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Chicago soul great, Mayfield successor Reggie Torian dead at 65

Reggie Torian, shown at a January 2015 rehearsal for "All Things Mayfield," a musical tribute to Curtis Mayfield, died Wednesday. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Satin-voiced Chicago soul singer Reggie Torian, who stepped in to sing with The Impressions after the departure of Curtis Mayfield, has died.

Mr. Torian, 65, died on Wednesday while rehearsing with another group, the Independents, for a Mother’s Day Show, according to his publicist, Lynn Orman Weiss.

“He had the most incredible falsetto,” Weiss said.

Mr. Torian, who lived in Country Club Hills, spent his early years in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where he made his singing debut as a 7-year-old with a little Elvis guitar. The appreciative response from female members of the audience convinced him that music could be his future. Later, he grew up in Chicago Heights and Markham. He attended Thornton Township High School in Harvey, said his sister, Vanessa Hunter.

In 1972, he joined The Impressions, a super-group of soul singers that once included Jerry “Ice Man” Butler. Asked what he was thinking when he stepped into the shoes of soul icon Mayfield, he told former Chicago Sun-Times writer Dave Hoekstra: “You’re young and dumb. You don’t know how to be afraid.”

LISTEN TO REGGIE TORIAN

“Reggie was the last of the great lead singers of the Impressions,” said Butler, now a commissioner on the Cook County Board. Butler was moved by his lead performance in “It’s Alright to Have a Good Time — the Story of Curtis Mayfield,” at the Black Ensemble Theater a few years ago. “It was one of the most beautiful and poignant portrayals that I’d ever seen. He was a major talent.”

While other singers might warm up shortly before shows, Mr. Torian was known for practicing for six or seven hours.

The results were magic. “If you closed your eyes, you could have sworn you were listening to Curtis Mayfield,” said Melody Spann Cooper, president of WVON Radio.

“Reginald Torian was one of the most outstanding human beings that I had ever worked with,” said BET founder Jackie Taylor. “He had absolutely no experience as an actor, yet his portrayal of Curtis Mayfield was simply magnificent. He was a pure joy to work with, and we at the Black Ensemble Theater will truly miss him.”

Last year, Mr. Torian appeared at Hyde Park’s The Promontory in the show “All Things Mayfield.”

His death is a reminder of Chicago’s place in the history of soul music, said Spann Cooper. “These real ‘Soul Men,’ I don’t see, you know, the girth of that, in this generation, which makes us love them more.”

He loved the simple things, like getting up to find his coffee made, or coming home to find a hot meal waiting, said his fiancee, Willette Bond.

And every day, he dropped in at the home of his mother, Rheda Bell. “He always made sure she had her newspaper,” Vanessa Hunter said.

A son, Reggie II, an alum of Thornwood High in South Holland, was often in sports headlines for being a world-class hurdler.

Services are pending, Hunter said. He is also survived by his daughters, Tyra and Abrease; two more sons, Seth and Reginald “Tre” III; three more sisters, Sharon Mance, Denise Daniels and Necole Torian; his brothers, Maurice and Vincent, and 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.