You know exactly who it is from that name alone. When you hear that name, you instantly think of smooth and sensual soul music that could either get you on your feet to dance or put you in a sexy mood. Sometimes, he would do both in the same song.
I was a fan since the time I heard his first single, "Never Too Much" until his last hit, "Dance With My Father" and I have always admired how Luther Vandross used his unique voice to create his own style of classic r&b or take a familiar tune and interpret it in to a fresh new direction.
He was born in New York City in 1951 and was part of a musical family. His sister, Patricia was part of a singing group called The Crests but dropped out before they began recording and Luther, who started playing the piano at the age of three, was part of the group, Shades of Jade while in high school. They even once played at the Apollo theater.
After a year at Eastern University in Michigan, Luther decided to pursue music as his career full time.
He first started off as a background singer and contributed to many recordings by artists like Roberta Flack, Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon and David Bowie. It was with Bowie that he made an impact during the recording of his album, "Young Americans" (1975). Luther arranged all of the background vocals and even co-wrote a song on the album with Mr. Bowie, "Fascination". He would later go on tour with Bowie as a background vocalist. Luther also wrote a song, "Everybody Rejoice" for the Broadway play, "The Wiz - The Super Soul Musical: Original Cast Album (1975 Broadway Cast)" in 1975.
Luther's first big opportunity came when he joined the studio creation, Change, a disco music act put together by Jacques Petrus in 1979. Mr. Vandross sang lead on their songs, "The Glow Of Love", "Searching (LP Version)" and "A Lovers Holiday (Remastered 12" Version)", all number one hits on the U.S. dance charts.
He left the group and signed with Epic Records in 1981 to begin working on his first solo record. "Never Too Much" was released later that year and the title track went to number one on the R&B charts. He also did his version of the Dionne Warwick classic, "A House Is Not A Home". He was a big fan of Ms Warwick's and he would go on to produce songs for her albums as well as do a hit duet with her, "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye?" in 1983. He did many classic duets with other artists like Cheryl Lynn, Janet Jackson, Gregory Hines, Beyonce and Frank Sinatra. He would also produce albums for his other idols like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross.
Mr. Vandross released a total of thirteen albums during his career and sold over twenty five million copies. He had much success in topping the R&B charts, in fact he had a top ten hit every year from 1981 thru 1994, but success on the pop charts was much more of a challenge, which disappointed him. His appearance there was very sporadic and his highest charting song was his 1994 remake of "Endless Love (Duet with Mariah Carey)", reaching as high as number two on the charts.
Dance With My Father" in 2003, Mr. Vandross suffered a stroke. He had diabetes and hypertension, his father died of complications of diabetes when Luther was eight, as well as his extreme weight loss and gain over the years may have contributed to this. He did manage to recover to see the success of this record. It was his first album to reach number one on the U.S. pop charts and was also his biggest seller, at three million copies sold. The title track won him his fourth Grammy award for Best R&B Vocal Performance as well winning Song of the Year in 2004. He made an appearance on the program via videotape to accept the award.
Sadly, Luther Vandross passed away on July 1, 2005 from an apparent heart attack but his collection of timeless, beautiful songs are still with us so that people may continue to enjoy them for many years to come.
Here is a selection of my favorite songs by Mr.Vandross:
Never Too Much.mp3
A House Is Not A Home.mp3
She Loves Me Back.mp3
If This World Were Mine(Duet With Cheryl Lynn).mp3