Stubbs performing in 1967
June 6, 1936|
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||October 17, 2008
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Associated acts||The Four Tops|
Levi Stubbs (June 6, 1936 – October 17, 2008) was an American baritone singer, best known as the lead vocalist of the R&B group the Four Tops, a band known for a variety of Motown hit records and other songs created in the 1960s and 1970s. The power of Stubbs' emotional, often dramatic vocals have received praise from many critics over the years; for example, Allmusic's Ed Hogan has remarked that Stubbs' had a "pleading urgency in his voice that perfectly captured the longing anxiousness of the songs written by the producing trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland". As well, War band member Lonnie Jordan told Billboard.com he felt "blessed" to meet Stubbs and thought that the Four Tops singer's "voice was so good he was just, like, from another planet."
He was also a voice artist in film and animated television series, most famously having provided the voice of the alien plant in the 1986 comedic horror film Little Shop of Horrors (an adaption of the stage musical of the same name) as well as Mother Brain in the 1989 TV series Captain N: The Game Master. Stubbs was admired by his peers for his impressive vocal range, having influenced many later pop and soul artists such as Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates.
Stubbs had five children. Living in Detroit, Michigan for much of his life, including his last days, he was married to Clineice Stubbs for over forty years until his death. His last performance was at the Four Tops' "50th Anniversary Concert" on July 28, 2004 at the Detroit Opera House.
Early life and music career
Born in 1936 in Detroit, Stubbs had a brother, Joe, who later became a member of 100 Proof Aged In Soul, the Falcons, the Contours and the Originals. His cousin was Jackie Wilson. Stubbs attended Detroit Pershing High School, where he met Abdul "Duke" Fakir. He began his professional singing career with friends Fakir, Renaldo "Obie" Benson, and Lawrence Payton, forming a singing group called the Four Aims in 1954. Two years later, after having signed with Chess Records, the group changed their name to the Four Tops. The name change was meant to avoid confusion with the then-popular Ames Brothers. The Four Tops began as a supper-club act before signing to Motown Records in 1963. By the end of the decade, they had over a dozen hits. The most popular of their hits (all of which featured Stubbs on lead vocals) include "Baby I Need Your Loving", "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)", "It's the Same Old Song", "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Standing in the Shadows of Love", "Bernadette", "Still Water (Love)", "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" as well as the late hit "Loco In Acapulco". Although Stubbs was a natural baritone, most Four Tops' hits were written in a tenor range to give the lead vocals a sense of urgency.
Despite being the most prominent member of the group, Stubbs refused to have separate billing (in contrast to other Motown acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Diana Ross and the Supremes), and he also turned down several offers for a solo career, out of loyalty to his bandmates. Stubbs and the other Tops remained a team until Payton died in 1997, at which point Theo Peoples took his place. The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013. They have sold over 50 million records worldwide.
During the band's long career, it was signed to the Motown, ABC Dunhill, Arista, and Casablanca record labels, and Stubbs' vocals influenced many later pop and soul artists such as Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates. Hall has remarked that Stubbs' "unique" style rendered the Four Tops' material "timeless". Other musical peers expressing admiration for the Four Tops' work include Lonnie Jordan of War and Smokey Robinson of The Miracles among many others.
In 2000, Theo Peoples replaced Stubbs as lead singer after Stubbs suffered a stroke, with Ronnie McNeir taking the place that Payton originally held. Benson died on July 1, 2005, leaving Duke Fakir as the only surviving member of the Four Tops' original lineup. Stubb's final performance with the Four Tops was at the group's "50th Anniversary Concert" on July 28, 2004 at the Detroit Opera House.
Although not an actor per se, Stubbs provided the voice of the carnivorous plant Audrey II in the 1986 movie version of the musical Little Shop of Horrors and the voice of Mother Brain in the animated TV series Captain N: The Game Master (1989).
Stubbs also guest starred in a number of TV shows as himself. Berry Gordy offered him the role of Louis McKay in the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues, which would have starred him opposite Diana Ross as Billie Holiday. However, Stubbs turned the role down, once again not wishing to overshadow the other members of the Four Tops.
Levi Stubbs and his wife Clineice were married from 1960 until his death. The couple had five children.
- "When the world falls apart, some things stay in place
- Levi Stubbs' tears run down his face."
Stubbs was diagnosed with cancer, in 1995, and later he was no longer able to tour with the group after suffering a stroke. He died in his sleep on October 17, 2008, at his home in Detroit. A memorial service for Stubbs was held at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit on October 27. Many of Stubbs' friends from the music industry attended including Berry Gordy, Martha Reeves, Brian Holland, Ali-Ollie Woodson, and Dennis Edwards. Detroit City Council member JoAnn Watson, along with Martha Reeves, presented a resolution naming Stubbs' birthday "Levi Stubbs Day" in Detroit. Stubbs is interred at Detroit's historic Woodlawn Cemetery.
|1986||Little Shop of Horrors||Audrey II|
|1989-1991||Captain N: The Game Master||Mother Brain||Credited as Levi Stubbs Jr.|
|1991||Captain N and the New Super Mario World||Episode: "Fire Sale"
"The Wheel Thing"
|1986||Howard Ashman & Alan Menken||"Feed Me (Git It)"
"Mean Green Mother From Outer Space"
|Little Shop of Horrors|
|2003||Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland & Edward Holland||"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"||Queer as Folk|
- "Levi Stubbs". telegraph.co.uk. October 17, 2008.
- Maynard, Micheline. "Levi Stubbs, 72, Powerful Voice for Four Tops, Dies." The New York Times. October 17, 2008. Retrieved on November 7, 2012.
- "Stars mourn Four Tops star Stubbs." BBC. Tuesday October 28, 2008. Retrieved on November 7, 2012.
- Jones, Steve (October 19, 2008). "The Four Tops' Levi Stubbs dies at 72". USA Today. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
- Maynard, Micheline (October 17, 2008). "Levi Stubbs, 72, Powerful Voice for Four Tops, Dies". The New York Times
- Four Tops Vocalist Levi Stubbs Dies At 72
- Whitall, Susan; Brand-Williams, Oralandar (October 27, 2008). "Motown family gathers for Levi Stubbs' funeral". detroitnews.com.
- Bak, Richard (2010). Boneyards: Detroit Under Ground. Wayne State University Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-814-33353-2.
- Levi Stubbs at Find a Grave
- Levi Stubbs at the Internet Movie Database
- Levi Stubbs interview by Pete Lewis, 'Blues & Soul' October 1992
- Levi Stubbs discography at MusicBrainz
- Obituary in Los Angeles Times
- Obituary in The New York Times
- Obituary on NPR Music