Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 22, 1999


‘If it ain’t fun, you
have to find something
else to do’


Performing with the Honolulu Symphony Pops, Matt Catingub conducting:

Bullet In concert: 7 p.m. Saturday
Bullet Place: Waikiki Shell
Bullet Special guest: Ginai
Bullet Tickets: $17.50-$55; 100 lawn seats available at $7.50 on concert day
Bullet Call: 538-8863

By Tim Ryan


The voice is both recognizable and daunting. And you can imagine the smile that goes with it lights up a room.

Singer, actor, philanthropist and product pitchman Lou Rawls possesses one of the most unique, throaty voices in music, something that pretty much developed by age 9 and set him on a career in music.

"My grandmother had a rule, and that rule was you went to church every Sunday or else," Rawls said in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles home. "You never wanted to find out what 'else' was, so I joined the junior choir and that made her very happy."

Rawls performs Saturday with the Honolulu Symphony Pops in the first of three Starlight Concerts at the Waikiki Shell.

Rawls says his greatest influence came at Chicago's Regal Theatre, where he went to see the great black entertainers of the day: Billy Eckstein, Arthur Prysock and Joe Williams.

"I loved the way they could lift the spirit of the audience."

Eckstein and Williams would give the impressionable Rawls the best advise he's ever received.

"The key to surviving in this business is being versatile," said the 40-year show-business veteran. "If you lock yourself into one bag, you ain't going to last very long, because audiences have such varied musical tastes."


The first 300 ticket buyers tomorrow will receive a second ticket to the Lou Rawls' concert free:

Bullet Buy tickets in person at the Blaisdell box office

Bullet Or call the symphony box office, 538-8863

Rawls has expanded that versatility beyond music -- he's recorded 77 albums in 38 years.

He's had acting parts -- from "Baywatch Nights," playing the owner of a beachside nightclub, to the recent network television production "Michael Jordan Story." He's also provided his voice for three animated Garfield the Cat specials and was featured on the Garfield soundtrack album.

"But it's all fun," Rawls drawls. "If it ain't fun, you need to find something else to do."

After graduation from Dunbar Trade Technical High School, Rawls joined the touring gospel group Pilgrim Travelers.

Rawls was on the road, singing background with Sam Cooke, when an accident left Rawls in a coma for more than five days. Cooke was unhurt, but a third person was killed. Rawls suffered memory loss for three months.

"I really got a new life out of that, and saw a lot of reasons to live. I realized I had an immature attitude about life," he said. "I began to learn acceptance, direction, understanding and perception -- all elements that had been sadly lacking in my life. I might have lived long enough to learn all this in the long haul, but I would have been just another soul taking up time and space for a long spell before I learned."

His big break came in late 1959 when he was performing at Pandora's Box Coffee Shop in Los Angeles. Nick Benet, a producer with Capitol Records, asked Rawls if he wanted to make a record. The stunned singer did an audition tape and was signed to a contract.

"I knew nothing about the business. I was in transition from gospel music, and I had a lot of trial and error in learning. I was lucky to hook up with good people."

These days Rawls, who performs as many as 200 concerts a year, jokes that "My real home is LAX." He claims not to have a favorite song or style of music.

"It's not my choice," he said. "That belongs to the audience. My job -- because what I do is a job, after all -- is to be as satisfying to the public as possible."

And much of that responsibility is singing the songs people want to hear.

"It's my obligation," he said. "You can't satisfy everyone, but you have to try. I honestly don't have a favorite song because I don't record any song I don't like."

Rawls likes that people listen to the words and know what he's saying.

"When I do 'Love's A Hurtin' Thing' or 'Close Company' I get a tremendous response," he says. "I think that proves I can relate to what my audience feels and thinks."

But what Rawls really enjoys talking about are his philanthropic efforts. In 1976 Rawls began his corporate spokesmanship with Anheuser Busch (brewer of Budweiser), which has backed his support of the United Negro College Fund.

The Lou Rawls' Parade of Stars telethon, sponsored by Busch since 1980, broke the $100 million mark in December 1992, raising funds for 42 Black colleges through telephone pledges.

This year marks Rawls' 20th year of participation, an endeavor he says "helps children to become educated, useful human beings."

"That legacy," Rawls says, " is far more important than any song I have ever sung."

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