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WASHINGTON — Pookie Hudson, lead singer and songwriter for the doo wop group The Spaniels, who lent his romantic tenor to hits like “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” and influenced generations of later artists, has died. He was 72.
Hudson died Tuesday of complications from cancer of the thymus at his home in Capitol Heights, Md., his publicist, Bill Carpenter, said Wednesday.
Hudson continued performing into last fall when he learned that his cancer had returned after a remission. His last recordings were done in October for an “Uncloudy Christmas” CD that will be released this fall, Carpenter said.
Hudson’s longtime manager, Wellington “Bay” Robinson, said the singer should be remembered for his great writing ability.
Robinson said Hudson wrote “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” (“…well, it’s time to go”) for a young woman he was dating at the time. “He was staying awful late at the young lady’s house and her parents said … he had to go. As he was walking home, that’s what inspired him to write that song.”
The Spaniels’ signature song was a Top 5 R&B hit in 1954. The McGuire Sisters rushed out a version of “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” that sold even more copies. At the time, only black radio stations played Hudson’s version, according to Carpenter.
The Spaniels’ version was heard two decades later on the soundtrack of “American Graffiti.” Among the Spaniels’ other Top 20 R&B hits, Carpenter said, were “Baby, It’s You,” “Peace of Mind” and “Let’s Make Up.”
“He really made a blueprint for what a crooner should sound like. It was an unmistakable voice,” Carpenter said. “I think that his voice, that smooth tenor, was the voice that influenced Smokey Robinson. It influenced Aaron Neville.” Neville said as much in a 1991 New York Times interview, which cited Hudson as an influence along with Clyde McPhatter and Nat King Cole.
Hudson was born Thornton James Hudson on June 11, 1934, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Spaniels first came together at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Ind., where Hudson was raised and began singing in church choirs.
He was homeless for a time after he went solo and hit a slump in the 1960s, but he got back to work in the 1980s. He and fellow former Spaniels took part in some oldies tours, holding down ordinary jobs on the side. He told The Washington Post in 1983 that he continued to write new songs, but audiences “won’t let us sing new stuff. That’s not what they pay for. But it beats doing nothing.”
He began receiving regular royalties for “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” in the 1990s.
The Spaniels were honored in 1991 by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation with an award that carried a $20,000 grant. The group used the money to record their album “40th Anniversary,” which was reissued by Collectables Records.
He is survived by his wife, Delores, nine children and 16 grandchildren.
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