Lou Rawls: Remembering a Voice 'Soft as Velvet, Strong as Steel'



HOST: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC, in VOA Special English. I'm Doug Johnson. On our show this week:

We honor singer Lou Rawls who died last week ...

Answer a question about a funny news service ...

And report about the historic birthday of a famous American.

Benjamin Franklin

This month is the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of one of the most important men in the history of the United States. Benjamin Franklin was born on January seventeenth, seventeen-oh-six. Faith Lapidus tells us about him.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Benjamin Franklin was a writer, printer, inventor and diplomat. He was the only person to sign four historic documents. They are the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain and the Constitution of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts. He left school at the age of ten because his parents could not pay for his education. He taught himself mathematics, science and five foreign languages. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of seventeen. He worked for several printers. Then he bought his own print shop. He wrote and published a newspaper called the Pennsylvania Gazette. He became well known as the paper became successful.

Franklin had even more success with a publication called "Poor Richard's Almanac". It was famous for wise sayings that people still use today. Here is one: "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise".

Benjamin Franklin wanted to improve life in Philadelphia. He served as its postmaster. He helped establish the first library and organized a fire department. He started a program to light city streets, gathered money to open a hospital and helped establish the city's first university.Benjamin Franklin was also a scientist. His experiments proved that lightning is a current of electricity. He invented the lightning rod to protect buildings from damage. He also invented a stove that heated a room more effectively than others.

Benjamin Franklin helped establish the United States government by helping to write the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Later, he served as a diplomat to France. He died in seventeen ninety, at the age of eighty-four.

The city of Philadelphia has launched a year-long celebration of the life of Benjamin Franklin. Libraries are honoring him with special readings. Writers are speaking about his influence. And musicians are honoring him with special performances. Philadelphia has also developed a traveling show explaining different parts of the life of this most interesting American.

The Onion

HOST: Our question this week comes from a listener in Turkey. Sibel Karaaslan asks about the American humor magazine called The Onion.

The Onion was started by two University of Wisconsin students in nineteen eighty-eight. They declared their paper "America's Finest News Source." For the first few years it enjoyed local popularity. Then in nineteen ninety-six the weekly Onion entered cyberspace. The humorous new online news magazine became very popular. The Web site says The Onion now has three million readers every week. The popularity of the online magazine led to increased interest in the print version. The Onion print magazine says it has almost one million readers each week.

The Onion covers all kinds of subjects – international, national, business, entertainment, politics and science. The Onion writers use a kind of humor called satire. They use a serious, journalistic language and style to make fun of people's ideas and activities.

For example, a recent Onion online cover showed a picture of a dissatisfied young man in his disorganized home. The headline read, "Plan to straighten out entire life during weeklong vacation yields mixed results." The report that followed was written in newspaper style. But, of course, this man's problems were not really worthy of newspaper coverage!

The Onion includes features found in a real newspaper. For example, there is a section called American Voices. It includes photographs of several people who have been stopped on the street. They provide their opinions on whatever subject they are asked about. Those quotes are funny in themselves. But what is funnier is that The Onion uses the same photographs every week, but changes the names of the people. So, readers realize quickly that the joke is on them.

Onion Editor-in-Chief Scott Dikkers has published several books of collected Onion reports. The most recent is called "Embedded in America." Not everyone likes The Onion. Some people find it offensive. Others do not recognize it as a humor magazine. And, sometimes an Onion story is reported by a real news organization as a real news report.

Lou Rawls

Last week, the famous singer Lou Rawls died of cancer in Los Angeles, California. He was seventy-two years old. Pat Bodnar remembers him and plays some of his music.

PAT BODNAR: Lou Rawls made more than sixty albums. He sang it all: rhythm and blues, jazz, soul and pop. But like many great American singers, he started singing Christian gospel music as a child in church. His grandmother raised him in Chicago, Illinois, and had a major influence in his gospel music beginnings.

As a teenager, Lou Rawls discovered jazz and doo-wop. He and a classmate, the future famous singer, Sam Cooke, sang doo-wop together. In nineteen fifty-eight, Lou Rawls was in a tragic car accident. One man died and Rawls came close to death. He later said the experience changed him for the better. He said he began to learn acceptance, direction and understanding.

Lou Rawls and Sam Cooke moved to Los Angeles to seek music careers. A few years later, in nineteen sixty-seven, Rawls won the first of three Grammy awards. Here is that hit song, "Dead End Street."


Lou Rawls' music was played in disco dance clubs in the nineteen seventies. In fact, he produced his biggest hit during that period. Here is "You'll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)."


Lou Rawls also worked as an actor in television, movies and theater. He was well known for his support of humanitarian groups. But he was best known for his voice. Critics called it "sweet as sugar, soft as velvet, strong as steel and smooth as butter." We leave you now with Lou Rawls singing "Natural Man."


HOST: I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

Our show was written by Nancy Steinbach and Caty Weaver, who also was our producer.

Send your questions about American life to mosaic@voanews.com. Please include your full name and mailing address. Or write to American Mosaic, VOA Special English, Washington, D.C., two-zero-two-three-seven, U.S.A.

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.