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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”
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
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
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”
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
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
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).
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 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!”
A message from Carole Clemesha (a long time
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
Thank you for being a part of me Luther; you
will be sorely missed.'