A great Philadelphia soul singer died over the weekend.
Howard Tate was somewhat obscure, but revered amongst aficionados, and staged a remarkable career comeback.
He started in 1967, with his first minor hit, “Get It While You Can.” Four years later it became a major hit for Janis Joplin.
In 1972 he recorded the album “Howard Tate,” which has become a kind of Holy Grail for soul music fans. Then Tate abruptly quit the music industry and dropped out of sight. During most of the 1980’s he was addicted to cocaine and spent time living on the streets of Camden before becoming a small-time preacher. Many of his fans assumed he was dead.
While in a grocery store one day, by chance, he bumped into an old acquaintance who encouraged him to resurface as a singer. The resulting album, “Rediscovered” (2003), surprised everybody–including Tate himself–that after years of self-abuse, he still had the voice.
“The record was fantastic, after a deacade of self-abuse and the damage to his body,” said Bruce Warren, program director at WXPN in Philadelphia. “The soulfullness, the spirituality came back. The fact he re-connected with [producer Jerry] Ragavoy and went down south to record, I think something happened down there. He pulled from the good, and the bad.”
Tate stood out for his unique delivery, wrapping his buttery voice around phrases and punctuating with an occassional high falsetto. He debuted that style in his younger days, and years of hard living never stole it away from him.
“Rediscovered” was nominated for a Grammy. Since then he recorded two more studio albums, and a live album.
Tate died of multiple myeloma and leukemia in his apartment in Burlington City, New Jersey. He was 72.