Rudy Lewis – The Coming and Going of the Blue Voice of Harlem

A tracing of the rise and fall of Rudy Lewis, a blues singer who was a part of the 60s sensation, The Drifters and became a member of the Forever 27 Club.
How Did Lewis Become a Member of the Club?

Rudy Lewis was an American blues singer who rose to fame briefly in the 1960s, before dying a sudden and tragic death due to a heroin overdose at the age of 27, making him a posthumously recognised member of the Forever 27 Club.

Gospel Days

Rudy Lewis or Charles Rudolph Harrell was born in Philadelphia in 1936. He was recognized as a talented singer from a young age and started singing in gospel groups. He became, in fact, one of the few male singers to perform with the Clara Ward singers, and he continued to do so until he auditioned for and got selected to The Drifters at the age of 24. Lewis joined them as the lead vocalist and shifted base to Harlem, New York City. He remained a member of the Drifters until his unprecedented death in 1964.

The Sudden Signs of Trouble

The Drifters were on the rise, and Lewis too rose along with them. However, while in Harlem, he inculcated the unfortunate addiction to drugs in general and heroin in particular. Lewis and his group kept his drug abuse away from the public eye almost until his death.

He worked consistently over the years and was the lead vocalist for a number of the hits of the Drifters, including ‘Up On the Roof’, ‘Some Kind of Beautiful’ and more.

According to a statement made later by a friend of his, Lewis may have been a closeted homosexual, and this may have been what gave rise to turmoil within him, pushing him towards drug abuse.
Lewis joined The Drifters when they had already established themselves as the Black singing sensations of Harlem, and for the next three years, there was no looking back. The shoes he had to fill were pretty big but Lewis filled them, bringing his own twist of soul to the sound of the group and steering then firmly into the center of the morphing R&B scene.

In spite of the brevity of his career as a musician, Lewis was remembered and cherished in the music world as a first-rate voice and a talent that could have amounted to much more. In April 1963 he even recorded his first and sadly only extant single, ‘Baby I Dig Love’. The single, however, never made the charts, and Lewis returned to the underbelly of drug abuse, injecting heroin.

An Unexpected End

While The Drifters were preparing for their ‘Under the Boardwalk’ session of 1964, Ruby was suffering from an eating disorder, bulimia, which coupled with a heroin overdose possibly gave him a sudden heart attack on the night of the 20th of May, the very day before the Drifters’ session. Lewis was just 27 at the time and was deeply missed by the members of his group, going down in the history of Harlem music as one of the first of its artists to be claimed by the accursed Forever 27 Club.

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