When the whisper of the news that Levi Stubbs, the formidable lead baritone of the legendary Four Tops, had died at his home in Detroit early Friday, no one really wanted to confirm it. It has never been a secret that Levi Stubbs suffered a debilitating stroke in 2000 that left him virtually impaired and ill. His retirement from the legendary group he helped found later in the year caused a rumble. The word was that Stubbs would be replaced. This rumour, which swept through the streets of Detroit like crack rock, let the remaining Tops know that replacing Levi Stubbs would not be an option. Funny. They listened the concerns of their fans and Detroiters by issuing a statement acknowledging that the silky-gruff pleading voice of Levi Stubbs COULD not be replaced.
From time to time, the Tops were graced by Stubbs presence at an event or two. Here and there. But we knew that Levi Stubbs was in poor health and we accepted his legacy to Motown, to Detroit and to the world. It was okay to say goodbye to a man that sung his natural heart out on stage. He had entertained us for over thirty years. Now, it was our turn to show him how much we loved him. The Tops legacy must continue despite our selfishness. The Tops did just that. They continued making music and thrilling audiences all over the the planet.
It deeply saddened me to hear those whispers of the death Levi Stubbs. He was a legend in Detroit and we loved him. When Motown left Detroit in the late sixties, early seventies, anda lot of key acts followed Berry Gordy to California, The Tops stayed in Detroit. My dad lived right around the corner from Renaldo “Obie” Benson. I ended of moving directly across the street from Abdul “Duke” Fakir. These men, The Tops, had extraordinary fame and money (maybe I should pass on that because we all know that Motown gave its’ artist the rawist of raw deals) but they chose to stay in the city that they grew up in. The Tops lived in Detroit. Raised their children in Detroit. Partied in Detroit. Yes, there are some stories about how The Tops partied, too!
No one bothered them. We loved them. But Detroiters gave them their peace and respect. I remember when Duke Fakir opened a restaurant in Downtown Detroit on the Lansdown. A floating boat/club/restaurant. My best friend’s brother worked on it when Duke took over. We were mad excited! Yeah, we were teenagers, but the legend of The Tops transcends age. One particular night, after begging and pleading, my best friend’s brother slipped us onto the boat. Being seventeen and ga-ga over DeBarge, Prince and New Edition, didn’t stop us from hoping that we could touch Motown magic!
My girlfriend and I ate and danced, had a great time! As we waited for my girlfriend’s brother to finish his shift (he had a car and we had bussed it), The Tops strolled in with their wives. Instead of walking right past us, like we were just a couple of kids, they stopped and engaged us in conversation. LOL! The conversation centered around how hold were we and why weren’t we at home in bed! But that was still cool! We had a whole conversation with the legendary Tops! Our parents would be excited if we could have told them!
I met The Tops again at the annual Motown Museum fundraiser. I was an adult and a journalist covering the event. Levi Stubbs and The Tops, as usual, sprinkled on me that Motown nostalgia. They gave me a great interview and even invited me to join them at their table! The class of these guys! What a evening! I will never forget it!
Now, only one original Top remain. Duke. Obie and Lawrence passed in 1997 and 2005 respectively. I am at a loss for words. I am hurting and I know that Detroiters are greatly mourning the passing of Levi Stubbs. We loved all of The Tops. Their music spoke to a city in crisis that refused to let it get them down. I vaguely remember when “Still Waters” was released. I was seven. My dad loved that song. He played it often along with The Tempts.
Yeah. The Tops and The Tempts. That’s what we Detroiters called our most beloved Motown groups. Levi Stubbs, a legend. A class act. Can you hear “Stiil Waters” in your ear? I can.
Levi Stubbs, dead at 72. We’re going to miss him. But his music will live forever!