By People Staff
January 23, 2006 12:00 PM

You couldn’t help but hear a Lou Rawls record and feel good,” says his friend Burt Bacharach. “He sang with consummate ease. It was effortless.” It may have sounded that way, but Rawls, the silky-voiced, three-time Grammy winner who died Jan. 6 at 72 of lung cancer, fought hard to gain a foothold in pop music. Growing up on Chicago’s gritty South Side, he started singing in his church choir at 7; by 23 he was touring with a gospel group when a near-fatal 1958 car crash left him sidelined for a year. “I really got a new life out of that,” he said. Carving out a niche as a blues and jazz soloist in the ’60s, he gained new fans a decade later with the R&B/disco hit “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” His proudest achievement, though, was launching “The Parade of Stars” telethon, which over the past 25 years has raised $200 million for the United Negro College Fund. “He had an amazing heart,” says his third wife, Nina, 35, with whom Rawls, who had three children from previous marriages, had a son, 1-year-old Aiden. A week before he died, his old friend Della Reese visited. “We prayed together,” she says. “We laughed about things from our past. And when I left I knew that whatever happened, Lou was all right.”