News | Info Luther Vandross

Di Tulis Oleh Kucheng Ling

WillyNews - Rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, Luther Vandross came on the music scene in 1975, singing back-up for David Bowie, and co-writing his hit single, "Fame." Going on to sing back-up for several other popular singers, Vandross released his own album, "Never Too Much," in 1981, and it immediately went to the top of the R&B charts. Each of his next five albums sold more than a million copies, and Vandross won his first Grammy Award in 1990, for best R&B male vocal performance. He went on to record many more hit albums, and won several more Grammys.

Born in New York in 1951, Vandross began his career writing and performing jingles for television commercials.

In April, 2003, Vandross suffered a stroke that left him in a coma for nearly two months. In June, he came out of the coma, and a week later his final album, Dance With My Father, was released, debuting at number one on the pop charts. The album won four Grammys, including Song of the Year for the title song.

Never having fully recovered from the stroke, and suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, Vandross died in July 2005.

A New York Upbringing

Born on April 20, 1951, in New York City, New York, Vandross was the youngest child of Luther Vandross, Sr., and Mary Ida Vandross. Musical talent ran in the Vandross family; when Vandross was only a child, his oldest sister Patricia joined a singing group called The Crests, who would go on to find success with the release of "Sixteen Candles." Unfortunately for Vandross, not everything from his child was as pleasant. At the age of eight, Vandross lost his father when Vandross Sr. fell into a diabetic coma and did not wake.

Mary Ida Vandross, a practical nurse, became the head of the family, and aside from a brief stint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Vandross family remained in New York City. When Vandross was 14, he attended a concert in Brooklyn that would influence him for the rest of his life. There, he first saw Dionne Warwick perform the Burt Bacharach song "Anyone Who Had a Heart;" quoted in Craig Seymour's biography Luther, Vandross recalled that "what she did to me just pierced me to the core … I decided right then and there that that's what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to do to somebody what she did to me." Vandross admired other female singers during the 1960s, including The Supremes and Patti LaBelle. Labelle recalled in Entertainment Weekly shortly after Vandross's death that "[when I] first met Luther [in the mid-1960s] … I knew he was just a kid trying to get backstage so I let him come and meet us. After that, he became our fan club president."

Made First Recording

Vandross became a part of the Apollo Theater's 16-person high school musical theater group, Listen, My Brother, with whom he cut his first record, a fairly unsuccessful 45 single. The group also provided Vandross with the opportunity to perform on some of the first episodes of Sesame Street. After high school Vandross briefly attended Western Michigan University, but dropped out to pursue his musical ambitions. Back in New York, Vandross wrote and sold songs, much to his delight. His big break did not come until 1974, however, when Vandross began working with David Bowie. After helping the singer with the arrangement for "Young Americans," Vandross set out on tour with Bowie as one of his backing singers. Soon, he was opening for the British star, although his performances were often spectacular failures.

When Bowie's American tour ended, Vandross returned to New York, where he continued to work steadily arranging songs for rising stars like Bette Midler and singing backing vocals for artists as diverse as Peabo Bryson and Gary Glitter. Deciding to form his own band, Vandross called up friends from his Listen, My Brother days as well as more recent acquaintances. Together, this group, called Luther, scored a minor hit with the song "It's Good for the Soul," although their two albums did not fare as well. In 1977, Vandross formed a professional relationship with disco hit makers Chic, appearing as a vocalist on two Chic albums. He was by then increasingly in demand as a session singer, and was also working as a vocalist for commercial jingles. In 1980, an album by dance act Change contained two songs featuring Vandross's vocals: "The Glow of Love" and "Searching." These songs garnered Vandross several offers of a record contract; however, he wanted to have creative control. Encouraged by longtime friend and associate Roberta Flack, he decided to use some of his savings to make an album.

Succeeded as a Solo Performer

Soon after completing his album Never Too Much, Vandross signed with Epic Records. Epic provided him with the artistic license he craved, and the professional relationship was a good one. His first single, the album's title track, quickly rose to the top of the R&B charts. He went out on tour, opening for acts like Chaka Khan, Kool and the Gang and even Aretha Franklin. In 1982, Vandross was nominated for, but did not win, the Grammy Award for Best New Artist. That same year, however, he released his second solo album Forever, For Always, For Love to great R&B success. By 1983, when Vandross released his third platinum album, Busy Body, he had become one of the most successful African-American solo artists of all time.

Vandross's next album The Night I Fell in Love, was released in 1985. This album also achieved million-selling, platinum status, although Vandross's success remained confined to the R&B charts; unlike other successful R&B artists like Lionel Richie, Vandross had not had a crossover hit gain recognition with pop audiences. Vandross's 1985 tour featured an opening act performer who would also make that leap into pop, a young singer named Whitney Houston. Much of Vandross's little time away from his solo career in the early 1980s was spent producing comeback albums for such respected soul singers as Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, the very woman who had inspired Vandross to pursue a singing career as a teenager.

Endured Through Controversy

In 1985, Vandross experienced for the first time one of the negative aspects of celebrity: gossip. Always closemouthed about his personal life Vandross, who never married and had no children, refused to name anyone with whom he had been romantically involved or even their genders. Throughout his life, Vandross battled weight problems, sometimes weighing over 300 pounds on his six-foot, two-inch frame; when he lost a significant amount of weight and rumors began to circulate that he had AIDS, Vandross found it hard to provide a believable denial. In the mid-1980s, AIDS was a mysterious disease associated at the time with a homosexual lifestyle. Fortunately for him, most people accepted his denials and he emerged essentially unscathed from the controversy. However, his personal reticence would fuel potentially harmful rumors regarding his sexuality for the rest of his life.

In January 1986, misfortune struck Vandross again when he caused a serious automobile accident in Los Angeles, California, where he had recently relocated. His convertible crossed the center line and struck two oncoming cars; Vandross suffered broken ribs and minor cuts and bruises, but his two passengers had far more serious injuries. Teenaged singer Jimmy Salvemini, whose debut album Vandross had just finished producing, had a collapsed lung; his older brother and manager, Larry Salvemini, died as the result of his injuries. Due to the tragedy, Salvemini's album was never released.

To distract himself from recent unpleasant events, Vandross returned to work. His fifth album, Give Me the Reason, although containing two more singles that reached the top of the R&B charts - "Stop to Love" and "There's Nothing Better than Love" - did not produce any songs that received attention from a pop audience. The year concluded on a dismal note, when Vandross faced civil charges stemming from the automobile accident that January. He pleaded no contest to reckless driving, was placed on probation for a year's time and directed to perform a benefit concert for a scholarship in the deceased passenger's name within the year. Shortly after the trial, Vandross reached an out-of-court settlement with the Salvemini family, avoiding wrongful death charges. In 1987, Vandross garnered two more Grammy nominations, for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song for "Give Me the Reason," although he failed to win either award. Death struck close to home again that summer, when Vandross's drummer Yogi Horton committed suicide.

Succeeded in Main stream "Pop"

By 1988, Vandross had completed his sixth album, Any Love, but the events of the past two years had taken their toll on him physically, and he had regained over 100 pounds. Although Any Love was predictably successful on the R&B charts, it took a song co-written by Dionne Warwick's son, David Elliott, to finally bring Vandross the pop success that he long desired. Recorded as a new single for Vandross's 1990 greatest hits album, The Best of Luther Vandross…. The Best of Love, "Here and Now" became his first Top 10 pop success. The song also won Vandross his first Grammy Award, in 1991, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

When Vandross' next album, Power of Love, was released, further pop success seemed imminent: MTV placed his video for "Power of Love/Love Power" in rotation and the song climbed to number four on the pop charts. However, it quickly dropped out of the Top 10, and Vandross, disappointed and angry, filed suit to be released from his contract with Sony. The record company ultimately renegotiated with him, promising to promote his albums more aggressively. In 1992, Vandross received his second Grammy, again in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category, for "Power of Love/Love Power." His 1993 follow-up album, Never Let Me Go, was not critically well-received and not did match the pop success of his previous effort.

Luther Vandross was one of the most successful R&B artists of the 1980s and '90s. Not only did he score a series of multi-million-selling albums containing chart-topping hit singles and perform sold-out tours of the U.S.