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Bobby Womack was born dirt poor in Cleveland, Ohio on March 4, 1944. He formed a gospel group with his siblings at a young age. At just 16, he was asked to move to California after meeting Sam Cooke while touring with the Soul Stirrers. Cooke helped Womack cross over from gospel to secular music and signed Womack and his siblings to the recently formed SAR Records.
Womack and his siblings became known as the Valentinos, and their first hit single was “Looking for a Love.” The song helped the group land a spot opening for James Brown’s tour, and in 1964, Womack helped the group co-compose their next hit, “It’s All Over Now.” After Cooke was shot and killed outside of a Los Angeles motel, SAR Records folded and the group disbanded.
In 1968 Womack signed with Minit Records and produced his first solo album Fly Me to the Moon. Womack began working with such legendary rock musicians as Janis Joplin and Sly and the Family Stone. He produced two more albums with Minit Records and later signed with United Artists.
He released the albums Communication and Understanding earning him multiple hits. His success continued through the early 70s, but began to stall after his brother Harry’s death.
In 1981, Womack churned out one of his most notable songs, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” which was his first R&B top ten single since the 1976 single “Daylight.”
Womack’s life was marked with scandal and addiction. Just three months after Sam Cooke’s death in 1965, Womack married Cooke’s widow, Barbara Campbell. The two divorced after it was found out that Womack had an affair with his step-daughter Linda, the daughter of Sam Cooke and Barbara Campbell.
In the late 1960s, Womack had begun using cocaine, and by the late 1970’s his use had turned into a full blown addiction. Womack believes his infant son, Truth, died partially as a result of his addiction in 1976. Tragically, Womack’s son with Barbara Campbell, Vincent Womack, committed suicide in 1988.
Womack suffered multiple health issues later in his life including diabetes and colon cancer. He was also eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Womack passed away on June 27, 2014 at the age of 70.
Womack’s life and legacy is possibly best summed up by his own quote about making music: “The only way you can create is you gotta be free. That’s what you’ve gotta do to be in this business. You’ve got to be on fire.”
The following video is a 2013 BBC documentary about Womack’s life. Check it out to learn more about the legendary singers rise to fame from being dirt poor to becoming one of the most revered soul singers in history.