Luther Vandross

  • R&B and soul singer songwriter born in 1951 in New York New York. Died in 2005 of a heart attack – in 2003 he suffered a stroke which affected his speech and confined him to a wheelchair.
  • Vandross had parents who sang and encouraged their children to pursue music as a career. He began playing the piano at the age of 3, and he was a self taught musician. In high school, he formed a vocal group, Shades of Jade, which performed at the Apollo Theater. He participated in a workshop organized by the Apollo called Listen, My Brother – 2 singles were released, and the relationship with the Apollo led to his appearance in several episodes of the first season of Sesame Street in 1969. After high school, he worked odd jobs, trying to break into the music industry.
  • He started providing backing vocals for other artists. In 1972, he worked with Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway and in 1973, 2 songs that he wrote were recorded by Delores Hall, with Vandross providing backing vocals. In 1974, his friend Carlos Alomar from Shades of Jade was the guitarist in David Bowie’s band, and Alomar invited Vandross to a recording session. Vandross quickly became involved in the session, providing vocals and co-writing a song with Bowie for the Young Americans album. After that, Vandross was hired to tour with Bowie as a backup singer and opening act.
  • As the 70s progressed, he provided backup vocals for dozens of artists, including Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Carly Simon and Barbra Streisand. He formed a vocal quintet called Luther, with friends from Shades of Jade. Two albums were released, with several minor R&B hits, but the record company decided to drop the group, and they split up. Vandross began to write and sing commercial jingles, and his jingles for the military, telephone and fast food companies were heard throughout television and radio.
  • Entering the 80s, his vocal work was well known, and he began to send demos to record companies, hoping to start a solo career. He was signed in 1981, and his debut solo album Never Too Much was released in August that year. He produced the album himself, writing all but one of the songs. The album topped the R&B album chart, his first of 8 studio albums to reach #1 on the chart. It was certified platinum, the first of 12 studio albums to attain that status. The title track Never Too Much topped the R&B singles chart, and reached #33 on the Hot 100.
  • During the 80s, Vandross would release 5 more studio albums, with 16 songs reaching the top 10 on the R&B chart. Of these, he reached #1 with Stop to Love, There’s Nothing Better Than Love, Any Love and Here and Now. Here and Now was his first to crack the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, peaking at #6. While enjoying his solo success, Vandross continued to write and produce music for other R&B artists, working with Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, Teddy Pendergrass and Stevie Wonder.
  • Vandross continued his success in the 90s. His 5 studio albums charted well and he had hit singles during the first half of the decade, including R&B #1’s Power of Love and The Best Things in Life Are Free. In 1994, he covered Lionel Richie and Diana Ross’ 1981 hit Endless Love with Mariah Carey, taking the song to #2 on the Hot 100 and garnering a Grammy nomination. While he didn’t win the Grammy for this song, he did win 8 Grammy awards during his career.
  • After several years of modest popularity, his final 2 studio albums, 2001’s self titled Luther Vandross and 2003’s Dance With My Father both were platinum certified. After he completed Dance With My Father, he suffered a stroke, and the outpouring of love for him led to an increase in popularity. In 2004, he won the Grammy for Song of the Year for Dance With My Father, sending a pre-taped segment to accept the award. The song is about his memories of dancing with his father when he was a boy – his father died when Vandross was 8 years old. He won 3 other Grammy awards for the album and its songs.
  • After his stroke, Vandross withdrew from the industry. He died in July 2005 – in September that year, a tribute album titled So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross was released. It featured 15 songs that he had recorded, performed by different artists, including Elton John, Celine Dion and John Legend. Aretha Franklin’s performance of A House Is Not A Home and Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder’s performance of So Amazing both won Grammy awards in 2006.
  • Vandross’ tenor voice gave him the nicknames of The Velvet Voice, The Best Voice in a Generation, and The Pavarotti of Pop. Rolling Stone places him at #54 on their list of the Greatest Singers of All Time. Watch the video of Vandross and Mariah Carey singing Endless Love – Wow, these artists sound amazing together on this song!

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