Published Oct 20, 2008Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the Four Tops, has died at the age of 72 in Detroit. Stubbs had been in declining health for several years, and died in his sleep on Friday (October 17).
Widely revered as the most compelling baritone voice in soul music, his power and finesse were unmatched. His voice was the linchpin of one of the archetypal groups of the Motown sound. Rivalled only by the Temptations, the Tops vocal abilities and polish punched through the wall of soul laid down by Motowns Funk Brothers on such classics as "Baby I Need Your Loving, "Reach Out, Ill Be There and "Bernadette.
The Tops formed in 1953 as the Four Aims and remarkably, maintained the same line-up for four decades. By the mid-60s, these journeymen had been re-christened the Four Tops and had recorded for Chess, Riverside and Columbia, often in a jazzy, supper-club style. Motowns famed Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team toughened their sound and Stubbss mesmerizing lead was always up to the challenge of their forceful compositions. After Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1967, the Tops fortunes dipped.
The Tops stayed with Motown until 1972, then recorded for a variety of labels, occasionally scoring hits through the remainder of the decade. During the 80s, Stubbs reached a new audience as the voice of Audrey II in the film Little Shop Of Horrors. He was also paid tribute by Billy Bragg in the song "Levi Stubbs Tears, which rekindled a brief revival of Stubbs' career in England including the hit "Indestructible.
In 1997, the Four Tops longevity as a unit was snapped with the death of Lawrence Payton. By that time, Stubbs had been diagnosed with cancer and later suffered a stroke. He stopped touring with the Tops in 2000.
Stubbs is survived by his wife Clineice and five children.
The Four Tops "Bernadette