Bobby Lewis, singer of 1961 smash hit single “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” died at the age of 95 on Apr. 28, it was confirmed on June 13.
Billboard reports that Lewis suffered pneumonia before his passing and is survived by three children, 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The musician was born in 1925, grew up in an orphanage and ran away from his Detroit foster home at age 12. He suffered poor eyesight throughout his life and said he was “virtually blind” in 2011.
Lewis started playing piano when he was six and launched his singing career at 14. After an early period of performing at carnivals, he sang with an orchestra before securing a recording contract in the early ‘50s. Around 1960 he moved to New York City around and recorded “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” which spent seven weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100 chart the following year and sold over three million copies. The song later featured in the soundtracks to ’70s film comedies American Graffiti and Animal House.
Lewis scored a second top 10 — and final chart entry — in 1961 with “One Track Mind. » He continued his performing career into his 80s.
Bobby Lewis – ‘Tossin’ and Turnin’’
“I can’t see anything,” he told NJ.com in 2011. “I’m virtually blind. But I’m coping. After 60-odd years in the business, singing rock ‘n’ roll and singing the blues, I have a good idea of how the stage runs. Everywhere I work, I check out the stage first — the front, the back and the sides. I have good friends who help me on and off the stage. I usually have a circle I can manoeuvre in as I’m givin’ out the lyrics.”
In the same article, veteran DJ Big Joe Henry said Lewis’ first single had been a definitive song in the history of rock ’n’ roll despite being overshadowed by Chubby Checker’s later single “The Twist.” “Bobby’s ‘Tossin’ and Turnin’ was one of the classic rock ’n’ roll hits because it literally started the birth of the novelty dance craze,” Henry argued.