Howard Tate Dies

Soul singer Howard Tate, who got a second chance at a musical career three decades after being derailed by disputes with industry executives, personal tragedy and drug addiction, has died at age 72.

Tate died Friday of natural causes at his apartment in Burlington City, county medical examiner’s spokesman Ralph Shrom said.

Tate was born in Macon, Ga., and grew up in Philadelphia, where as a teenager he sang with the doo-wop group The Gainors. He was a rising star in the music world who later suffered through decades of such extreme darkness that his long-time producer figured he was dead before having a career resurgence and receiving a Grammy nomination in 2004.

In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Tate had three top 20 R&B hits, including “Get It While You Can,” written by his longtime producer Jerry Ragovoy and made more famous by Janis Joplin. Ragovoy, who died this year after a career producing artists including Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick, saw Tate as the artist who gave voice to the sounds he wanted to make.

At his early peak, Tate toured the chitlin circuit with Aretha Franklin as her version of “Respect” climbed the charts in 1967.

Legendary Philadelphia disc jockey Jerry Blavat called Tate “a major Philly star.”

“He truly was a street singer who captured the soul and feel of Philly back in the day,” Blavat said Tuesday.

But within a decade, Tate had walked away from his career, disillusioned that he wasn’t getting the royalties he thought he deserved. He took up a new career selling insurance in suburban Philadelphia.

“I got rid of my own records, and I didn’t listen to other people’s records because I didn’t want to flash back,” he told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview.

Then, he said, tragedy struck: A daughter died in a fire, and his marriage fell apart. He drank heavily, then became addicted to crack and other drugs and ended up homeless in Camden.

By the mid-1990s, he got clean and decided to become a minister. He eventually led a congregation in Willingboro.

Around that time, Tate’s 1967 album Get It While You Can, considered a classic by soul aficionados, was reissued on CD. On the liner notes, Ragovoy wrote that the singer was probably dead.

In 2001, a chance meeting at a grocery store between Tate and a former member of Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes tipped off the music world that he was alive.

And in 2003, he returned to the recording studio – Ragovoy’s Atlanta studio – to make Rediscovered, which was nominated for a Grammy for best contemporary blues record the next year.

At the time, Ragovoy was amazed that his protege’s voice sounded the same as it had 30 years earlier – maybe better.

Tate said he believed it was “a call from God” that brought him back to the music industry he had “hated and despised so bad.”

Over the next five years, he toured and released a live record and three more studio CDs.

For Blavat, it was gratifying to see someone whose career was cut short at first getting critical praise.

“They finally,” he said, “knew what I knew about this cat.”