Singer Lawrence Payton, one of the original members of the Four Tops, whose hits included “Bernadette” and “I Can’t Help Myself,” died at his home Friday of liver cancer. He was 59.
Payton had been too ill to attend an April ceremony in Hollywood with fellow members Levi Stubbs, Renaldo (Obie) Benson and Abdul (Duke) Fakir to install the group’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Payton and his three high school classmates first joined together in 1954 as the Aims, constructing vocal harmonies in the style of the Four Freshman and other groups in vogue at the time.
In 1956 they changed their name to the Four Tops in order to avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers, and recorded in various styles with different companies until 1963, when they signed with Detroit’s Motown Records, run by hitmaker Berry Gordy.
Motown’s songwriters, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, helped the group produce a string of chart-toppers that included “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “Standing in the Shadows of Love.”
Success followed across the Atlantic as the Four Tops became one of Motown’s most accessible “crossover” acts.
When Beatles manager Brian Epstein arranged a London concert, the group was shocked by the enthusiastic greeting at the airport by young white English fans, Fakir later said.
During the 1970s, the group’s hitmaking propensity waned and they eventually left Motown, shifted to Los Angeles and produced the hit songs “Keeper of the Castle” (1972) and “Ain’t No Woman” (1973). The Tops hit the top 20 again in 1981 with “When She Was My Girl.”
The Tops performed for over four decades and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Their last album was “Christmas Here With You” in 1995.
He is survived by his wife Youne.
Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday in Detroit.