Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the legendary Motown group the Four Tops whose tough yet soulful voice was showcased on dozens of singles, including “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” has died. He was 72.
Stubbs died Friday at his home in Detroit, the Wayne County medical examiner’s office confirmed. A series of illnesses that included a stroke and cancer had forced him to stop performing in 2000.
“We have lost one of the great voices of the 20th century,” said Otis Williams, lead singer of another Motown hit-maker, the Temptations. “A few years ago in Las Vegas, I told Levi, ‘You are our black Frank Sinatra’ – Levi could phrase a song just as beautifully.”
In a statement, Motown record label founder Berry Gordy Jr. called Stubbs “the greatest interpreter of songs I’ve ever heard” and the Four Tops “the greatest and most loving group.”
The Four Tops were applauded for such hits as “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and “Bernadette,” and – as the decades rolled by – for their longevity.
The original members came together in 1953 while in high school in the Detroit area. They spent the ensuing 44 years performing without a change in the lineup before founding member Lawrence Payton died in 1997. Another original member, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, died in 2005.
The only surviving member, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, leads a version of the Four Tops that includes Payton’s son, Roquel.
Stubbs “could easily have made it as a solo star,” Gordy said, “but his love and loyalty” kept the four men “together longer than any group I know. His integrity and character were impeccable.”
Author and music historian David Ritz told the Los Angeles Times that Stubbs had “one of the great soul voices of the last 50 years.”
“You could hear the tear in his voice – there was a kind of plaintive cry and an anguish and a pain,” Ritz said. “He’s going to live forever in the annals of American pop music.”