18. Dance with my father again (A tribute to Levi Stubbs)

Posted: May 7, 2009 in African American, Black entertainment, daughters, family, fathers
Tags: , , , ,
4 tops

…Never dreamed that he would be gone from me
If I could steal one final glance, one final step, one final dance with him
I’d play a song that would never, ever end
‘Cause I’d love, love, love
To dance with my father again… (Luther Vandross)

Born in Detroit in 1936, Levi Stubbs began his professional singing career with friends Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton, forming a singing group called The Four Aims in 1954. Two years later, after having signed with Chess Records, the group changed their name to the Four Tops. The name change was meant to avoid confusion with the then-popular Ames Brothers. The Four Tops began as a supper-club act before signing to Motown Records in 1963. By the end of the decade, the Four Tops had over a dozen hits. The most popular of their hits (all of which featured Stubbs on lead vocals) include “Baby I Need Your Loving”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, “It’s the Same Old Song”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, “Still Water (Love)” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)”.

Levi Stubbs and his wife Clineice were married from 1960 until his death, and had five children. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, and later, after a stroke, he was no longer able to tour with the group. Stubbs departed his earthly body in his sleep on October 17, 2008 at his home in Detroit.

Over 20 years ago I attended Detroit St. Martin DePorres high school with one of Stubb’s five children. That classmate’s name is Kelly Stubbs.

Kelly is the youngest of the Stubb’s children who now has a family of her own.  It was not until recently that Kelly was able to discuss and share with others what the loss of her father means to her.

FF:  What is your favorite childhood memory of the man the world knows as Levi?

Kelly: I have so many great memories but I guess the one that I often think about was the family ski trip. He never made it off the bunny hill!

FF:  What was life like being the daughter of a genre icon?

Kelly:  I don’t know anything different.  I feel I had a normal childhood. Much like sports; the entertainers of the 60’s and 70’s weren’t millionaires – so we had a rather normal middle-calss existence. I assume ours was similar to other households: we got spanked for playing with the light switches (LOL)… we had chores and punishments!

FF:  Levi Stubbs is not just a household name to Detroiters, but to the world.  Is there something you’d like the FathersFootprints’ audience to know about your father that only his intimate family member know?

Kelly:  My daddy had the biggest heart ever! No matter how many miles away, states or countries apart, he called every day.  He often called us several times a day, just to say good morning, good night and to see what we did for the day. I guess the most touching part is even as we became adults and began to rear families of our own, he continued to call.

FF:  You are now a proud parent of 4 children.  What parenting traits have you inherited from you father?

Kelly: He said “In parenting, you don’t get a dress rehearsal, so he would do the best he knew how.”  I must say, he won an Academy Award! J  I, like my dad, try to be the best parent I can, each and every day.

FF:  The passing of a loved one is never easy.  What advice do you have for those who still having living parents?

Kelly:  Love them and enjoy them daily, you only get one mother and one father.  I would give anything just to dance with my father again.

FF:  Thank you for sharing, Kelly.  I’m sure our readers are looking forward to the details of the Stubbs legacy in the book, Daddy Am I Pretty?kelly grammy

While working as an urban revitalization specialist for the city of Detroit, I had the distinct honor helping to facilitate the naming of several streets in a newly revitalized community.  Four Tops Drive now don the street sign at Woodbridge Estates, formerly the Jeffries Homes projects.

The legacy of Levi Stubbs will live on forever, as long as music is a part of our core existence.  We look forward to Kelly’s detailed account of her relationship with her legendary father, Levi Stubbs, in our future publication, Daddy Am I Pretty?

Until next time,  damon-signature1

  1. Kristal Allen says:

    I really enjoyed the article. I have always loved Kelly,to know her without knowing who her was you would have thought that she was just the “girl next door”. I too lost my father (not famous to the world)and I share Kelly’s feeling. My dad was my idol,hero, my everything. I can say that Mr. Levi Stubbs treated those of us who met him through Kelly like one of the kids, never a stranger.

  2. Kristal Allen says:

    Correction to previous comment. “to know Kelly without knowing who her father was, you would have thought that she was just the “girl next door”. Kelly was ALWAYS real, never FAKE.

  3. deborah says:

    Kelly is my youngest sister, and she is correct in saying we had the most wonderful father in the world !!
    He was kind, loving, giving and just everything any daughter would want in a dad. It is not easy living
    without him, but we know that his spirit lives on in each and every one of us.

    He was just a regular guy and growing up with Levi Stubbs as your father was no different than growing up
    for any other kid you went to school with or hung out with. When he went out on the road he would always
    say he was just “going to work” like fathers do.

    As Kelly said, cherish your parents each and everyday and do the best you can for them while they are
    here to know that you love and appreciate them.

    • Candy Johnson says:

      So true Deborah…grandparents too. My daughter was so lucky to have known her great-grandmother and have her in her life for 5 years. Just a little bit rubs off but it means so much and it does so much for who you are and what you will become.

  4. Rashad says:

    Levi’s version of “I Believe In You and Me” damn near brings me to tears..you just don’t hear voices like that anymore..

    • Candy Johnson says:

      That is so true…now when I hear certain songs Levi sang “I can’t help myself…” the tears or
      just the melancholy feeling in my heart takes me to where Clineice is or any of Levi’s children today.
      It hurts but it’s not a bad hurt!! It’s like when Little Anthony and the Imperials sing “Hurts So Bad”. I guess the song for me like that is “Still Waters”…I made it my moms ring tone on her cell phone.

  5. Keierra Niki says:

    This was very touching, knowing you and your family has been amazing. Not to put your age out there BUT you have helped raise me and even though I look at you as an Aunt (the role you play) I also see you as a sister. You are always there for advice, love, and a shoulder to lean on. You have learned how to be a good person, friend, mother, wife, and sister from two amazing people. Growing up I dont remember seeing too much of Uncle Levi but I can honestly say that your wisdom and beautiful personality is a reflection of your parent’s. I love you and I love both of them…..This piece is awesome and keep me updated on the book.

  6. Ruth Shipman says:

    Now you talking Doc! The Four Tops! I love the Motown Sound. It brings back memories. I have just started reading your blogs. My daughter shares them with me and I enjoy them. My favorite is the one were that Rachel lady was giving you a hard time.

  7. steven banks says:

    my father was stricken with cancer in may of 2007, he died soon thereafter in the month of july 2007…to say that his death was devastating and untimely would be an understatement,,however as the next eldest male child i welcomed the responsiblity to escort my dad hand in hand in this last dance..ironically i called on and old true friend (just as you are damon) and requested he sang an rendition to my dad as a final harmonic tribute…my good buddy terry thomas chose to sing dance with my father again as his selection…he sang it marvously,with heartfelt lyrics…weve all known terry was an excellent singer since we were teens but it appeared as though he put a personal touch to the song at my request,,it was beautiful and i will never forget the moment and the effort my friend exhibited for me when i was in a mourning state..true friends always come to you when you need them with just the right songs to say…

  8. montez payton says:

    I told kelly this and we had a laugh about it..
    Once at a show me being the young and curious kid I said
    “hey is something wrong with your face? why is it that color”
    I meant his beard being half and half and he said

    “um.. um.. is something wrong with yo face beside being ugly”
    It wasnt said in a mean way it was just a levi thing LOL

  9. Kelly Terrell says:

    I enjoyed the tribute very much. I have had the pleasure of knowing Kelly since high school and I have to say she has always been down to earth you would never know she had a famous dad coming up. I too have lost my dad and its not easy but it gets beter

  10. Miqua Holmes says:

    Kelly…reading your post took me back. It’s amazing how when we are grown we finally realize just how important certain people are in our lives!!! I know that my grandfather made me the woman that I am today! I also know that your father is part of who you are!! (trying not to take anything away from our mothers). It is time to make sure that they live through us……in everything that we do:-). Love you always


  11. Candy Johnson says:

    Kelly that was so touching. I think that the most beautiful thing about your dad as you did said and I think this of all the Four Tops, that treated their kids as kids and never overexpoxed you guys to the
    things some children of entertainers are exposed to. I think it grounded you and shaped you into a great mom…a nutty cuzzin, a wonderful daughter, and oustanding grandma Kelly from Treeon and and AWESOME wife.
    They say you can tell a woman was loved by her father when she is confident in her relationships with men and especially in marriage. You are amazing and that is a testiment to your mom and dad. Your dad and mom were and are (and will forever be) my surrogate parents in Detroit they had jokes…lol. At 19 telling my date I had to be home at 11pm and don’t make somebody come look for him…but you were blessed and still are and your interview shows it. Luv ya Cuz.

  12. Candy Johnson says:

    P.S. Luv the hair, luv the shoes, luv the suit…you are so you in the photo with the award…love it all!!

  13. april k. stubbs says:

    Hi as i read this article tears are rolling down my face. i know how it feels to lose a father(jojo), a great funny kind hearted man as well. the morning of uncles(Levi) death, i didnt sleep that whole night prior to. I felt something and didnt know what it was, until about 5 am, my mother came in the room that was it for me.
    i will always hold this family close to my heart because we have the same wonderful DNA pumping thru our viens. lets always keep eath other lifted in prayer and stay close. love ya, “Apee”- you can only call me that. lol

  14. Rev. Naz says:

    Kelly and Damon, this is a great piece and from the sound of it, the beginning of a great project. Kelly, it appears you are taking my advice…Rev. Jesse Jackson said in his words at Levi’s homegoing celebration (and I do mean celebration!!) that our family’s story is the great american story; and I said in my remarks that is up to us (their children) to tell the story. Thanks for telling the story, I know you will, as our mothers would say, tell it like it T.I.S.

    Levi, like all three of the other Tops, was my father too. Levi however had a special place in my life because he chose to be my Godfather (and Clineice my Godmother), a title he took very seriously. I was blessed to have these extra eyes watching me, and extra arms embracing me when my own dad wasn’t around. My dad is the sole survivor of the original Tops and I cherish him every day, but I miss my Godfather greatly. No one can tell a story like Levi, no one can croon out a ballad like The Captain….there will always be…through eternity…..THE FOUR OF US…..!!!

  15. Candice Marie...xo says:

    I am unbelievably excited to read Kelly’s upcoming feature in “Daddy, Am I Pretty?” Her life is so intriguing, and it’s her grace and humility that I find so special. Many blessings to Kelly and her family now and always. Beautifully done, Damon and Kelly.
    Candice Marie…xo

  16. Rev. Naz says:

    Hey Kelly and Damon, I mistakenly thought this was an excerpt from and upcoming book collaboration by the two of you. Nontheless Kelly, you still always tell it like it T.I. is.


  17. Juice says:


    Thanks for bringing this article to my attention! What a small world it is indeed!

    Kelly & Deborah,

    This was a beautiful recollection of Levi. Having been around you all, I have to say that Levi had to have been one hell of a father & you guys are one hell of a family to have shared Levi with the entire world. Without the support & encouragement of the family, it would’ve been difficult for him to go out & do what he did. It was my honor to have taken pictures of his homegoing & for “Levi Stubbs Day” for the family. I only wish that I had really gotten to know him, as it would’ve been an honor.

    I’ll be placing the pictures from “Levi Stubbs Day” on Soulfuldetroit tomorrow & Sunday. it was truly a great day & I’m honored that you guys included me on such a wonderful occasion.

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