WOMACK, ROBERT DWAYNE "BOBBY" (4 March 1944 – 28 June 2014), was a prominent African-American whose musical career spanned six decades, creating 23 studio albums that garnered international acclaim, and was immortalized in the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2009.

Womack was born the middle-child of five to Friendly Sr. and Naomi Womack. The Womacks lived in the lower level of a two family home at East 84th and Quincy between Quincy and Central. Robert (Bobby) Dwayne Womack, his younger brothers, Cecil and Harry, and his eldest brothers, Curtis and Friendly Jr., shared a bed in a one-bedroom apartment, while their parents slept in the living room. The childhood prevalence of housing and food insecurity would serve to inspire Bobby’s music long after he had moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to California, where he spent the majority of his life.

The foundational essence of Bobby Womack’s music can be observed in his childhood experiences with his familial entrenchment within their local BAPTIST church. Naomi Womack played the church organ, and when Friendly Sr. was not working in the steel industry, he ministered and played the guitar for the gospel choir. Gospel music, in addition to parental engagement, inspired the Womack brothers to mimic what they saw their parents doing, despite their father’s admonishment towards the boys practicing music. During a particular imitation performance, Bobby broke a string on his father’s guitar. When Friendly Sr. discovered the broken string, he instructed Bobby to play the guitar for him in lieu of a more physical chastisement. When Bobby finished his father’s examination, Friendly Sr. was so astounded at the young boy’s skill, he later purchased guitars for the five brothers. In the mid-1950s, The Womack Brothers were performing gospel tours throughout the Midwest, accompanied by their father who played guitar and their mother who played the organ, the group name later became Curtis Womack and The Womack Brothers. Their first hit-single was produced in 1954 titled, “Buffalo Bill”, and this lead to the group being noticed and eventually mentored by Sam Cooke, who was the lead of the quartet-styled gospel group, The Soul Stirrers. Cooke’s mentorship propelled the young Womack brothers to national exposure by way of larger tours with notable acts like, The Soul Stirrers. At ten years old, Bobby’s expressive imitations of his father during performances, allowed him to become a lead-singer along with his eldest brother Curtis, this is when he gained the performative moniker, "The Preacher".

Bobby and his brothers became signers to Cooke’s newly formed record label SAR Records in 1961, and under the managerial tutelage of Sam Cooke, the group would change their self-titled name to the Valentinos. Throughout the early to mid-1960’s, Bobby toured with Cooke’s band, and the Womack quintet created numerous gospel hits. Later, Cooke would move the young Womack brothers to Los Angeles, California, and transformed their niche-audience and gospel ethos into a gospel-soul fusion expressing themes of a more contemporary pop vignette. This prompted a revisiting of a previous gospel single, "Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray," which was contemporaneously amplified by the groups newly found pop-soul sound, culminating in the creation of the song, "Lookin’ for a Love". As their popularity increased, the group gained the attention of James Brown, who enlisted them to open up for him on tour. In 1964, the hit-single of the Valentinos titled, "It’s All Over Now," served as the Womack quintet’s experiential synthesis, showcasing mature country western inspired undertones. Overseas, The Rolling Stones would soon cover the Valentinos song, "It’s All Over Now," which propelled the European band’s career more than the Valentinos, an occurrence which showed a young Bobby the importance of intellectual property rights early in his career.

When Sam Cooke was assassinated in 1964, the Valentinos were left without management and soon disbanded, leading Bobby on towards his solo career. In 1965, Bobby Womack married Barbara Cooke, his mentor’s widow. This marriage angered not only the Womack and Cooke families, but also the greater musical audience. After some hardship getting airtime at radio stations, Bobby’s songwriting and guitar prowess was recognized by way of the sessions he produced for artists such as Aretha Franklin. A 1968 signing with Minit Records allowed for the creation of Bobby Womack’s solo album, Fly Me to the Moon, and debut cover of The Mamas & the Papas’ "California Dreamin". Onwards, Bobby dominated the musical production background for more famous musicians, including Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone. 

Barbara Cooke had two children that were not Bobby’s when they married, but The Womack’s first child, Vincent Dwayne Womack was born in 1966. Their marriage dissolved due to scandal and in 1971 Barbara and Bobby Womack were divorced. In 1973 Bobby experienced another short-lived marriage with Evelyn Evans. A final marriage in 1975 to Regina Banks would bring Bobby two boys, Bobby Truth and Truth Bobby, born in 1978 and later, a girl, Gina Womack. Unfortunately, Truth Bobby, died in a freak accident at the age of four months old. Bobby Womack would father an additional two sons, Jordan and Cory, with Jody Laba, after a lapse of the relationship with Regina Womack in 1993. Bobby and Regina remarried in 2013 and lived in Bobby’s home in Tarzana, California.

In 1987 Bobby’s eldest child, Vincent Dwayne Womack, passed away at the age of 21. The loss of Womack’s firstborn child profoundly shook Bobby in ways that he would later articulate by way of heavy drug use from the late 1960’s, until he beat his negative substance habits in the mid 1990’s. Leading up to his passing, Bobby Womack had beat prostate and colon cancer, but he later was diagnosed with diabetes and early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Bobby Dwayne Womack died June 27, 2014 at the age of 70. His ashes are interred in the Great Mausoleum at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Kevin Jones

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