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Dead at 70, Music Legend Bobby Womack Provided Emotional Soundtrack to Black Life in America

The music world and social media have been filled with expressions of grief and tributes after news broke of the passing of influential singer Bobby Womack.

His soulful, gospel-infused voice provided the nation, and particularly the Black community, with an emotional soundtrack to the turbulent 1960s and 1970s with songs like Across 110th Street and Woman’s Gotta Have It.

Womack died Friday at age 70. Though he had major health issues in recent years, including Alzheimer’s disease and prostate and colon cancer, he performed earlier this month at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and reportedly seemed in fine spirits.

Though he enjoyed widespread popularity in the U.S. and Europe, Womack was one of those artists revered even more in the music community because of his groundbreaking style. Media tributes to Womack correctly point out that Preacher — as he was widely known because of his gospel sound and church roots — never sold as many records as some of his contemporaries such as Wilson Pickett, Al Green and Otis Redding, but his music touched his fans both in and out of the music world very deeply. In fact, one of Womack’s biggest commercial hits came from someone else singing his music — the Rolling Stones’ cover of It’s All Over Now, a song he wrote and recorded with four of his brothers for their group, the Valentinos.

When his mentor and label owner, the legendary Sam Cooke, told Womack that the Stones wanted to record his song, he told an interviewer he was “very upset about it”— until the royalty checks started coming. The song became the Stones’ first No. 1 single in Britain and their first international hit. His earnings from that song continued to partially sustain him for much of his long career.

Womack, who had been scheduled to perform next month at Peter Gabriel’s Womad music festival in Wiltshire in the United Kingdom, received an outpouring of love from the music industry since his death.

Womack’s “songs and his voice have been so much a part of the fabric of so many musical lives,” Gabriel said in a statement Sunday.

Gospel singer Candi Staton, who knew Womack since childhood, said he had “a style that nobody else could ever capture.”

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” R&B singer Cee Lo Green said on Twitter, while hip-hop band De La Soul tweeted, “We had an amazing time touring around the world with him. We love you, Mr. Womack.”

Singer and music producer George Clinton said on Twitter, “Fly on Bobby Womack,” while singer Ronald Isley said, “I am sad to hear of the passing of my longtime friend Bobby Womack. He was a special person with a special talent. I will truly miss him.”

Born in Cleveland in 1944, Womack sang with his brothers until he went solo in the 1960s. In addition to making a name by himself, he played with many legendary acts like Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Pickett.

In 2013, Womack admitted to the BBC that “drugs had a lot to do with” a period spent away from the music industry prior to 2009, when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — his fortune long gone.

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