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'Four Tops' singer Levi Stubbs dies in Detroit

DETROIT (Reuters) - Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops and one of the most recognizable voices of Motown soul in hits such as “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” has died in Detroit after a long illness.

File photo of the singing group the "Four Tops" (L-R) Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir and Renaldo "Obie" Benson on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops and one of the most recognizable voices of Motown soul in hits such as "Reach Out I'll Be There," has died in Detroit after a long illness. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

Stubbs, 72, had not performed in recent years because of illness. His death was confirmed by the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s office.

Born in Detroit, Stubbs and the other members of the Four Tops began touring together after graduating from high school in 1954.

Calling themselves the “Four Aims,” Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo “Obie” Benson recorded with three other record labels before arriving at Berry Gordy’s Motown label in Detroit in 1963.

At Motown, the group changed their name and teamed up with the pop-hit songwriting powerhouse of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland.

The result was a string of two-dozen hits starting in 1964 with “Baby I Need Your Loving.”

Other Four Tops hits included “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” (1966) and “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got” (1973).

“There wasn’t any doubt. When you heard his voice, you knew who he was. You knew it immediately,” said Terry Stewart, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which inducted the group in 1990.

“You heard the first line from the Tops in songs like ‘Bernadette’ or ‘Sugar Pie Honey Bunch’ and Levi’s voice just took you there,” Stewart said.

In 1986, Stubbs’ gravelly voice was used as the voice of the man-eating plant in the movie “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Fakir is now the sole surviving member of the group. Payton died of cancer in 1997. Benson died in 2005, also of cancer.

“This is a profound loss for the legacy of Motown,” said Robin Terry, chairman of the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit. “The Four Tops represent the quality of talent, performance and excellence that is Motown.”

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