Micky Ferreira was a friend of Lou Rawls for 35 years. Joan Browne knew him only as a fan, but both turned out Thursday to pay respects to the man they agreed had one of the finest voices this side of heaven.
“I’ve been a fan of his for many, many years,” Browne said outside the funeral home where Rawls’ body awaits burial Friday. “That voice, that sexy voice. You know it’s him.”
Rawls, known for both his velvety voice and his dedication to the United Negro College Fund, for which he raised more than $200 million, died Jan. 6 of lung cancer. His family and publicist Paul Shefrin said the singer was 72, although other records indicate he was 70.
“I’m at a loss to describe Lou,” said Ferreira, who noted that Rawls was best man at his wedding and godfather to his three children. “There were so many accomplishments and so many magnificent gestures in his life — not to mention the finest vocal pipes God has given. He was my best friend and I miss him.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson will preside at Brown’s funeral.
Inside the funeral home’s chapel, Rawls was laid out in a purple jacket, black turtleneck and black knit cap. His music, including the hit “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” filled the flower-scented air as small knots of people filed by his gleaming casket.
Eight huge floral sprays surrounded the casket, and there was a placard for the United Negro College Fund.
“We liked his music and respected him because of the United Negro College Fund,” mourner Mildred Collins said. “He wanted to make sure those kids get an education. He set a very good example for those kids.”
John Molinare, who was Rawls’ road manager for the last 13 years, said the singer was never too busy to stop and sign autographs or pose for pictures for people who approached him in public, although he and Molinare would sometimes have fun at those fans’ expense.
“As a joke, when they were walking away, I’d say, ‘See, Fred, you do look like Lou Rawls,”’ Molinare recalled. “He had a good sense of humor.”
Louise Pittman, 66, was typical of the predominantly older fans who came by to see Rawls and sign guest books outside the chapel.
“I’ve always enjoyed his singing,” she said. “He was a very good man. We all loved him."