Rawls paying tribute to Sinatra at Centre concert

September 26, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Longtime vocal great Lou Rawls loves to see and feel the action of the audience when he performs. He likes seeing the excitement and "the romance that you can see in the audience on certain songs."

And he likes it when concert attendees stop him and say, "Man, you brought back some fond memories," Rawls says.

Fond memories and a "musical trip" are in store when Rawls performs Saturday in Newlin Hall at Centre College.

That "musical trip" is one of his challenges in performing, Rawls says. He likes to see if he still can excite his audiences.

Rawls' Danville concert will be "a variety of things I've recorded over the years" with "no surprises," he notes. Additionally, he'll be singing songs identified with the late Frank Sinatra, who gave him one of the finest compliments he ever received, Rawls says. Sinatra praised Rawls for having "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game."


"Sinatra was a great entertainer," Rawls notes. "And over the years, he gave me one of the highest compliments I could get. He recorded some great music, some great songs that should be brought to the attention to the new public."

Rawls defines the "new public" as the younger people today.

"They are the people who are not that aware of Sinatra, who had some great songs. And whether he did them or not, there was some great music. So I use that title, 'Rawls Sing Sinatra' because those songs were identified with him."

Four-time Grammy winner

Rawls is a four-time Grammy Award winner whose music crosses genre boundaries and includes gospel, blues, jazz, soul and pop. Gospel music was his beginning 40-something years ago.

"I guess you could say that was my education to music," Rawls explains. "I continue singing in all genres. I had a gospel album released a little over a year ago.

"I started out singing in the junior choir. That was a definite thing I had to do. I was raised by my grandmother and I had to go to church every Sunday."

Choir time was a chance for Rawls, who was raised on the south side of Chicago, to move out of the pews when he was a kid, he adds.

"My grandmother was sitting in the pews, reacting to the minister. I was ducking and diving (in the pews) and she would hit me upside my head. The minister would say, 'Let the kids go before I start.' That was my out - junior choir."

Rawls grew up with Sam Cooke, and they formed a teenage quartet with two other friends.

"When I was growing up on the south side of Chicago, in the neighborhood you would see shows at the Regal," Rawls says. "Then you'd sit on the corner and try to harmonize like the groups you just saw.

"We started together and stayed in contact. When he moved to California, he sent me songs he recorded. I'm on some of his records but I wasn't paid. That's how close we were."

His early influences

Rawls cites among his and Cooke's early influences artists such as Nat King Cole, Joe Williams and Al Hibler.

"Those were the people we grew up listening to and seeing at the Regal, at live stage shows," Rawls explains. "The Regal was part of the African-American theater circuit."

Besides touring, current projects for Rawls include wrapping up a Christmas album that will be released in October or November as well as a special project for Barnes and Noble and recently taping his television show for the United Negro College Fund, a telethon with which he has been involved for 26 years, he says. In the future, Rawls will be doing the voice-over for Bill Cosby's new show, "Fatherhood."

"There are things that come up that you don't really have any advance notice on, especially in the TV industry," Rawls adds. "In the TV movie industry, you might get a call - I might get a call later on today - to see if I'm interested in doing a cameo. (The calls) come out of left field - they're hard to predict."

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