF has been a great personal joy.
He has said that he remembered a woman who approached him once to say, "Thank you. You made my grandson the first college
grad in our family." He add, "That makes it all worth it."
Lou furthered his career by branching out into acting. His TV appearances include This Is Tom
Jones (1969); Western drama The Big Valley in 1969, Detective series Mannix (1972), The Fall Guy (1981)
and Baywatch in 1992. He was also cast as a regular during the first season in the Baywatch spin-off,
Baywatch Nights as Lou Raymond, owner of nightclub, Baywatch Nights.
His movie credits include The Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), Watchers Reborn (1998), Everything's
Jake (2000), Bel Air (2000), The Code Consiracy in 2001 and Betaville (2001). His most recent
movie is Uh Oh! (2003).
In 1998 Lou released the album Season 4 U on his own then newly created record label, Rawls & Brokaw
Records. With his extremely busy schedule, Lou continues to tour from clubs to jazz festivals around the
world. He has appeared at scheduled events at the Kona Brewing Company in Kona, Hawaii on November 1, 2003;
The Jefferson Theater in Beaumont, Texas on November 2, 2003; the Blue Note in New York, New York on November
13-16 and the Scullers Jazz Club in Boston Massachusetts on November 19-22, 2003. He also had a guest appearance
for The Wayne Brady Show on December 8, 2003.