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Obituaries : Ted Hawkins; Musician Won Fame as Street Singer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ted Hawkins, a hard-luck street singer who released his first major-label recording only last March, has died. He was 58.

Hawkins died Sunday at Centinela Medical Center after a stroke, the David Geffen Co. announced Tuesday.

Geffen produced his successful album, “The Next Hundred Years,” which Rolling Stone described as “Hawkins’ own story, told humbly and truly.” It was Hawkins’ sixth solo album, but the only one to reach international success.

Billing himself as “the unstoppable Ted Hawkins,” he made his living as a street singer for about 30 years. As recently as 1993, Hawkins regularly perched on a milk crate near a trendy boutique in Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.

He earned, he confided to The Times, about $300 a week and often stopped appreciative joggers in their tracks with his combination of soul, blues and country music.

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“You’d be surprised what a good song can do,” he said. “When I’m out singing on the promenade and I really want to stop people, I sing ‘Amazing Grace.’ It always works.”

Born in Mississippi, the son of a prostitute and a man he never knew, Hawkins was in reform school by the age of 12. There he discovered music when a New Orleans piano teacher came to visit. Hawkins sang the song he learned, “Somebody’s Knocking at My Door,” at a school assembly and, in his words, “tore the house down.”

“I loved that feeling,” he told The Times. “I wanted to keep that feeling forever.”

But his singing--mostly on the streets--was regularly interrupted by stays in prison from the age of 15, when he stole a leather jacket from a Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop and was sent to Mississippi’s Parchman Farm State Penitentiary.

Hawkins plied his street singing by hitching rides to Eastern cities until 1966, when he bought a one-way ticket to “somewhere where it don’t get cold"--Los Angeles.

He sang outside markets in South-Central Los Angeles and then Downtown, and in the 1980s became a fixture at Venice Beach. In the 1990s, he moved his milk crate, his brass spittoon for collecting tips and his Gibson guitar to the Third Street Promenade.

Hawkins had a following in England during the 1980s--even taking the milk crate there on plane flights--but could not get a recording contract in Britain because of his felony convictions. After the release of his Geffen album in 1994, Hawkins also became popular in Australia and other English-speaking countries.

Hawkins is survived by his wife of 29 years, Elizabeth; four daughters, Elizabeth, Tina, Carmen and Adrienne, and a son, Theodore.

A memorial service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at View Park Chapel of the Harrison Ross Funeral Home, 4601 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. A Ted Hawkins Memorial Fund is being established to aid his family. Donors are asked to call Nancy Meyer at the Cameron Organization, (818) 566-8880.


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