Luther Vandross   6 comments


1951–1979: Early life and career

Luther Ronzoni Vandross was born on April 20, 1951 at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, New York City, United States.[4] He was the fourth child and second son to Mary Ida Vandross and Luther Vandross, Sr.[4][5]

Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City in the NYCHA Alfred E. Smith Houses public housing development, Vandross began playing the piano at the age of three. He grew up in a musical family that moved to the Bronx when he was thirteen. His sister, Patricia, sang with the vocal group The Crests, who had a number two hit in 1958 with “16 Candles“, though she left the group before the recording. Vandross’s father died of diabetes when Vandross was eight years old. Luther Vandross was in a high school group, Shades of Jade, that once played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He was also a member of a theater workshop, “Listen My Brother” who released the singles “Only Love Can Make a Better World” and “Listen My Brother”, and appeared on the second and fifth episodes of Sesame Street in November 1969.

Vandross attended Western Michigan University for a year before dropping out to continue pursuing a career in music.

His next hit credit was on an album by Roberta Flack in 1972. He was the founder of the first-ever Patti LaBelle fan club. Luther also sang on Delores Hall’s Hall-Mark album from 1973. He sang with her on the song “Who’s Gonna Make It Easier for Me”, which he wrote. He also contributed another song, “In This Lonely Hour.” Having co-written “Fascination” for David Bowie‘s Young Americans, he went on to tour with him as a back-up vocalist in September 1974. Vandross wrote “Everybody Rejoice” for the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz and appeared as a choir member in the movie.

Vandross also sang backing vocals for Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Gary Glitter, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren‘s Utopia, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Chic, and Barbra Streisand.

Before his breakthrough, Vandross was part of a singing quintet in the late ’70s named Luther, consisting of former Shades of Jade members Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, Theresa V. Reed, and Christine Wiltshire, signed to Cotillion Records. Although the singles “It’s Good for the Soul”, “Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)”, and “The Second Time Around” were relatively successful, their two albums, the self-titled Luther (1976) and This Close to You (1977), didn’t sell enough to make the charts. Vandross bought back the rights to these albums after Cotillion dropped the group, preventing their later re-release.

Vandross also wrote and sang commercial jingles during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and continued his successful career as a popular session singer during the late 1970s.

In 1978, Luther sang lead vocals for a disco band called Greg Diamond’s Bionic Boogie on the song titled “Hot Butterfly.” Also in 1978, he appeared on Quincy Jones‘s Sounds…and Stuff Like That!!, most notably on the song “I’m Gonna Miss You In The Morning” along with Patti Austin. Luther also sang with the band Soirée, where he was the lead vocalist on the track “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, and contributed background vocals to the album along with Jocelyn Brown and Sharon Redd, each of whom also saw solo success. He also sang the lead vocals on the group Mascara LP title song “See You in L.A.” released in 1979. Luther shines with his impeccable singing supported by his group’s co-members David Lasley and Ula Hedwig. Luther also appeared on the group Charme’s 1979 album Let It In, most notably on a remake of Toto‘s hit single “Georgy Porgy“.

[edit] 1980–2003: Career success

Luther Vandross finally made his long desired career breakthrough as a featured singer with the vaunted pop-dance act Change, a studio concept created by French-Italian businessman Jacques Fred Petrus. Their 1980 hits, “The Glow of Love” (by Romani, Malavasi and Garfield) and “Searching” (by Malavasi), both featuring Vandross as lead singer, opened up the world for Vandross. And there was no doubt about whether Vandross liked the song “The Glow of Love”. In an interview that Vibe Magazine did with him in 2001 Vandross said, “This is the most beautiful song I’ve ever sung in my life.” Vandross was also originally intended to perform on the second and highly successful Change album “Miracles” in 1981, but declined the offer as Petrus didn’t pay enough money. Vandross’ decision rapidly led to a recording contract with Epic Records that same year but didn’t stop him from doing some background vocals on “Miracles” and on the new Petrus created act, The B. B. & Q. band in 1981. During that hectic year Vandross jump-started his second attempt at a solo career with his debut album, Never Too Much. In addition to the hit title track it contained a version of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song “A House Is Not a Home“. The song “Never Too Much“, written by himself, reached number-one on the R&B charts. This period also marked the beginning of frequent songwriting collaboration with bassist Marcus Miller, who played on many of the tracks and would also produce or co-produce a number of tracks for Vandross. The Never Too Much album was arranged by high school classmate Nat Adderley, Jr., a collaboration that would last through Vandross’s career.[6]

Vandross released a series of successful R&B albums during the 1980s and continued his session work with guest vocals on groups like Charme in 1982. Many of his earlier albums made a bigger impact on the R&B charts than on the pop charts. During the 1980s, Vandross had two singles that reached #1 on the Billboard R&B charts: “Stop to Love”, in 1986, and a duet with Gregory Hines—”There’s Nothing Better Than Love.”[7] Vandross was at the helm as producer for Aretha Franklin’s Gold-certified, award-winning comeback album Jump to It. He also produced the disappointing follow-up album, 1983’s Get It Right. In 1983, the opportunity to work with his main music influence, Dionne Warwick, came about with Vandross producing, writing songs, and singing on How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, her fourth album for Arista Records. The title track duet reached #27 on the Hot 100 chart (#7 R&B/#4 Adult Contemporary),[8] while the second single, “Got a Date” was only a moderate hit (#45 R&B/#15 Club Play).

In 1985, Luther Vandross first spotted the talent of Jimmy Salvemini, 15 at the time, on Star Search. He thought Salvemini had the perfect voice for some of his songs. He contacted Salvemini, who was managed by his brother Larry. A contract was negotiated with Elektra records for $250,000 and Luther agreed to produce the album. Luther even contacted old friends to appear on the album, Cheryl Lynn, Alfa Anderson (Chic), Phoebe Snow and Irene Cara. After the album was completed, Luther, Jimmy, and Larry decided to celebrate. On January 12, 1986, they were riding in Luther’s convertible Mercedes when it crossed the yellow lines of the two lane street and smashed into two vehicles. All three men were rushed to the hospital. Larry Salvemini died during surgery, and Vandross and Jimmy Salvemini survived. At first, the Salvemini family was supportive of Luther. In 1986, Luther faced vehicular manslaughter charges as a result of Larry’s death. Vandross pled no contest to reckless driving. The Salvemini family filed a wrongful death suit against Vandross. The case was quietly settled out of court with a payment to the Salvemini family for $700,000. The album called “Roll With It” was released later that year.

Luther also sings background in Stevie Wonder‘s 1985 hit “Part Time Lovers”.

In 1986, Vandross voiced a cartoon character named Zack for three Saturday morning animated PSA spots for ABC Television called ‘Zack of All Trades’.

The 1989 compilation The Best of Luther Vandross… The Best of Love included the ballad “Here and Now”, his first single to chart in the Billboard pop chart top ten, peaking at number six. He won his first Grammy award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1991.

In 1990, Luther wrote and sang background for Whitney Houston in a song entitled “Why Do You Love?” which appeared on her “I’m Your baby Tonight” album. Luther and Whitney had been long time acquantances, probably having met doing sessions int he late 70s and early 80s.

More albums followed in the 1990s, beginning with 1991’s Power of Love which spawned two top ten pop hits. He won his second Best Male R&B Vocal in the Grammy Awards of 1992 with the track “Power of Love/Love Power” winning the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in the same year. In 1992, “The Best Things in Life Are Free“, a duet with Janet Jackson from the movie Mo’ Money became a hit.

In 1993, Vandross had a brief non-speaking role in the Robert Townsend movie The Meteor Man. He played a hit man who plotted to stop Townsend’s title character.

Vandross hit the top ten again in 1994, teaming with Mariah Carey on a cover version of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross‘s duet “Endless Love“. It was included on the album Songs (Luther Vandross album), a collection of songs which had inspired Vandross over the years. He also appears on Frank Sinatra‘s posthumous Duets album. At the Grammy Awards of 1997, he won his third Best Male R&B Vocal for the track “Your Secret Love”. A second greatest hits album, released in 1997, compiled most of his 1990s hits and was his final album released through Epic Records. After releasing I Know on Virgin Records, he signed with J Records. His first album on Clive Davis‘s new label, entitled Luther Vandross, was released in 2001, and it produced the hits “Take You Out” (#7 R&B/#26 Pop), and “I’d Rather” (#17 Adult Contemporary/#40 R&B/#83 Pop) Vandross scored at least one top 10 R&B hit every year from 1981-1994.

In 1997, Luther Vandross sang the American national anthem during Super Bowl XXXI at the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana.

In September 2001, Luther Vandross performed a rendition of Michael Jackson‘s hit song “Man in the Mirror” at Jackson’s 30th Anniversary special, alongside Usher.

In 2002, he gave some of his final concerts during his last tour, The BK Got Soul Tour starring Luther Vandross featuring Angie Stone and Gerald Levert.

In 2003, Vandross released the album Dance With My Father. The title track, which was dedicated to Vandross’ memory childhood dances with his father, won Luther and his co-writer, Richard Marx, the 2004 Grammy Award for Song of the Year. The song also won Vandross his fourth and final award in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category. The album was his first to reach number one on the Billboard album chart. The video for the title track features various celebrities alongside their fathers and other family members. The 2nd single released from that album, “Think About You” was the Number One Urban Adult Contemporary Song of 2004 according to Radio & Records.

In 2003, after the televised NCAA Men’s Basketball championship, CBS Sports gave “One Shining Moment” a new look. Luther, who had been to only one basketball game in his life, was the new singer, and the video didn’t have any special effects like glowing basketballs and star trails like it did in previous years. This song version is in use today.[9]

[edit] 2003–2005: Illness and death

Vandross suffered from diabetes and hypertension, both of which ran in his family.

On April 16, 2003, Vandross suffered a stroke at his home in Manhattan, New York. At the time of his stroke, he had just finished the final vocals for the album Dance With My Father. His collaborator on the album was pop star Richard Marx, whom Vandross had met in 1989 and has been friends with since. The two worked together on numerous projects over the years, with Vandross appearing on three of Marx’s albums. Upon its release, Dance With My Father became the first and only Luther Vandross record to hit #1. It was also his biggest-selling studio album ever, selling nearly 3 million copies in the United States alone. The title track was also a hit, and won the 2004 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

He appeared briefly on videotape at the 2004 Grammy Awards to accept his Song of the Year Award, where he said, “Whenever I say goodbye it’s never for long because I believe in the power of love”. Other than an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, he was never seen in public again.

Vandross died on July 1, 2005 at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey at the age of 54. The apparent cause of his death was a heart attack.

His funeral was in New York City on July 8, 2005. After two days of viewing, Vandross was entombed at George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey. Much of his estate was left to friends and his godson Mark West.

[edit] Voice recognition

In 2008, Vandross was ranked #54 on Rolling Stone magazine’s List of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.[10]

Posted April 20, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

6 responses to “Luther Vandross

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  1. I miss Luther and you did an outstanding tribute to him. Thank you, Penny!

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