Soul-stirring music and laughter — two of Lou Rawls’ favorite things — made for a joyous celebration of the late singer’s life Friday.
The 2½-hour church funeral was filled with affection and memories of Rawls, who died Jan. 6 of lung cancer. The program gave his age as 72, although other records indicate he was 70.
“We’re going to miss his love because it was real, it’s pure,” singer Stevie Wonder told mourners. “We got you, Lou. We got you forever and always.”
Among the hundreds of mourners were Little Richard, actors Lou Gossett Jr., Angela Bassett, David Hasselhoff, and Kenny Gamble, who produced Rawls’ 1976 hit “You’ll Never Find.”
They clapped and swayed to the performances of gospel singer and pastor Andre Crouch, Wonder, actress Della Reese and 1960s peace activist Joan Baez, who had the crowd on its feet and singing along to “Amazing Grace.”
Willie Rogers of the Soul Stirrers gospel quartet, which Rawls performed with, brought the house down on “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Granddaughter Katrina Smith remembered the way Rawls spoiled her and sister Chayil.
“He used to take us on late candy runs,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t let us go to bed till we ate all of it.”
‘Authentic, an original’Reese and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who presided over the service, recalled visiting Rawls in the hospital toward the end of his life.
“We laughed and we talked about all these things we used to do that I won’t tell you,” said Reese, who met Rawls when he was an unknown backup singer for soul legend Sam Cooke. “Lou knew who he was and where he belonged.”
Jackson said the two men recalled their formative years in their native Chicago, where Rawls was raised on the South Side by his grandmother.
“We walked down memory lane,” Jackson said. “He began to hum. The nurse said he was getting tired and Lou said, ‘I don’t want to stop this groove.”’
Jackson eulogized Rawls as “authentic, an original, a source of light in dark places.”
Rawls never went to college, but he raised more than $200 million for the United Negro College Fund during 27 years of TV telethons.
“He told me, ‘Sending those kids to school, that’s my real passion,”’ Jackson said. “Who is left among the artists fighting for children now? You’ll never find an odds-buster and dreammaker who sent the kids to school. Lou, it’s all over now, but count it all good. We thank you, Lou, for coming this way.”
Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the UNCF, said the Lou Rawls lifetime achievement award would be presented to an artist during next year’s telethon.
“Lou was a pioneer,” he said. “Long before Angelina Jolie knew hunger existed, Lou was breaking the cycle of poverty at home.”
Dr. Robert Perry was a friend of Rawls’ for 20 years and godfather to the singer’s youngest son, Aidan, who turned 1 on Tuesday.
‘I’m happier than I’ve ever been’Perry recalled sitting in the backyard of Rawls’ Ohio home after the singer had been diagnosed with cancer.
“He asked, ‘Doc, in your wildest dreams, could you ever imagine me turning into that cat from ‘Leave It to Beaver’?” he said.
Perry laughed and asked Rawls if he was happy.
“I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” the singer responded.
“But we both knew on that summer afternoon he was dying,” Perry said. “But Lou said, ‘It ain’t about the time anymore, it’s about enjoying the time that is left.”’
Nina Rawls, his wife of two years, took the podium and said, “Lou loved everyone. His whole world revolved around helping everyone he came in contact with. I know the heavens are resonating with the sound of your voice.”
She said Rawls closed all of his performances “with a song he hoped everyone would live by.”
At that, Rawls’ smooth, four-octave baritone filled the church, reminding everyone they have “One Life to Live.”