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Mourners Celebrate Four Tops' Levi Stubbs

Of the Oakland Press

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DETROIT -- It was a funeral fit for a head of state, and quite fitting for someone known to friends and musical associates as "the Captain."

Four Tops co-founder and longtime lead singer Levi Stubbs was laid to rest on Monday with a two and a half-hour ceremony at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple that was part funeral and part celebration, as it always tends to be when the Motown family gathers to honor one of its own. And as Stubbs, who died Oct. 17 at his home in Detroit at age 72, was one of the most powerful forces in the Motown empire, some of the company's biggest names -- including co-founder Berry Gordy, Jr., Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, Dennis Edwards and Kim Weston -- came to pay their respects.

Gordy, who received a standing ovation from the couple thousand mourners at the church, declared that Stubbs "was greater than soul...He not only sang the song; he [i]was[/i] the song." Robinson recalled battling, and usually losing to, the Four Aims (as the Tops were originally known) in talent contests during the '50s and said that the Tops were "the group of groups." Robinson's ex-wife and Miracles group mate Claudette Robinson delivered Stubbs' obituary.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson ordered the crowd to give Stubbs one last standing ovation and "scream like you're at the Apollo (Theater) for the first time, or (Detroit's famous) Twenty Grand!" He also noted that the singer "resisted the temptation to become Levi and the Three Tops" -- though in his references to Motown artists who had passed away he mistakenly mentioned Otis Williams, who remains the only original Temptations member still alive.

Abdul "Duke" Fakir, the sole surviving founding Four Top, gave emotional remarks in which he thanked anyone who'd done anything to support the group and concluded that "there will always be, through eternity, the four of us." Minister Nazim Fakir, Fakir's oldest son and Stubbs' godson, gave a eulogy stating that "the last 72 years we've experienced he gospel according to Levi Stubbs" and saluting all four of the Tops for providing "a shining example of what real manhood was all about." Current Four Tops lead singer (and former Temptation) Theo Peoples read a piece he had written entitled "Levi's Poem," while another former Temptation, Ali Ollie Woodson and Jean Carne sang during the ceremony.

Stubbs' own voice, meanwhile, was heard via a video of a televised performance of "I Believe in You and Me" from a Black Gold Awards celebration.

Reeves, who's now a Detroit city councilwoman, sang snippets of several Four Tops hits during her remembrance and called all of the Motown alumni in the church to stand together for a moment in front of Stubbs' coffin, which was flanked by floral arrangements and a portrait of the Four Tops. Among those attending were songwriter-producers Eddie and Brian Holland, members of the Spinners, Contours, Andantes, Velvelettes, Funk Brothers drummer Uriel Jones, Geno Washington, Sir Mack Rice, Motown etiquette coach Maxine Powell and Detroit mayoral candidates Dave Bing and Freeman Hendricks.

Proclamations were announced by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation and the State of Michigan, while several from the City of Detroit included one naming June 6, his birthday, as Levi Stubbs Day. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Detroit interim Mayor Kenneth Cockrel, Jr., each sent emissaries to deliver their greetings.

Aretha Franklin, a close friend of Stubbs, was in New York appearing in "The View" Monday but was among those who sent flowers for the funeral.

Stubbs was buried at nearby Woodlawn Ceremony, while the Motowners gathered Monday night at the St. Regis hotel in downtown Detroit for a wake following the interment.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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