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Four Tops Frontman Levi Stubbs Dies

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Levi Stubbs, the front man for The Four Tops, died Friday at his Detroit home. He was 72 years old. His musical journey began with The Four Aims. They changed their name to The Four Tops and built a following on the lounge circuit. They perform with the likes of Della Reese, Count Basie, Richard Pryor and also with Stubbs' cousin, the great Jackie Wilson. In 1963 during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, Barry Gordy signed the group to Motown Records. The times were turbulent but their sound was silky smooth. Once they signed with Gordy, they sang hit after hit. "Baby I Need Your Loving" in 1964, "I Can't Help Myself" also known as "Sugarpie Honeybunch," a number one hit in 1965 and in 1966, the chart-topping "Reach Out."

Plenty of people know that as "I'll Be There." With two more hits in 1967, The Four Tops were one of the successful groups of the 1960s hoping to find the Motown sound. Their work are more than top billing in the charts. In 1990, the quartet was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame. The Four Tops performed together for over four decades without a single change in personnel. Until the end, Stubbs was loyal to the group. He rejected solo offers and even turned down the role of Lewis McKay opposite Dianna Ross as Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues." Stubbs was diagnosed with cancer in 1995 and suffered a stroke five years later. But his pleading, raspy voice and a catalog of instantly recognizable hit songs contribute to a soulful musical legacy. As Levi Stubbs told the Los Angeles Times in 1994, When I learn a song, I try to live it as best as I can.

(Soundbite of song "I'll Be There")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) I'll be there to love and comfort you...

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today, thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tomorrow, we take a closer look at both parties White House transition plans.

(Soundbite of song "I'll Be There")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) You're alone now. You'll never get on. But darling, reach out. Come on, girl. Reach out for me. Reach out. Just look over your shoulder. I'll be there...

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya, this is News & Notes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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