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News:
Reaction, Condolensces Pour In After Four Tops Singer's Death
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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The Motown family lost one of its most powerful voices with Friday's death of Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, Jr.

The 72-year-old Stubbs -- who Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., called "the greatest interpreter of songs I've ever heard" -- died in his sleep early Friday morning at his home in Detroit after a long series if illnesses -- including cancer and a stroke -- that forced him to stop performing in 2000.

Funeral arrangements are pending for Stubbs, who is survived by Clineice, his wife of 48 years, five children and grandchildren.

The Temptations' Otis Williams saluted Stubbs "our black Frank Sinatra," explaining that "what made Sinatra unique was the way he'd phrase the song. Levi had that same kind of talent; whatever he was singing he would phrase it so uniquely that you would just stand there in awe."

The Motown Alumni Association's Billy J. Wilson said on Friday that Stubbs "had one of the most prolific and identifiable voices in American history. It's a deep loss, to the entire Motown family and to the world."

Stubbs' death leaves Abdul "Duke" Fakir as the Top's only living member from the original quartet, which formed in 1954 as the Four Aims and signed with Motown nine years later. Laurence Payton passed away in 1997, and Renaldo "Obie" Benson died in 2005. Fakir continues to lead a version of the Tops that includes Payton's son Roquel, former Temptations member Theo Peoples and Motown veteran Ronnie McNeir.

In a statement, Gordy noted that "he could easily have made it as a solo star, but his love and loyalty for Obie, Laurence and Duke kept them together longer than any group I know. His integrity and character were impeccable."

Stubbs, who was born Levi Stubbles in Detroit and graduated from Pershing High School,- gave voice to enduring hits such as "Baby I Need Your Loving," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Brenadette" and others. The Tops have sold more than 50 million records and racked up 45 chart hits for the Motown, ABC Dunhill and Casablanca labels, and the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Stubbs also provided the voice of Audrey II, the man-eating plant in the film version of the musical "Little Shop of Horrors" in 1986, and of Mother Brain in the 1989 animated TV series "Captain N: The Game Master."

Gordy said Friday that Stubbs was his first choice for the romantic lead in the Diana Ross film vehicle "Lady Sings the Blues" but that he turned down the role "because he thought it would interfere with the group's future success."

Stubbs' last public appearance with the group came at the group's 50th Anniversary Concert on July 28, 2004 at the Detriot Opera House.

The Temptations' Williams that the wheelchair-bound Stubbs came to see his group perform with the current Four Tops a couple of times this year, in Toledo and at the DTE Energy Music Theatre "We had him in the dressing room and sang 'Baby I Need Your Loving'...He would try to sing along with us, and as he was singing you could see tears well up in his eyes. He just longed to be on stage and do what he was known to do."

Brian and Eddie Holland, who co-wrote many of the Tops' hits with partner Lamont Dozier, said in a statement that "Working with Levi was one of the most inspirational aspects of the time we spent at Motown. Just listening to the way he was able to deliver the HDH songs brought more beauty to them than we could have imagined...He was an inspiration to us as songwriters and producers."

In a separate statement, Dozier called Stubbs "one of the most emulated and respected vocalists of our time. Levi was a beautiful individual spiritually and helped a lot of people with his tremendous talent."

Smokey Robinson commented that Stubbs "was one of the great voices of all times. He was very near and dear to my heart," while Daryl Hall said that "not only was Levi a nice guy, but he had one of the most distinctive voices of all of the Motown artists. He created a style so unique that it actually was never really imitated. And, the songs that he sang, like all great songs, will remain timeless."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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