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Brace Yourself: Chicago's 'Hawk' Winter Wind Turns 50

By DNAinfo Staff | November 2, 2017 6:07am
 Lou Rawls gave wide fame to the Hawk, Chicago's winter wind, in his song
Lou Rawls gave wide fame to the Hawk, Chicago's winter wind, in his song "Dead End Street."
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CHICAGO — Just around the corner, the Hawk will return.

Not ornithologically


How the Hawk, the name referring to Chicago's cold, harsh winter wind, got its name is "a mystery," linguist Barry Pokin writes.

"But one thing is certain: It didn't originate in Chicago," he said, citing 1934 references to wind in Baltimore as Hawkins and a 1944 Harlem reference to Mr. Hawkins. It was a popular term used by African-American jazz singers, he added.

But 50 years ago, the larger world was introduced to Chicago's Hawk by Lou Rawls through his 1967 hit "Dead End Street," a semiautobiographical tale of growing up on the South Side.

I was born in a city they call the Windy City

And they call it the Windy City because of the Hawk

The Hawk. The almighty Hawk

Mr. Wind

Takes care of plenty business around winter time.

On Rawls' dead end street "in a city without a heart" there was no escaping the Hawk's bite — "really socking it to me." Inside, it taxed the furnace, and he says he had to wear his clothes to bed.

In some live versions of the song, he describes the Hawk as "just like a giant razor blade blowin' down the street, and all the clothes in the world can't help you."

He knew of what he spoke.

Rawls was raised by his grandmother, Eliza Rawls, in Bronzeville in the Ida B. Wells Homes public housing development. He sang in the children's choir at Greater Mount Olive Baptist Church and graduated from Dunbar Vocational High School.

"Dead End Street" — credited to Rawls, Ben Raleigh and David Axelrod —  is an "infectious blues rocker with [a] strong line that should have no trouble skyrocketing Rawls back up the chart," according to a Billboard review in March 1967.

AllMusic.com says, "Lou's depiction of Chicago's Hawk (the wind) was stuff that reinforced the city's Windy City moniker."

"Rawls gives you the 411 on ghetto life from his 1967 'Too Much' album: learning to fight before you're 6 and overcoming unbelievable odds to just live another day. 'Dead End Street' gives a brief depiction of that life and the hopelessness that so many succumbed to," according to the music site.

Years later, Steve Goodman used the reference in his "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request," describing "By the shore's of old Lake Michigan, where the Hawk wind blows so cold."

"Dead End Street" finishes with Rawls declaring "I'm going to save my dough, get away from here." His goal: "I want to start using my mind."

Rawls died in 2006 at age 72 in Los Angeles, remembered for his butter-smooth voice, 18 films as an actor, and raising millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund.

And for the Hawk.