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20 April 1951 – 1 July 2005

I awoke on a bright Saturday morning to the tragic news that Luther Vandross had past away. Strangely enough, I do not remember setting my clock radio to come on at 7:00 AM. But somehow the radio faded in just as the newsreader announced, “we have lost one of the greatest R&B singers of all time”. Like most of us, I was aware of Vandross’ stroke in April of 2003 and had hoped and prayed for his recovery. I knew all of his music intimately. So I felt I lost a very special friend.

Luther Vandross died July 1st, 1:47 PM, ET at the John F. Kennedy Medical Centre in Edison, New Jersey. Thankfully family and friends surrounded him during his final moments. He never fully recovered from the massive stroke on April 16 2003.

Many people believe Luther Vandross’ career began in 1981, with the release of his “Never Too Much” album. Of course this album release was only half the story. I had discovered ‘Vandross’ voice’ while listening to one of the many pirate radio stations in the early 1980’s. “A house is not a home” was being constantly aired at his time by D J’s, who obviously realised they had discovered something special. At that time I was surprised that someone could do such an amazing cover of the Bacharach / David classic. ‘And completely make it their own’. I remember bringing this song to the attention of my father, who was a Dionne Warwick fan (and still is). Even my father nodded in confirmation of Luther’s achievement.

I was in disbelief that “A house is not a home” was the only song on offer from Vandross. So I searched the soul racks in the local shops in South London. It did not take long to discover the “Never too much” album and instantly wore it out on the family ‘music centre.’ As per usual, it took quite a while before the commercial stations picked up on the single “Never Too much”, but when they did, they slaughtered it! I did investigate if Vandross had previous albums that I had missed, but found nothing. It took further investigation to unravel his early singing career.

New York born Vandross’ started, (like so many successful soul singers), with much gospel and soul input from his family. Both his parents were singers. His sister, Patricia, was part of a 1950’s group called ‘The Crests’. Vandross formed his own group while still at school and worked with the musical theatre workshop ‘Listen My Brother’. He would later perform at the renowned ‘Harlem Apollo Theatre’.

After a relatively quite period in the 1970’s, Carlos Alomar, an old school friend requested Vandross’ assistance in the studio. At the time Alomar was working on the “Young Americans” recording for David Bowie. Bowie was so impressed with Luther that he asked him to contribute with vocal arrangements and sing backing vocals. Luther went on to open for Bowie’s US tour. Such exposure led to further requests from the likes of Ringo Starr, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Chaka Khan.

The Cotillion label signed Vandross to front the group named ‘Luther’. The albums “This Close To You” and “Luther” were released in 1976 but failed to generate sales. Some say the album failures was mainly due to the fact that Luther was not given free reign to explore and express the ‘real ‘Luther Vandross’. Instead, the albums were given a ‘disco feel’, which seemed to be the flavour at the time.

Understandably despondent, Vandross continued with session work, adding outstanding contributions to recordings for, Patti Austin, Quincy Jones, Gwen Guthrie, Chic and Sister Sledge. His voice was also beginning to become recognisable on a wider platform by singing on many advertising jingles for radio and television. Across Europe he was starting to gain recognition by his vocal contributions on The ‘Change’ hit singles “The Glow Of Love” and “Searching”.

It was now clear to major labels that this man had something to offer. And judging by the feedback from his now steady growing fan base, as well as interest being shown by many artists, he was ready to pursue bigger projects.

Epic / CBS were now ready to back Vandross and re-launch his career as a ‘solo artist’. The album “Never too much” was released in 1981 and reached the US top 20. The subsequent single release “Never Too Much” hit the number 1 R&B singles spot.

Vandross’ ‘perfectionist qualities’ were starting to pay off. Artists were now lining up to either have songs written, be produced, duet with him, or to possibly receive the whole ‘Vandross treatment’. His resume continued to grow. The duet with Cheryl Lyn on “If This World Were Mine”, Dionne Warwick’s “How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye”, or the duet with Gregory Hines “There’s Nothing Better Than Love” are just a few successful collaborations.

As Vandross had now earned the respect as a singer / songwriter, he was given greater autonomy with regard to his solo work This proved to be one of the greatest gifts given to him by his record company. From here onwards there would be no looking back.

1982 saw the second album release for Epic “Forever, For Always, For Love”.
1983, “Busy Body” and 1985 “The Night I Fell In Love”. These three albums are still regarded by many ‘early’ Luther fans as ‘Luther at his very best’.

I remember watching interviews with Vandross in the mid –late 1980’s. A couple of questions that would always make his eyes light up were:

“What will be your next goal?” Or,
“What would you really like to see happen in your career from this point?”

Vandross would invariably reply:

“I would really love to receive further recognition for my work… or to even win a Grammy!”

Well, Vandross went on to win many awards for his wonderful contribution to music. (4 Grammy awards in total). Starting with the single “Here and Now”, in 1990. The album “The Power Of Love” in 1991, the single “Your Secret Love” in 1996 and last but not least, for the single “Dance With My Father” 2004.

Vandross’ frustrations were not always quelled. He was an extremely private individual who seemed to suffer much insecurity. During a concert at Pigeon Island, St Lucia, he would not return to the stage until it was swept thoroughly and disinfected. He also preferred to keep out of the ‘speculative media spotlight’ and any interviews that he did attend were very carefully managed.

He had a lifelong battle with obesity. Health problems such as diabetes ran in his family. In fact, his father (Luther Sr) died of complications surrounding the disease when Luther was just five years old. His two sisters and a brother also passed away before him. His weight fluctuated so much that rumours swirled that he had more serious health problems than hypertension and diabetes.

The album “Luther Vandross” was released in 1991 after moving to the ‘J’ record label. Luther lost 9 stone prior to its release!

In 2003 the album “Dance With My Father” was completed, but before it’s release Luther Vandross suffered a massive stroke and remained in a coma for six weeks. After undergoing a tracheotomy, there was concern that if Luther did recover he would never be able to sing again. ‘J’ records rush released the album “Dance With My Father”.

Vandross did recover enough to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey Oprah Winfrey and sent a video message “Thank you” after receiving a Grammy for “Dance with My Father”. But after a further relapse and worsening health, he died July 1st, 1:47 PM, ET at the John F. Kennedy Medical Centre in Edison, New Jersey.

It has been said by many music critics that Luther Vandross could sing the contents of a phone book and get away with it! In fact he was bestowed the title ‘His Royal Crooner” by many music critics!

Luther Vandross @ The Hammersmith Apollo, London  1987

I just had to add these photographs taken at his concert in 1987 at the Carling Hammersmith Apollo. I realise the quality is very poor, but they were taken from the very back of this venue. If you know the Hammersmith Apollo, you will understand! (I was nearly in the road outside). After all if you wanted to get any closer to “His Royal Crooner”, you almost had to be Royalty yourself! And back then, my equipment was not as sophisticated as it is now (Though I still do not own a Hubble telescope lens).

Luther Vandross @ The Hammersmith Apollo, London  1987

Excuses aside, it is not the quality of the photographs that is important here. If you have read any of my reviews, specifically the Al Green review , you will understand that I do not like large venues, due to the lack of intimacy.

Luther Vandross @ The Hammersmith Apollo, London  1987

Luther Vandross was able to personalise every song he sang. He was able to reach each and every individual who attended the Apollo that night and make you feel special. A concert I will never forget!

I also remember his concert at the Dominion Theatre in the early 1980’s I believe this may have been his first concert on British soil. Though I did not attend this concert, I remember the delightful glow on people’s faces at the end of it.

“When Luther vandross released an album, you didn’t wait to hear it, you just bought it!”

He always made a song ‘his own’. No matter how many times a song had been covered, Luther added his own unique ‘Vandross treatment!’ Somehow he always managed to ‘hit the spot emotionally and make it seem that he had written ‘the song for you alone'.

I always felt that Luther’s eyes always portrayed ‘a sadness and longing’. I know he always longed for recognition specifically in the form of a Grammy. But I still sensed further pain and longing, especially within the lyrics of his songs and at the edge of his’ voice’. His music seemed to touch on the complete dictionary of emotions, especially surrounding love!

“…Luther was the first guy I saw stick to his artistic guns and come out on top. People told him he’d never make it without a gimmick. Well he had a gimmick; he could sing his ass off!”

Marcus Miller

A message from Carole Clemesha (a long time fan).
I received this email while writing his tribute:

"It appears that through most of my life changes, Luther and his songs have been part of me. It will leave a big hole now that he has gone.

I count myself lucky that I managed to see him at the Jazz Festival in St Lucia a few years back when he wowed the crowd with that husky, sexy voice of his bringing those tingles down the neck and spine.

And then, recently, he was there with me again with his ominous new release "Dance with My Father" as my own father went into decline before his death just over a year ago.

Thank you for being a part of me Luther; you will be sorely missed.'




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Recommended
Listening

Luther collaborated with many individual artists, as well as groups, such as
Change, Dionne Warwick, Gregory Hines, through to David Bowie.
There is probably not a musician alive today who did not want to work with this man.

Other Luther Vandross musical highlights include:

Greg Diamond & Bionic Boogie – Hot Butterfly
Contribution to The Goonie’s soundtrack – She was good to me
Teddy Pendegrass – I choose you (written by Luther Vandross for Teddy Pendegrass)
Luther Vandross is credited for singing background vocals on the Hi-Gloss album "You'll never know".

 

 

Hi-Gloss - You'll never know
Dionne Warwick - How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye Doc Powel l - Love Is Where It's At Gregory Hines- Gregory Hines
I won't let you do that to me Charme - Georgy Porgy The Best Of
Dance With My Father I Know Luther Vandross This Is Christmas
The night I fell in love Luther Vandross Songs Any Love
Your secret love Never let me go Busy body Give me the reason
Forever, for always, for love Never too much Luther This close to you

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