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Fame and fortune forever eluded the late, great Howard Tate

A death, a debt and musical memories.

The news of R&B singer Howard Tate's death had me scratching my head. The name, if not the music, sounded so familiar. Had I once written something about the crooner?

With more than 1,500 bylines in my time here, it's easy to forget a few. A quick search of our archives unearthed this 2005 column chronicling the singer's fade into obscurity, unlikely resurgence and financial woes.

Tate was a hugely talented soul singer who never found fame or fortune. He died Friday at 72 of multiple myeloma and leukemia in his apartment in Burlington City. His final decade was as tumultuous as his early years in entertainment.

Tate stormed the charts in the 1960s, disappeared in the 1970s, became a homeless crack addict in the 1980s, found God in the 1990s, and - it's a miracle! - was rediscovered, in a Willingboro supermarket of all places, on New Year's Day 2001, I wrote.

Soon, he had a new CD, rave reviews, and gigs around the globe. Things were going so well, Tate figured he'd clear a million last year.

My piece focused on a fan who couldn't have been happier about Tate's comeback: Ken Stehlik. The South Jersey man had twice invested in the singer who swore he just needed a few grand here and there to get back on the charts and in concert halls. After repeated efforts to collect, Stehlik took Tate to court and won a $10,000 judgment.

Tate, who also professed to be a minister, played the poor card when I confronted him about honoring his word.

"I can't pay him what I don't have," Tate argued when I stopped by his humble cottage on the Rancocas Creek. "I'm not Prince, on the road 300 nights a year. I'm not Norah Jones, selling millions of records."

Stehlik was undergoing chemotherapy for lung cancer when we met. In something that has never happened before or since, he suffered a fatal heart attack between our interview and the date of the column's publication.

His family and lawyer, Donna Cettei, pledged to press on with collecting what Stehlik was owed. Reading of Tate's death, I contacted Cettei to see if she was ever successful.

Alas, the broken record spun on.

Although we attempted to collect from his record royalties, the location of the company was in Tennessee. Then, he filed bankruptcy and our debt/judgment was discharged, she wrote in an email.  I do remember he came to my office with his "bodyguard" and told me I wouldn't get into heaven because I was bothering him. Some minister. 

-- Monica Yant Kinney

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