Friday, October 17, 2008

Four Tops' Levi Stubbs dies in Motown while Eminem flirts with Satan

DETROIT-- Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs, whose dynamic and emotive voice drove such Motown hits as "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" and "Baby I Need Your Loving," died today at 72.

He had been ill recently and died in his sleep at the Detroit house he shared with his wife, said Dana Meah, the wife of a grandson. The Wayne County medical examiner's office also confirmed the death.

With Stubbs in the lead, the Four Tops sold millions of records and performed for more than four decades without a change in personnel.

Stubbs' death leaves one surviving member of the original group: Abdul "Duke" Fakir.

"Levi Stubbs was one of the great voices of all times," former Motown labelmate Smokey Robinson said in a statement. "He was very near and dear to my heart. He was my friend and my brother, I miss him. God bless his family and comfort them."

The Four Tops began singing together in 1953 under the group name the Four Aims and signed a deal with Chess Records. They later changed their names to the Four Tops to avoid being confused with the Ames Brothers.

They also recorded for Red Top, Riverside and Columbia Records and toured supper clubs.

The Four Tops signed with Motown Records in 1963 and produced 20 Top-40 hits over the next 10 years, making music history with the other acts in Berry Gordy's Motown stable.

Their biggest hits were recorded between 1964 and 1967 with the in-house songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Both 1965's "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and 1966's "Reach Out" went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.

Other hits included "Shake Me, Wake Me" (1966); "Bernadette" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love" (both 1967).

The acclaimed documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," which took its name from the Four Tops song, was released in 2002 and focused on the Funk Brothers, the talented but unheralded musicians who played backup on many Motown recordings.

While Stubbs didn't play a direct role in the film's production, director Paul Justman spoke Friday of the singer's immense talent.

"He was a tremendous artist," Justman said.

Stubbs "fits right up there with all the icons of Motown," said Audley Smith, chief operating officer of the Motown Historical Museum. "His voice was as unique as Marvin's or as Smokey's or as Stevie's."

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.

Original Top Lawrence Payton died of liver cancer in 1997. Renaldo "Obie" Benson died of lung cancer in 2005.

Stubbs hadn't done much performing in recent years due to his declining health, but was known to step up on stage from time to time when a Motown touring production came through Detroit.

He was born in 1936 and attended the city's Pershing High School, where he sang with Fakir. They met fellow Detroiters Payton and Benson while singing at a mutual friend's birthday party, then decided to form a group.

"These are four of the greatest people I have ever known. They were major pros even before they came to Motown," Gordy said when the Four Tops' star was unveiled in Hollywood.

Stubbs is survived by his wife, five children and 11 grandchildren.

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