Motown Records patriarch Berry Gordy Jr. and hundreds of others attended Monday’s funeral for legendary Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs, whose stirring baritone made the group one of the most recognizable in American music during the 1960s and into the ’70s.
“He made us walk in his shoes, felt what he felt and loved what he loved,” Gordy told Stubbs’ family, friends and fans at Greater Grace Temple. “He not only sang the song, he was the song.
“A Levi Stubbs comes along only once — period.”
Stubbs died in his sleep Oct. 17 at his Detroit home. He was 72.
For more than 40 years, Stubbs performed with Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo Benson. Songs like “Bernadette,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” were among the hits they churned out.
Stubbs will continue to live on through the group’s songs, said friend and Motown legend Smokey Robinson.
“He will always be here,” Robinson said. “You’re going to turn on the radio and hear him tomorrow. He made his mark on the world. All over the world, you’ll be able to hear Levi Stubbs forever.”
The Four Tops were an established group before joining Gordy’s Motown in 1963. They blossomed with the writing team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, going on to sell millions of records.
In 1964, they hit the charts with “Baby I Need Your Loving,” and followed that up with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).”
The Four Tops toured for decades after their heyday and reached the charts as late as 1988 with “Indestructible” on Arista Records. In 1986, Stubbs provided the voice for Audrey II the man-eating plant in the film “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Stubbs’ death leaves Fakir as the lone surviving member of the original group. Payton died of liver cancer in 1997. Benson died of lung cancer in 2005.
A number of former Motown singers and writers attended Monday’s services. Two resolutions honoring Stubbs and the Four Tops also were read. One named Stubbs’ June 6 birthday as “Levi Stubbs Day” in Detroit.
“He stayed in Detroit,” Councilwoman JoAnn Watson said. “He could have gone anywhere, but he stayed with his wife, stayed with his group, stayed with the Four Tops.”
That longevity and dedication to one another makes the Four Tops “a great family story of our times,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said during remarks at the funeral service.
“He resisted the temptation to become Levi and the Three Tops,” Jackson said of Stubbs.