Cecil Womack: Half of the husband-and-wife duo known for their soul hits of the 1980s

Bobby Womack admitted he'd had an affair with Linda; the brothers did not speak for years

The husband-and-wife duo of Cecil and Linda Womack made some of the most enduring, sensuous, slinky, soul records of the 1980, starting with their wonderful debut album Love Wars, a favourite on US urban stations with the quiet storm ballads “Baby I'm Scared Of You” and “Express Myself”, and its electro-funk title track, which became their UK chart debut in 1984. However, Womack & Womack are probably best remembered for the naggingly catchy “Teardrops”, a Top 3 hit throughout much of the world in 1988, which has since been revived by many, including Elton John and k.d. lang, the Sugababes and Joss Stone

Expertly produced by Stewart Levine, Love Wars also contained a version of Cecil Womack's best-known song, “Love T.K.O.”, co-written with Eddie Noble, Jr. First recorded by David Oliver, but popularised on both sides of the Atlantic by Teddy Pendergrass in 1980, “Love T.K.O.” was subsequently covered by Debbie Harry, Hall & Oates, Bette Midler, Boz Scaggs, Lambchop, Michael McDonald, Seal and the Beautiful South.

Drawing from their own, convoluted, personal experiences, Cecil and his wife, who had known each other since childhood, were experts at captivating the trials, travails and tribulations of love. Cecil had previously been married to the Motown star Mary Wells, while his older brother Bobby married Linda's mother, the widow of the gospel-turned-soul singer Sam Cooke, in 1965, and admitted to a 1970 affair with Linda in his 2006 autobiography Midnight Mover.

Born in 1947, Cecil Womack was the youngest of five sons born to a steelworker who often sang gospel with his own siblings as the Womack Brothers in Charleston, West Virginia, and continued to do so after moving to Cleveland with a group called the Voices of Love. Nicknamed “Cornflakes”, Cecil slept in the same big bed as Friendly Jr – who was named after his father – Curtis, Bobby and Harry, and joined them in imitating their father's group and playing his guitar until they were found out and encouraged to practice their harmonies.

Eventually, their father quit his job and revived the Womack Brothers, now featuring his five sons, performing in churches across the Midwest. In 1953 they opened for the Soul Stirrers at the Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland and came to the attention of their good-looking frontman, Sam Cooke, who mentored them.

They joined the “gospel highway” circuit alongside the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Pilgrim Travelers and the Staples Singers before signing to Cooke's new label, SAR Records, and moving to Los Angeles. After a flop gospel single in 1961, they changed their names to The Valentinos and sold two million copies of “Lookin' For A Love”, a secular adaptation of “Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray”, featuring Bobby Womack on lead, in 1962.

By then, Friendly Jr and Curtis had graduated, and Bobby, Harry and Cecil quit school to concentrate on “the devil's music”, to the horror of their religious father. They toured with James Brown, and scored another crossover hit with “It's All Over Now”, which was subsequently covered by the Rolling Stones, but the fall-out from Cooke's death – he was shot by a motel manager in Los Angeles in December 1964 – and Bobby Womack's marriage halted their progress.

They called it a day after releasing a couple of singles on the Chicago label Chess in 1966. Cecil helped Wells write and produce Servin' Up Some Soul, her 1968 album for Jubilee Records, which featured the other Womacks, as did several of Bobby's solo albums in the 1970s and '80s. He also wrote several of his brother's stand-out tracks, including “Stand Up” on The Poet album and “I Wish I Had Someone To Go Home To” on The Poet II, though Bobby admitted in his autobiography that he hadn't spoken to Cecil in years.

In 1976, Cecil Womack filed for divorce from Wells on the grounds that she was having an affair with his brother Curtis. The following year he married Linda Cooke and they hit a creative purple patch, composing material that went on to be recorded by George Benson, Eric Clapton, Patti LaBelle, Bonnie Raitt, Ruby Turner, The Dells, The Dramatics and The O'Jays. As Womack & Womack, their intertwined vocals – Cecil's grainy tenor was eerily similar to Bobby's – and mastery of the songwriting process, combined with his understanding of studio technology, brought them critical acclaim and steady album sales, not only with Love Wars, but also their 1985 follow-up for Elektra, Radio M.U.S.I.C. Man.

In January 1987 they headlined the Royal Albert Hall in London before signing to Fourth & Broadway, Island's dance imprint, and making the Conscience album, co-produced by Chris Blackwell, and featuring several of their offspring. The album spent close to a year on the charts and spawned not only “Teardrops”, but also two further UK Top 40 entries, “Life's Just A Ballgame” and “Celebrate The World”, which were indicative of the wider concerns they continued exploring on 1991's Family Spirit.

This African-centric consciousness coalesced during a trip to Nigeria, where they discovered ancestral ties to the Zekkariyas tribe and both adopted African names, Cecil becoming known as Zekuumba Zekkariyas and Linda as Zeriiya Zekkariyas. In 1993 they issued an album, Transformation To The House of Zekkariyas, and moved from the US to South Africa with their children.

The seven-year age difference, which had prevented Cecil and Linda getting together in the mid-'60s, had long ceased being a big deal. “When Zeriiya was young, I felt we were like brother and sister,” he told The Independent On Sunday when interviewed for the How We Met feature in 1994. “I still do. We relate the same way as we've always done. I think we're successful together because we're so alike. I love travelling and so does she. She has never been into material possessions and I'm not either. So we don't have any disagreements. We prefer to sit down and talk about how we can get closer to each other.”

 

Cecil Dale Womack, singer, songwriter, musician and producer: born Cleveland, Ohio 25 September 1947; one son; married 1967 Mary Wells (divorced 1976; two sons, one daughter), 1977 Linda Cooke (six children); died South Africa 1 February 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy