An American boy
Robert Lee Hatfield was born on August 10, 1940 at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The family relocated to California when young Bobby was 4, settling in Anaheim, where Bobby's parents operated a dry cleaning business.
Bobby's love of music manifested itself early. His first public performance was during 3rd grade when he sang Shortnin' Bread on a local radio program. He continued his musical interests into Anaheim High School, organizing singing and instrumental groups.
Bobby was always an avid athlete and considered pursuing a career in professional baseball, being seriously scouted by pro teams.
His love for music won out however, and he continued in those pursuits through Fullerton Junior College and California State University, Long Beach. He formed a band which landed gigs at proms and local bars. It was during this period that he met future partner Bill Medley.That was righteous, brothers!
Hatfield, along with Bill Medley and 3 other members, formed a band called the Paramours in 1962.
According to pop legend, it was during a performance when a black Marine stood up and yelled "That was righteous, brothers!" The group listened, and renamed themselves the Righteous Brothers. They released their first album in 1963 on the Moonglow label. The group charted with Little Latin Lupe Lu and My Babe that same year, as well as producing a second album.
The Righteous Brothers made the jump to the Phillies record label in 1965, as well as working with Phil Spector as producer. Spector was known for creating a 'wall of sound' in his projects, giving them an unusually full and layered feel. The combination of Spector's sound and the duo of Hatfield/Medley led to their breakthrough hit in 1965. You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin"flew up the charts and was to become the most played single in recording history.
The vocal sound they produced was attention grabbing. The full and vibrant deep baritone of Bill Medley was intensified and offset by Bobby Hatfield's soaring tenor. The group possessed not just one legitimate star vocalist, but two. They soon earned the appellation of singing "blue eyed soul", so much so that many assumed they were in fact a black group. Contrary to their own expectations they were a hit, going against the grain and demonstrating that white performers could thrive performing soul music and R&B.
Hatfield and Medley themselves were far less than enthusiastic by the 'blue eyed soul' label, feeling that it unfairly and needlessly categorized them, forcing them into an artificial niche. Hatfield himself remarked that he felt the label was 'kind of goofy'.
On paper the Righteous Brothers had the deck stacked against them. They were, after all, a couple of white guys singing black music in an American music industry under assault by the British Invasion. Their chances for success were not bright. As always, going against the prevailing musical currents, they launched a series of Top 10 hits.
The Righteous Brothers charted with Just Once In My Life, Ebb Tide, and Hatfield's signature #1 hit solo Unchained Melody in 1965
Ups and downs
The group split with Spector in 1965 and signed with the Verve record label. They had some success, charting #1 with (You're My)Soul and Inspiration. Following that initial success the group found themselves with only minor success, then became hitless for some years.
The group split in 1968 to the dismay of fans around the world. Bill Medley worked on a solo career with some success. The split was relatively short-lived with the reunion taking place in 1974. They soon climbed the charts with Rock and Roll Heaven.
The Righteous Brothers had made a successful career performing on tour as part of the nostalgia circuit. They maintained an active touring schedule as well as performing for 12 weeks annually in Las Vegas.
New generation, old love
A new generation of listeners became acquainted with Hatfield and Medley. Medley recorded a duet with Jennifer Warnes in 1987, a song named (I've Had)The Time of My Life. The song was on the soundtrack of the monster hit film Dirty Dancing, earning a Grammy Award along the way.
In 1990 another film soundtrack featured Bobby Hatfield's classic Unchained Melody. The film was Ghost, another Patrick Swayze film, and the song went on to become a million seller for the second time.
The last act
Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley were scheduled to perform at Miller Auditorium on the Western Michigan University campus in Kalamazoo, Michigan on Wednesday, November 5, 2003. Hatfield failed to respond to a wake up call, causing management and authorities to investigate. The room was entered, and Hatfield's body was discovered. It was removed to Lansing, Michigan where it underwent an autopsy to determine cause of death. The final report stated that Hatfield had died of a heart attack, an event triggered by 'acute cocaine toxicity'. Bobby Hatfield was 63 years old.
At the memorial service for Hatfield, friend Bill Medley performed. Bobby Hatfield is interred at the Pacific View Memorial Park, Corona Del Mar, California.
Bobby Hatfield is survived by his second wife Linda, their two children, and two children of a previous marriage.
Part of the legacy left by Bobby Hatfield was the induction of the Righteous Brothers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
in March, 2003. They were inducted by Billy Joel
, who credited them with being a seminal influence on his own career.
An avid golfer, Bobby Hatfield had been the host of an annual charity golf tournament, raising over a million dollars for lupus research. Hatfield's wife Linda had been afflicted with the disorder for many years.