Levi Stubbs

  • Born: June 6, 1936
  • Died: October 17, 2008
  • Location: Detroit, Michigan


Members of the Four Tops, left to right, Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir, and Renaldo "Obie" Benson, are shown as their star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Wednesday, April 23, 1997.

Four Tops frontman dead at 72

DETROIT -- Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs, whose dynamic and emotive voice drove such Motown classics as "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" and "Baby I Need Your Loving," died Friday at 72.

He had been ill recently and died in his sleep at the Detroit house he shared with his wife of 48 years, said Dana Meah, the wife of a grandson. The Wayne County medical examiner's office also confirmed the death.

With Stubbs in the lead, the Four Tops sold millions of records and performed for more than four decades without a change in personnel.

"Levi Stubbs was one of the great voices of all times," former Motown labelmate Smokey Robinson said. "He was very near and dear to my heart. He was my friend and my brother, I miss him. God bless his family and comfort them."

The Four Tops began singing together in 1953 under the name the Four Aims and signed a deal with Chess Records. They later changed their names to the Four Tops to avoid being confused with the Ames Brothers.

They also recorded for Red Top, Riverside and Columbia Records and toured supper clubs.

The Four Tops signed with Motown Records in 1963 and produced 20 Top-40 hits over the next 10 years, making music history with the other acts in Berry Gordy's Motown stable.

"It is not only a tremendous personal loss for me, but for the Motown family, and people all over the world who were touched by his rare voice and remarkable spirit," Gordy said Friday. "Levi was the greatest interpreter of songs I've ever heard."

When he and others at Motown first heard "Baby I Need Your Loving," Gordy remembered: "Levi's voice exploded in the room and went straight for our hearts. We all knew it was a hit, hands down."

Their biggest hits were recorded between 1964 and 1967 with the in-house songwriting and production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Both 1965's "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and 1966's "Reach Out" went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart.

Other hits included "Shake Me, Wake Me" (1966), "Bernadette" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love" (both 1967).

The acclaimed documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," which took its name from the Four Tops song, was released in 2002 and focused on the Funk Brothers, the talented but unheralded musicians who played backup on many Motown recordings.

While Stubbs didn't play a direct role in the film's production, director Paul Justman spoke Friday of the singer's immense talent.

"He was a tremendous artist," Justman said.

Stubbs "fits right up there with all the icons of Motown," said Audley Smith, chief operating officer of the Motown Historical Museum. "His voice was as unique as Marvin's or as Smokey's or as Stevie's."

Gladys Knight remembered Stubbs as an immensely talented and kind man whom she had known since the 1950s. "We were family," she said. "Have you ever heard a voice that sounded like his? It was emotional. It was crisp, with energy and an edge."

She said he was as good a person as he was a performer. "He was amazing, very unassuming," Knight said. "Very humble. So many artists don't like to share. He would hand you the mike in a minute."

The Four Tops toured for decades after their heyday and reached the charts as late as 1988 with "Indestructible" on Arista Records. In 1986, Stubbs provided the voice for Audrey II the man-eating plant in the film "Little Shop of Horrors."

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Stubbs' death leaves one surviving member of the original group: Abdul "Duke" Fakir. Original Top Lawrence Payton died of liver cancer in 1997. Renaldo "Obie" Benson died of lung cancer in 2005.

Stubbs hadn't done much performing in recent years because of his declining health, but was known to step up on stage from time to time when a Motown touring production came through Detroit.

He was born in 1936 and grew up in Detroit, where he sang with Fakir. They met fellow Payton and Benson while singing at a mutual friend's birthday party, then decided to form a group.

Stubbs is survived by his wife Cliniece, five children and 11 grandchildren.

Condolence & Memory Journal

My band Rokotto went on tour with The Four Tops in 1977 when they came over to the UK. Levi, Larry, Obbie, and Duke could not have been more welcoming to us.They were real gentlemen and it was such a thrill because as a boy in Scotland in the 60s we were all soul crazy and The Tops were among my favourite's, never then in a million years did I ever think that one day I would be sharing some of the biggest venue's with them only 10 years later. During that tour some of the funk brothers were in the band, Earl Van Dyke, Eddie Willis and Jack Ashford . . .all of them legends, "MAN" it gives me shivers now thinking about it. We were playing at the Coventry Theatre when Stevie Wonder dropped in to visit his stable mates, when to our amazement Levi brought him in to our dressing room to meet us, ,he didn't have to do it but he did and I loved him for that. He then invited us on stage with them all and Stevie sat at the piano with the Tops behind him and us standing at the front of the piano, it was surreal and sublime all at the same time. SO ! my parting words for all the fella's is this, , I truly love you all for making a wee laddie from Scotland the happiest kid on the planet, all my friends marvel at this story if I ever have to tell it, and your legend will live forever with me and my children alway's. All my love to Levi and his family, to Obbie , Larry ,and Duke, you enriched my life beyond belief.

Posted by Derek Henderson - Perth - friend   February 20, 2018

All of those Four Tops hits are bring pure joy to my heart when they come on the radio ... I'm catapulted back to the 60s when music MEANT something ... and Levi was a big reason for that and the world will miss this great talent who deserves much more credit than he's been given ...

Posted by felix kos - Alexandria, VA   October 28, 2008

Incomparable! Levi's voice is the greatest R&B voice of them all. He made you FEEL the words like nobody else. There have surely been some great Motown/Stax voices but none of them could penetrate your soul quite like Levi's. As a teenager in the 60's the music of the Four Tops touched all the emotions of a young man growing up--and I still feel them today whenever I hear his distinctive sound. God surely blessed us when he gave us Levi!

Posted by Glenn - Austin, TX   October 27, 2008

I offer my deepest sympathy for the family of Levi Stubbs
He has always brought joy and love to his family and all those around him.....I remember his wedding day
He was so handsome and Cliniece was a lovely and beautiful bride...He was always such a gentlemen always holding the doors for the family and always giving all the older women a hug and a kiss on the cheek....My mother Iva loved those hugs and kisses and I must admit I did too....
Cliniece even though I don't see you often I still love you and I will always treasure all the good things you have done for me and my family
I promise I will see you soon after you have some time to rest and relax
Your cousin Nellie

Posted by Nellie Brogdon - Oak Park, MI   October 27, 2008

Hot summer afternoons, playing cards on the porch and listening to Levi belting the lyrics of "Reach Out" was how I spent my adolescent years in Philly. There was always the debate as to which group, the Temptations, the Miracles or the Four Tops, were best. I always felt that Motown gave the Temps and the Supremes more attention than "the Tops". But when the Funk Brothers started playing that groove and Levi cried out "Bernadette"...it was a wrap. Motown was a part of the American fabric and defined the very essence of the Black experience. Levi Stubbs may be gone, but his voice will live on.

Posted by Hank    October 23, 2008


Posted by SHARI - GILBERT, AZ   October 21, 2008

My memories of the Four Tops were that of the 20 Grand and the GrayStone. Love and Memories of a great MAN.

Posted by Blanche V. Ford BABY JANE - Madison, MS   October 21, 2008

Great and wanderful person and all the jams by the Four Tops just the best and will always live on. Nothing better then the oldies from all the real meaning of real music,God Bless you and will always luv u and your music.you will be singing now for GOD. My prayers are with your family and loved ones.....you will truely be missed.

Posted by gail barber - Hemet, CA   October 20, 2008

All the love to Levi and his family,god bring you the strongest streng to lost the best singer of the world,also the best to the group,all me love and wish you all the best off the world.

Posted by Emile van Aalten    October 19, 2008

My heart goes out to Levi,s Family god bless them all and ofcourse his brothers The Four Tops. Thankfull for years of wonderfull music last concert in Antwerpen seen of The Tops we have so much love in our heart for the music

Thanks Levi u were such a great man lots of love


Posted by Iris Roeland - Haarlem holland   October 19, 2008

Great voice great music the junk played today does not hold a candle to it. The 4 tops were my favorite next to the original Temptations and others, that was rhythm and music the real stuff.

Posted by Rose Mary Pfeifer    October 19, 2008

Ihave enjoyed there music and now he is gone to abetter place my God bless his family

Posted by Sherita Thomas - Macon, GA   October 18, 2008

Default Album

Members of the Four Tops, left to right, Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir, and Renaldo "Obie" Benson, are shown as their star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Wednesday, April 23, 1997.
The American pop group, "The Four Tops," pose at Heathrow airport in London in a Nov. 16, 1966 file photo, en route to the United States. From left to right are, Abdul Fakir, Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo Benson.
In this Wednesday, May 26, 2004 file photo, Four Tops member Levi Stubbs, seated, is introduced by Michigan state Sen. Irma Clark-Coleman, foreground left, to a session of the state Senate in Lansing, Mich
This Nov. 14, 1966 file photo shows the "Four Tops", outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Left to right: Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir and Lawrence Payton