Abdul “Duke” Fakir wouldn’t be human if he didn’t feel strange sometimes. As he has continued to perform, around a pandemic-driven pause, with the latter-day version of the Four Tops, he is the last remaining founder member of this great vocal institution. He does so with the immense good grace and style that always characterised his work with his departed colleagues. Duke was born on December 26, 1935.
The Detroit native was friends from school years with Levi Stubbs, and they first met their soon-to-be-soulmates Lawrence Payton and Renaldo “Obie” Benson in 1953. From that day, their bond was absolutely unbreakable, forged in that rare “all for one and one for all” approach that decreed they were stronger as a mighty vocal quartet than any of them would be pursuing a solo career.
By the time the Four Tops made their US pop and R&B chart debut in the summer of 1964 with “Baby I Need Your Loving,” they had years of vital experience and craftsmanship under their belt. Interpreting the brilliant songwriting of Holland, Dozier & Holland and other Motown writers, the group’s vocal interplay was peerless, their instinct for a winning song almost unfailing.
Long after their perceived heyday, Fakir and the Tops made many masterful recordings for ABC/Dunhill, Casablanca and RSO, returning to Motown in the early 1980s before ending their chart days at Casablanca. They performed live in the original four-piece for 44 years, until Payton became the first to pass away in 1997. Benson died in 2005 and Stubbs in 2008.
As the current Four Tops were playing one of their frequent UK tours, Duke told the Daily Express: “Today, I’m with a wonderful group of guys who are about as close to the original Four Tops as it’s possible to get. These guys are doing a fine job keeping our legacy intact.” The group’s latter-day line-up features Ronnie McNeir, Lawrence’s son, Lawrence Payton Jr. and Alexander Morris, who replaced Harold Bonhart in early 2019. Their 2022 datebook includes another return to their beloved UK in the fall.
“In 1990, we were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999,” said Fakir. “The one that meant the most, though, was the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. I was in tears. I have a lovely home where my wife and I live…I have four children from my two marriages and they are all wonderful. I feel totally blessed.”
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