An estimated crowd of more than 3,200 people came to pay their respects at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit late Monday morning in honor of Levi Stubbs — the lead singer of the Four Tops with the “golden baritone” voice. Stubbs passed away in his Detroit home on October 17 at the age of 72. Those that attended the funeral service included family and friends as well as Motown legends such as founder Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, and the original surviving member Abdul “Duke” Fakir.
“I came to celebrate my brother’s life” Robinson stated. “I did not come here to be sad. Today, we will turn on the radio and hear him. Tomorrow, we will turn on the radio and hear him. He will always be here. We will never be able to forget him.”
The start of the Four Tops began as teenagers back in 1953 as then the Four Aims with Stubbs and Fakir from Detroit’s Pershing High School, and Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton from Northern High. “When we first started”, Fakir reminisced, “we got our first uniforms at Hot Sam’s – white flannel – but we didn’t quite have the money for the four of suits, but they let us have them – we thank them for that. They [Stubbs, Benson, and Payton] told me to say this.”
After working at the nightclub scenes for years, the group renamed themselves the Four Tops, and soon was signed to Motown. Throughout the 1960s, the group racked a string of hits that topped both the Pop and R&B charts — even the United Kingdom. Songs such as “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, and “Baby I Need Your Loving” have gone to become staples of popular music as well as a part of pop culture. After Motown moved to California in the early 70s, the group remained to stay in the Motor City, where they singed with ABC Records, and continued to have hit records like 1972’s “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)”.
They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them #79 on the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
“Levi Stubbs and the Four Tops” said Bishop Charles H. Ellis, “gave a lot of solace to the community through seasons of injustice, through seasons of segregation and discrimination, through the riots, through prosperity and recession. Levi Stubbs and the Four Tops gave us dignity and hope.”
Stubbs continued recording and touring with the Tops until his health problems began in 2000, forcing him to retire. Yet, though the group went on without him with current members such as Theo Peoples, Stubbs will never gone nor forgotten from the Four Tops, and neither will his legacy. “This day is all about my brother Levi” said Peoples, who’s been with the group since the late 90s. “He had a heart of gold and a voice from God. The number of lives he has touched cannot be counted.”
Stubbs is survived by his wife Cliniece; children Deborah Boatner, Beverly Meah, Levi Stubbs III, Raymond, and Kelly Lenton; 11 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; three sisters, one aunt, and several nieces and nephews.
“We feel honored and blessed to have shared our dad with each and every one of you” said Deborah, who’s the middle oldest. “His voice was an instrument of God. Thanks for loving my dad.”