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Pookie Hudson, 72; wrote 'Goodnight, Sweetheart'

Pookie Hudson (second from left) with The Spaniels, from left: Andy Macgruder, Ernest Warren, Gerald Gregory, Bill Carey, and Pete Simmons (with guitar). (associated press courtesy of Pookie Hudson family)

WASHINGTON -- Pookie Hudson, the lead singer and songwriter for the doo wop group The Spaniels who lent his romantic tenor to such hits as "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" and influenced generations of artists, has died. He was 72.

Mr. Hudson, a Des Moines native, died Tuesday of complications from cancer of the thymus at his home in Capitol Heights, Md., his publicist, Bill Carpenter, said.

Mr. Hudson continued performing into last fall, when he learned that his cancer had returned after a remission. His last recordings were done in October for an "Uncloudy Christmas" compact disc, which will be released this fall, Carpenter said.

Mr. Hudson's longtime manager, Wellington "Bay" Robinson, said the singer should be remembered for his great writing ability. Robinson said Mr. Hudson wrote "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" (". . . it's time to go") for a young woman he was dating at the time.

"He was staying awful late at the young lady's house, and her parents said . . . he had to go," he said. "As he was walking home, that's what inspired him to write that song."

The Spaniels' signature song was a Top 5 R&B hit in 1954. The McGuire Sisters rushed out a version of "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" that sold even more copies. At the time, only black radio stations played Mr. Hudson's version, according to Carpenter.

The Spaniels' version was heard two decades later on the soundtrack of "American Graffiti." Among the Spaniels' other Top 20 R&B hits, Carpenter said, were "Baby, It's You," "Peace of Mind," and "Let's Make Up."

"He really made a blueprint for what a crooner should sound like. It was an unmistakable voice," Carpenter said. "I think that his voice, that smooth tenor, was the voice that influenced Smokey Robinson. It influenced Aaron Neville."

Neville said as much in a 1991 New York Times interview, which cited Mr. Hudson as an influence.

Thornton James Hudson was born on June 11, 1934, in Des Moines. The Spaniels first came together at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Ind., where Mr. Hudson grew up and sang in church choirs.

He was homeless for a time after he went solo and hit a slump in the 1960s, but he got back to work in the 1980s. He and fellow former Spaniels took part in some oldies tours.

He told the Washington Post in 1983 that he continued to write songs, but audiences "won't let us sing new stuff. That's not what they pay for. But it beats doing nothing."

He began receiving regular royalties for "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" in the 1990s.