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Vandross, Luther

Luther Vandross

1951–2005

Singer, songwriter, producer

For many years, Luther Vandross was the vintage Cadillac among the banged-up jalopies in the used car lot of male pop singers. With a sound that echoed the smooth soul stylings of the 1960s, Vandross was a fixture on the rhythm and blues charts from his solo recording debut in 1981 until his tragic stroke in 2003. Over the course of his career he released a string of platinum albums and established himself as one of the leading romantic singers of his generation. Much of his appeal came from his emotional approach to music, which he modeled after great female vocalists such as his friends Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.

Came from Musical Family

Born in New York City in 1951, Vandross was the youngest of four children. His father, an upholsterer, died when Luther was only eight years old, leaving his mother, Mary Ida Vandross, to support the family through her job as a licensed practical nurse. They lived in the Alfred E. Smith housing project in lower Manhattan. The Vandross family was a musical one, and from an early age Luther was exposed to the black pop music of the day. His first piano lessons came at the age of three. His sister Pat was a member of a doo-wop group called the Crests, whose song "Sixteen Candles" was a fairly big hit when it came out.

By the time he was 13, Vandross was the only child still living at home. He and his mother moved to the Bronx. As a senior at William Howard Taft High School, Vandross became obsessed with the girl groups of the Motown label, as well as the gospel-based soul sounds being produced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Cissy Houston. He was part of a crowd that liked to hang out in the school hallways and sing doo-wop. As he immersed himself more deeply in music, his interest in school waned. His grades plummeted, and he became increasingly certain that his future was in the music industry.

After high school, Vandross enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He quit after two miserable semesters, more determined than ever to pursue his dream of becoming a professional singer. In 1972 a song written by Vandross, "Everybody Rejoice," was chosen for the Broadway musical The Wiz. Although he received substantial royalties for the composition, the money was not enough to support him completely, and Vandross continued to work at a variety of "day jobs" while he continued in his pursuit of fame.

Entered the Music Industry through the Back Door

In 1974, Vandross received his first real professional break. A childhood friend, guitarist Carlos Alomar, had landed a job backing British singer David Bowie, and he invited Vandross to accompany him to a recording session during the making of Bowie's album Young Americans. During the session, Bowie overheard Vandross mentioning some background vocal arrangement suggestions to Alomar. Bowie loved the ideas, and he immediately hired Vandross to sing and arrange backup vocals for the album. He also recorded a Vandross-penned song, "Fascination." When the album was finished, Vandross joined the Bowie tour as a backup singer. Through Bowie, Vandross made many important connections in the music industry, laying the groundwork for his own budding career.

One of the musicians to whom Bowie introduced Vandross was Bette Midler. Impressed with his voice and ideas, she hired Vandross to sing backup vocals on her next two albums. Vandross soon became much sought after for singing and arranging work, and was finally able to concentrate on music full-time. Among the artists whose recordings his voice appeared on during the next few years were Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, the Average White Band, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He also became one of Madison Avenue's favorite voices for commercial jingles. During the late 1970s, Vandross's anonymous voice was used to sell everything from fried chicken to long-distance telephone service, not to mention as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Army.

Through this combination of commercial and backup work, Vandross was earning a more-than-comfortable living from music by the end of the 1970s. Artistically, however, those jobs did not satisfy him, and he continued to try to break out as a solo act. He formed or joined several groups, with such names as Luther, Bionic Boogie, and Change, but none proved commercially viable. He also sang the lead vocal on Chic's song "Dance, Dance, Dance."

Hit the Big Time

Part of the problem in landing a solo recording contract was Vandross's insistence on total creative control of the recording process. Another problem was the prevalence of disco, a musical form antithetical to Vandross's lyrical approach. Finally, in 1980, Vandross used his own money to rent a studio and began recording. He took the resulting handful of songs to Epic Records, and he was immediately given a contract. Epic released Vandross's first solo album, Never Too Much, in 1981. The album sold more than one million copies, cracked the top ten on black pop charts, and effectively launched Vandross's career as a solo superstar.

Vandross released his follow-up album, For Ever, For Always, For Love, one year later. It, too, sold more than one million copies and cemented Vandross's growing reputation as a first class love balladeer. His third LP, Busy Body, likewise sold more a million copies. All three of those albums, and the next three as well, reached number one on the R&B charts. In fact, it was not until 1989, with The Best of Luther, The Best of Love, that a Vandross LP failed to make it to the top of the R&B charts. Each of those albums also included at least one single that made it into the R&B top ten. Meanwhile, his talent as a producer was also gaining recognition. In 1982, Vandross produced Cheryl Lynn's hit album Instant Love, and over the years, he has produced songs and/or albums for such stars as Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston.

As Vandross's career expanded, so did his waistline. At times his weight soared to well over 300 pounds. Angered by the constant mention of his size in the press, where he was tagged with such nicknames as the "heavyweight of soul," Vandross shed 120 pounds, only to seesaw back and forth between weight extremes for the next several years. In a number of interviews, Vandross attributed the yo-yoing to his love life. When things were going well, he lost weight; when he was heartsick, he overcompensated with food.

At a Glance …

Born Luther Ronzoni Vandross on April 20, 1951, in New York, NY; died on July 1, 2005, in Edison, New Jersey; son of Mary Ida (a licensed practical nurse) Vandross. Education: Attended Western Michigan University, 1970.

Career: Professional singer and songwriter, 1972–2005;. Wrote the song "Everybody Rejoice" for the Broadway musical The Wiz, 1972; toured with David Bowie, 1974; sang and arranged on albums by numerous performers, including Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Average White Band, and Roberta Flack, 1974–2003; sang commercial jingles, c. 1970s–1981; solo performer and record producer, 1981–2003.

Selected awards: National Academy of Recording Arts & Science, Most Valuable Player-Best Male Vocalist, 1979; Grammy Awards, 1979, 1990, 1991 (2), 1996, 2003 (4); NAACP Image Awards, 1990, 2003.

Achieved Crossover Stardom

In spite of the success of his first several albums, by the late 1980s Vandross was vexed by his failure to produce a major crossover hit—one that would be as popular among white audiences as it was with black buyers. He finally cracked the pop top ten in 1989, with the single "Here and Now." From that point on, Vandross became the kind of fixture on the pop charts that he had been on the R&B lists for nearly a decade. In 1991, his gospel medley "Power of Love/Love Power" reached number four on the pop charts. In addition to his own albums, Vandross continued to produce recordings for other artists on occasion, and, in 1993, he made his motion picture acting debut in Robert Townsend's Meteor Man.

In 1994 Vandross released the album Songs, which consisted of remakes of hits from the past. "Endless Love," a duet with pop star Mariah Carey from the album, soared to number two on the pop charts. That same year he was spotlighted in a PBS television special, In the Spotlight, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He released a Christmas album in 1995, featuring seven new co-written songs, along with a variety of classic carols. And in 1997 Vandross sang the national anthem at the 1997 NFL Super Bowl, a sure sign of his crossover success.

Vandross's string of successes and his high public profile allowed him to experiment musically, and to seek new freedom with a new label. In 1998 ended his 16-year partnership with the Epic label, a partnership that had produced 12 hit albums and sent 22 singles onto the R&B charts. Vandross soon signed with Virgin Records, and in 1998 he released I Know, featuring such stars as Stevie Wonder, Cassandra Wilson, and Bob James. The album received generally excellent reviews, but Vandross soon left Virgin. He released Smooth Love on the AMW label in 2000, then found a more stable home with J-Records, where released three albums between 2001 and 2003, including Luther Vandross, Dance with My Father, and Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall. Each of the albums was well received by fans and critics alike, and Vandross continued to attract adoring fans at his concerts. Explaining his success to Jet, Vandross said: "It's a really good feat at this point in my career. That's what makes it so special. I don't even try to figure it out or analyze it. I just go ahead and do what feels good and that seems to work."

By 2003 Vandross was at the peak of his career. Though considered one of the enduring artists of the late twentieth century, he continued to release vibrant, meaningful music. Sadly, in April of 2003 Vandross suffered a debilitating stroke that left him temporarily in a coma; the stroke was likely caused by a combination of his recent weight gain and his ongoing struggle with diabetes. Vandross's recovery was slow and difficult. Six months after his stroke he was just regaining the ability to speak and sing, yet he was still confined to a wheelchair and remained weak. As a result of the stroke Vandross was unable to attend the 2003 Grammy Awards (held in early 2004), where Dance with My Father was honored with four Grammys, including the award for Song of the Year. The Grammy ceremony included a tribute to Vandross perfomed by Alicia Keys and Celine Dion. In a taped appearance, Vandross made his first public statement, telling fans: "I wish I could be with you there tonight. I want to thank everyone for your love and support. And remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long, because I believe in the power of love."

Yet Vandross never fully recovered. Complications of his stroke and diabetes led to Vandross suffering a fatal heart attack on July 1, 2005. Vandross's untimely death deeply saddened his fans, and left his mother childless. Rev. Mary Ida Vandross outlived her husband and all of her children, who had all suffered from diabetes. In death, however, Vandross continued to touch people through what he himself had once described as his own style: "the beauty in the sadness," as quoted in People. Vandross's celebrity made it possible for his death to bring attention to the dangers of diabetes and stroke, as well as to the prevalence of these health issues in the African-American community. His mother started a diabetes awareness campaign. Such musicians as Patti Austin, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Wayman Tisdale, Usher, and Stevie Wonder sang on tribute albums, including So Amazing: An All Star Tribute to Luther Vandross and two volumes entitled Forever, For Always, For Luther. The tribute albums spawned an all-star tour and a telethon, and raised funds for a diabetes awareness campaign, the American Heart Association, and the Luther Vandross Foundation.

Though in death Vandross may help raise awareness of health issues, Vandross will be remembered first and foremost for his musical legacy. Referred to simply as "The Voice" by Dionne Warwick, Vandross created a sound like no other. "Luther belongs in the highest category of singer, " jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott told Rolling Stone, "the timeless category." Vandross himself had once hoped as much, saying that "when the history books are written, I'd like it to be said that I am one of the premiere singers of our time," according to Margena A. Christian of Jet. History will certainly remember him that way.

Selected discography

Never Too Much, Epic, 1981.
Forever, For Always, For Love, Epic, 1982.
Busy Body, Epic, 1983.
The Night I Fell in Love, Epic, 1985.
Give Me The Reason, Epic, 1986.
Any Love, Epic, 1988.
The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, Epic, 1989.
Power of Love (includes "Power of Love"/"Love Power"), Epic, 1991.
Never Let Me Go, Epic, 1993.
Songs (includes "Endless Love"), Epic, 1994.
This Is Christmas, Epic, 1995.
Your Secret Love, Sony, 1996.
I Know, Virgin, 1998.
Greatest Hits, Epic, 1999.
Smooth Love, AMW, 2000.
Luther Vandross, J-Records, 2001.
The Ultimate Luther Vandross, Epic, 2001.
The Very Best of Luther Vandross, Sony, 2002.
Dance with My Father, J-Records, 2003.
Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall, J-Records, 2003.
The Essential Luther Vandross, Epic/Legacy, 2003.
Essential Plus, Sony, 2004.
This Is Christmas, Epic/Legacy, 2004.
The Ultimate Luther Vandross, Epic/Legacy, 2006.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, December 1985, pp. 83-87; December 1991, pp. 93-98; December 18, 1995, pp. 32-37; September 2005, p. 48.

Entertainment Weekly, October 17, 2003, p. 34.

Jet, June 28, 1993, pp. 34-36; October 24, 1994, pp. 36-39; July 16, 2001, p. 12; January 19, 2004, p. 58; July 25, 2005, p. 26-38.

New York, February 15, 1982, pp. 45-49.

New York Times Magazine, September 22, 1991, pp. 53-63.

People, February 28, 1983, pp. 101-102; September 7, 1998, p. 121; June 16, 2003, p. 101; October 20, 2003, p. 95; July 18, 2005, p. 80; August 14, 2006, p. 73.

Rolling Stone, September 6, 1990, pp. 76-81; July 28, 2005, p. 16.

On-line

"Luther Vandross," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 28, 2004).

Luther Vandross, www.luthervandross.com/ (January 24, 2004).

"A Tribute to Luther Vandross," National Public Radio, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4735229 (February 7, 2007).

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Vandross, Luther

Vandross, Luther

Singer, songwriter

Rhythm and blues singer Luther Vandross is best known for his soulful renditions of emotionally charged love ballads. Vandross' wide singing range runs from lush tenor to robust baritone and represents only one of his various talents. He has won numerous Grammy awards, while maintaining complete artistic control of his work. His musical compositions and arrangements have been recorded by many of the greatest American pop singers. Vandross, in addition to his fame as a solo artist, gained notoriety as one of the most talented backup singers in modern music. He released an astonishing 13 platinum albums in succession, beginning with his first major release.

Vandross was born in New York on Manhattan's Lower East Side on April 20, 1951. The youngest of four siblings, he was the son of an upholsterer who died from diabetes when Vandross was just eight. As a result, Vandross developed a close relationship with his mother, Mary Ida Vandross. The Vandross children were musically inclined, a trait that was encouraged by their parents. His mother recognized Vandross' particular musical bent and saw to his musical education when he was still very young, beginning his piano lessons at age three.

One of Vandross' older sisters sang with the Crests as a teenager, and although she left home while Vandross was still a child, he cultivated a particular love and respect for the female singing styles. He was drawn in particular to the late 1960s moods of Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, and Aretha Franklin. Vandross saw that the unrestrained emotion of female singers was a magnificent faculty rarely found in the work of male pop vocalists. When Vandross was 13 he moved with his mother to the South Bronx in New York where he attended Taft High School. His interest in music became overpowering by his senior year, and although he enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he abandoned his formal education after by the end of his second semester, opting instead to embark on a musical career.

Luck and Talent

From that point Vandross achieved prominence through a delicate combination of talent and luck. One of his compositions, "Everybody Rejoice," was incorporated into the score of the Broadway musical The Wiz in 1972. Two years later he attended some taping sessions for rock star David Bowie in the company of a friend who worked as part of the Bowie entourage. As Vandross observed the taping sessions he expressed personal observations about Bowie's musical arrangements. Vandross used his own voice to illustrate his ideas, and his comments were taken seriously by Bowie, who encouraged Vandross to join the company as a backup artist on Bowie's album Young Americans.

Eventually Vandross was invited to tour with Bowie, as a warm up for Bowie's act. Vandross accepted the offer, but soon complained that the experience was exhausting, and expressed apprehension. The stress of performance caused him to be nervous and overwrought. He felt anxious at the thought of facing an audience of strangers. Bowie, convinced of Vandross' potential, influenced Vandross to persevere, emphasizing to Vandross that the experiences of live performance would be critical to his future success as an entertainer.

In time Bowie referred Vandross to Bette Midler who arranged to hire Vandross as a backup singer. Vandross embarked on a career as a backup singer for many popular artists including Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, and the Average White Band. He also made a lucrative living singing jingles for television commercials. During this time Vandross sang with the disco band Change and created a group called Bionic Boogie, a studio production of sound mixes, all performed by Vandrossa virtual one-man band.

Began Solo Career

Vandross formed his own R&B group, Luther, in 1975. With the influence of Arif Mardin the group Luther signed to record with Cotillion Records. Luther was a short-lived enterprise, their records falling well short of expectations. Vandross, meanwhile, aspired to a recording contract that would allow him complete creative control over his recordings. Vandross signed with Epic Records in 1981 and his popularity, both as a singer and a songwriter, flourished steadily from that point forward.

Over the years Vandross wrote songs for other artists such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and Dionne Warwick, while his own singing career blossomed steadily. By 1991 his double album, The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, became a double platinum seller, and Vandross' success was assured. In 1991-92 Vandross embarked on a tour of the United States that culled a total attendance of 650,000 spectators nationwide and earned $15 million in box office receipts. In 1994 he performed a television special for the Public Broadcasting System called In the Spotlight, at Royal Albert Hall in London. He released a Christmas album in 1995, featuring seven new co-written songs, along with a variety of classic carols. In 1996 Vandross performed at the Essence Music Festival. He received the honor of singing the national anthem at the 1997 NFL Super Bowl, and that same year went on a five-city tour beginning in Las Vegas and culminating in Washington D.C.

For the Record . . .

Born on April 20, 1951, in New York, NY; son of an upholsterer and Mary Ida Vandross; youngest of four siblings. Education: Attended Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

Wrote "Everybody Rejoice" for The Wiz, 1972; backup singer on David Bowie's Young Americans ; toured with David Bowie, 1974; Atlantic Records, backup vocalist for Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, and others, 1974-81; singer/songwriter of commercial jingles, started group, Bionic Boogie and sang with Change, 1974; signed group, Luther, with Cotillion records, 1975; signed with Sony's Epic Records, released 13 consecutive platinum selling albums, 1981-1997; performed "In the Spotlight" from Royal Albert Hall for Public Broadcasting System, 1994; moved to Virgin Records in 1998; released I Know on Virgin, 1998; released Smooth Love on AMW label, 2000; moved to J-Records, released Luther Vandross, 2001; released J-Records albums Dance With My Father and Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall, 2003.

Awards: Grammy Awards, Best Male Vocalist, 1979; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Here and Now," 1990; Best R&B Song for "Power of Love," 1991; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Power of Love," 1991; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for Your Secret Love, 1996; Song of the Year for "Dance With My Father," 2003; Best R&B Album for Dance With My Father, 2003; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Dance With My Father," 2003; Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (with Beyoncé Knowles) for "The Closer I Get to You," 2003.

Addresses: Record company J-Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10151, website: http://www.jrecords.com. Website Luther Vandross Official Website: http://www.luthervandross.com.

Ended Epic Partnership

Vandross parted ways with Epic in 1998, after a 16-year partnership during which Vandross released 12 hit albums and sent 22 of singles into the top ten of the R&B charts. The separation from Epic's parent company, Sony, attributed to a dispute over artistic freedom, led to a new contract for Vandross with Virgin Records. His debut with Virgin, 1998's I Know, featured a bevy of stars including Stevie Wonder, Cassandra Wilson, and Bob James. The album received generally excellent reviews. Despite achieving super-stardom as a solo artist, Vandross continued to sing as a back up from time to time for a number of notable singers.

Vandross received four Grammy awards from 1990-98, including two for "Power of Love." All together he received three Grammy nominations in 1994, four nominations in 1995; three nominations in 1996, and three in 1997. Vandross made an acting debut in 1993 in the Robert Townsend film The Meteor Man and co-hosted the Soul Train Music Awards.

I Know turned out to be Vandross's last, as well as first, album for Virgin. After cutting 2000's Smooth Love with the AMW label, he moved to J-Records, where he found a more permanent home. He debuted on that label with a self-titled album in 2001. The new label proved to be a good match for Vandross, and he hit the road for a highly successful concert tour following the release of Luther Vandross. The album went platinum, and Vandross sold out Radio City Music Hall for eight nights.

Taking advantage of his new-found artistic freedom at his new label, Vandross released the very personal Dance With My Father, in whose title cut he wishes for one last chance to spend time with his father. Said Vandross of this album on the J-Records website, "I wrote the songs as we went along so it's definitely fresh and reflects where I'm at musically, lyrically and creatively."

Vandross suffered a debilitating stroke in early 2003, and spent the next several months slowly recovering away from the public eye. Dance With My Father was nominated for five Grammy Awards in 2003, and though Vandross was still too ill to attend the ceremony in early 2004, he was there in spirit as he took home four Grammys, including the award for Song of the Year. The Grammy ceremony also included a tribute to Vandross perfomed by Alicia Keys and Celine Dion. In a taped appearance, Vandross made his first public statement since his stroke to the Grammy audience and home viewers. "I wish I could be with you there tonight. I want to thank everyone for your love and support. And remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long, because I believe in the power of love."

Selected discography

Albums

Never Too Much, Epic, 1981.

Forever, For Always, For Love, Epic, 1982.

Busy Body, Epic, 1983.

The Night I Fell in Love, Columbia, 1985.

Any Love, Epic, 1988.

Power of Love, Epic/Legacy, 1991.

Never Let Me Go, Epic, 1993.

Songs, Epic, 1994.

This is Christmas, Sony, 1995.

Your Secret Love, Sony, 1996.

I Know, Virgin, 1998.

Smooth Love, AMW, 2000.

Luther Vandross, J-Records, 2001.

Home for Christmas, Sony Special, 2002.

Stop to Love, Sony Special, 2002.

Dance With My Father, J-Records, 2003.

Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall, J-Records, 2003.

EPs and Singles

Give Me the Reason, Epic/Legacy, 1986.

Power of Love, Sony, 1991.

Don't Want to Be a Fool, Sony, 1991.

Never Too Much, Sony, 1991.

The Rush, Sony, 1991.

May Christmas Bring You Happiness, Atlantic, 1991.

Best Things in Life Are Free, A&M, 1992.

Sometimes It's Only Love, Sony, 1992.

Heaven Knows, Sony, 1993.

Never Let Me Go, Sony, 1993.

Always & Forever/Power of Love, Sony, 1994.

Always & Forever/Here & Now, Sony, 1994.

Endless Love, Sony, 1994.

Love the One You're With, Sony, 1995.

Going in Circles, Sony, 1995.

Your Secret Love, Sony, 1996.

I Can Make It Better, Sony, 1996.

Are You Using Me, EMI, 1998.

Heart of a Hero, Sony, 1999.

Take You Out, J-Records, 2001.

Can Heaven Wait?, J-Records, 2001.

Compilations

The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, Epic, 1989. Best Remixes, Alex, 1991.

To Love, AMW, 1995.

Never Too Much/Forever, For Always, For Love/Busy Body, Sony, 1995.

Luther Vandross 1981-1995 Greatest Hits, Epic, 1996.

One Night With You: The Best of Love II, Epic, 1997.

Love Is on the Way, One Way, 1998.

Night I Fell in Love/Give Me the Reason/Power of Love, Sony, 1998.

Always & Forever: The Classics, LV/Epic, 1998.

Greatest Hits, Epic, 1999.

Super Hits, Sony, 2000.

The Ultimate Luther Vandross, Epic, 2001.

The Very Best of Luther Vandross, Sony, 2002.

The Very Best of Love, Madacy, 2002.

The Essential Luther Vandross, Epic/Legacy, 2003.

Sources

Books

Clarke, Donald, editor, The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular

Music, Viking, 1989.

Stambler, Irwin, editor, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, St. Martin's, 1989.

Periodicals

Arizona Republic, December 19, 1997.

Baltimore Afro-American, November 30, 1996.

Detroit News, September 1, 1998.

Gannett News Service, November 27, 1994.

Independent, March 7, 1997, p. 10(2).

Rocky Mountain News, September 5, 1997, p. 18D.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 1997, p. 5.

Sacramento Observer, January 22, 1997.

Tulsa World, August 7, 1998.

Online

"Luther Vandross," Virgin Records, http://www.virginrecords.com/artists/VR.cgi?ARTIST_NAME=Luther_Vandross (October 5, 1998).

"Luther Vandross Biography," Sony Music, http://www.sonymusic.com/artists/LutherVandross/biography.html (September 23, 1998).

Luther Vandross Official Website, http://www.luthervandross.com/ (January 24, 2004).

"Luther Vandross: Still Hungry for Hits," dotmusic, http://www.dotmusic.co.uk/MWtalentluther.html (September 10, 1998).

Recording Academy Grammy Awards, http://www.grammy.com/ (January 24, 2004).

Gloria Cooksey and Michael Belfiore

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Vandross, Luther

Luther Vandross

1951

Singer, songwriter, producer

For many years, Luther Vandross was the vintage Cadillac among the banged-up jalopies in the used car lot of male pop singers. With a sound that echoed the smooth soul stylings of the 1960s, Vandross was a fixture on the rhythm and blues charts from his solo recording debut in 1981 until his tragic stroke in 2003. Over the course of his career he has released a string of platinum albums and established himself as one of the leading romantic singers of his generation. Much of his appeal comes from his emotional approach to music, which is modeled after great female vocalists such as his friends Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.

Came from Musical Family

Born in New York City in 1951, Vandross was the youngest of four children. His father, an upholsterer, died when Luther was only eight years old, leaving his mother, Mary Ida Vandross, to support the family through her job as a licensed practical nurse. They lived in the Alfred E. Smith housing project in lower Manhattan. The Vandross family was a musical one, and from an early age Luther was exposed to the black pop music of the day. His first piano lessons came at the age of three. His sister Pat was a member of a doo-wop group called the Crests, whose song "Sixteen Candles" was a fairly big hit when it came out.

By the time he was 13, Vandross was the only child still living at home. He and his mother moved to the Bronx. As a senior at William Howard Taft High School, Vandross became obsessed with the girl groups of the Motown label, as well as the gospel-based soul sounds being produced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Cissy Houston. He was part of a crowd that liked to hang out in the school hallways and sing doo-wop. As he immersed himself more deeply in music, his interest in school waned. His grades plummeted, and he became increasingly certain that his future was in the music industry.

After high school, Vandross enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He quit after two miserable semesters, more determined than ever to pursue his dream of becoming a professional singer. In 1972 a song written by Vandross, "Everybody Rejoice," was chosen for the Broadway musical The Wiz. Although he received substantial royalties for the composition, the money was not enough to support him completely, and Vandross continued to work at a variety of "day jobs" while he continued in his pursuit of fame.

Entered the Music Industry through the Back Door

In 1974, Vandross received his first real professional break. A childhood friend, guitarist Carlos Alomar, had landed a job backing British singer David Bowie, and he invited Vandross to accompany him to a recording session during the making of Bowie's album Young Americans. During the session, Bowie overheard Vandross mentioning some background vocal arrangement suggestions to Alomar. Bowie loved the ideas, and he immediately hired Vandross to sing and arrange backup vocals for the album. He also recorded a Vandross-penned song, "Fascination." When the album was finished, Vandross joined the Bowie tour as a backup singer. Through Bowie, Vandross made many important connections in the music industry, laying the groundwork for his own budding career.

One of the musicians to whom Bowie introduced Vandross was Bette Midler. Impressed with his voice and ideas, she hired Vandross to sing backup vocals on her next two albums. Vandross soon became much sought after for singing and arranging work, and was finally able to concentrate on music full-time. Among the artists whose recordings his voice appeared on during the next few years were Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, the Average White Band, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He also became one of Madison Avenue's favorite voices for commercial jingles. During the late 1970s, Vandross's anonymous voice was used to sell everything from fried chicken to long-distance telephone service, not to mention as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Army.

Through this combination of commercial and backup work, Vandross was earning a more-than-comfortable living from music by the end of the 1970s. Artistically, however, those jobs did not satisfy him, and he continued to try to break out as a solo act. He formed or joined several groups, with such names as Luther, Bionic Boogie, and Change, but none proved commercially viable. He also sang the lead vocal on Chic's song "Dance, Dance, Dance."

Hit the Big Time

Part of the problem in landing a solo recording contract was Vandross's insistence on total creative control of the recording process. Another problem was the prevalence of disco, a musical form antithetical to Vandross's lyrical approach. Finally, in 1980, Vandross used his own money to rent a studio and began recording. He took the resulting handful of songs to Epic Records, and he was immediately given a contract. Epic released Vandross's first solo album, Never Too Much, in 1981. The album sold more than one million copies, cracked the top ten on black pop charts, and effectively launched Vandross's career as a solo superstar.

Vandross released his follow-up album, For Ever, For Always, For Love, one year later. It, too, sold more than one million copies and cemented Vandross's growing reputation as a first class love balladeer. His third LP, Busy Body, likewise sold more a million copies. All three of those albums, and the next three as well, reached number one on the R&B charts. In fact, it was not until 1989, with The Best of Luther, The Best of Love, that a Vandross LP failed to make it to the top of the R&B charts. Each of those albums also included at least one single that made it into the R&B top ten. Meanwhile, his talent as a producer was also gaining recognition. In 1982, Vandross produced Cheryl Lynn's hit album Instant Love, and over the years, he has produced songs and/or albums for such stars as Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston.

At a Glance

Born Luther Ronzoni Vandross on April 20, 1951, in New York, NY; son of Mary Ida (a licensed practical nurse) Vandross. Education : Attended Western Michigan University, 1970.

Career : Professional singer and songwriter, 1972. Wrote the song "Everybody Rejoice" for the Broadway musical The Wiz, 1972; toured with David Bowie, 1974; sang and arranged on albums by numerous performers, including Chaka Khan, Bette Midler, Average White Band, and Roberta Flack, 1974; sang commercial jingles, c. 1970s-1981; solo performer and record producer, 1981.

Selected awards : National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Most Valuable PlayerBest Male Vocalist, 1979; Grammy Awards, 1979, 1990, 1991 (2), 1996, 2003 (4); NAACP Image Awards, 1990, 2003.

Address : Office c/o J-Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10151.

As Vandross's career expanded, so did his waistline. At times his weight soared to well over 300 pounds. Angered by the constant mention of his size in the press, where he was tagged with such nicknames as the "heavyweight of soul," Vandross shed 120 pounds, only to seesaw back and forth between weight extremes for the next several years. In a number of interviews, Vandross has attributed this yo-yoing to his love life. When things are going well, he loses weight; when he is heartsick, he overcompensates with food.

Achieved Crossover Stardom

In spite of the success of his first several albums, by the late 1980s Vandross was vexed by his failure to produce a major crossover hitone that would be as popular among white audiences as it was with black buyers. He finally cracked the pop top ten in 1989, with the single "Here and Now." From that point on, Vandross became the kind of fixture on the pop charts that he had been on the R&B lists for nearly a decade. In 1991, his gospel medley "Power of Love/Love Power" reached number four on the pop charts. In addition to his own albums, Vandross continued to produce recordings for other artists on occasion, and, in 1993, he made his motion picture acting debut in Robert Townsend's Meteor Man.

In 1994 Vandross released the album Songs, which consisted of remakes of hits from the past. "Endless Love," a duet with pop star Mariah Carey from the album, soared to number two on the pop charts. That same year he was spotlighted in a PBS television special, In the Spotlight, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He released a Christmas album in 1995, featuring seven new co-written songs, along with a variety of classic carols. And in 1997 Vandross sang the national anthem at the 1997 NFL Super Bowl, a sure sign of his crossover success.

Vandross's string of successes and his high public profile allowed him to experiment musically, and to seek new freedom with a new label. In 1998 ended his 16-year partnership with the Epic label, a partnership that had produced 12 hit albums and sent 22 singles onto the R&B charts. Vandross soon signed with Virgin Records, and in 1998 he released I Know, featuring such stars as Stevie Wonder, Cassandra Wilson, and Bob James. The album received generally excellent reviews, but Vandross soon left Virgin. He released Smooth Love on the AMW label in 2000, then found a more stable home with J-Records, where released three albums between 2001 and 2003, including Luther Vandross, Dance with My Father, and Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall. Each of the albums was well received by fans and critics alike, and Vandross continued to attract adoring fans at his concert. Explaining his success to Jet, Vandross said: "It's a really good feat at this point in my career. That's what makes it so special. I don't even try to figure it out or analyze it. I just go ahead and do what feels good and that seems to work."

By 2003 Vandross was at the peak of his career. Though considered one of the enduring artists of the late twentieth century, he continued to release vibrant, meaningful music. Sadly, in April of 2003 Vandross suffered a debilitating stroke that left him temporarily in a coma; the stroke was likely caused by a combination of his recent weight gain and his ongoing struggle with diabetes. Vandross's recovery has been slow and difficult. Six months after his stroke he was just regaining the ability to speak and sing, yet he was still confined to a wheelchair and remained weak. As a result of the stroke Vandross was unable to attend the 2003 Grammy Awards (held in early 2004), where Dance with My Father was honored with four Grammys, including the award for Song of the Year. The Grammy ceremony included a tribute to Vandross performed by Alicia Keys and Celine Dion. In a taped appearance, Vandross made his first public statement, telling fans: "I wish I could be with you there tonight. I want to thank everyone for your love and support. And remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long, because I believe in the power of love."

Selected discography

Never Too Much, Epic, 1981.

Forever, For Always, For Love, Epic, 1982.

Busy Body, Epic, 1983.

The Night I Fell in Love, Epic, 1985.

Give Me The Reason, Epic, 1986.

Any Love, Epic, 1988.

The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, Epic, 1989.

Power of Love (includes "Power of Love"/"Love Power"), Epic, 1991.

Never Let Me Go, Epic, 1993.

Songs (includes "Endless Love"), Epic, 1994.

This Is Christmas, Epic, 1995.

Your Secret Love, Sony, 1996.

I Know, Virgin, 1998.

Greatest Hits, Epic, 1999.

Smooth Love, AMW, 2000.

Luther Vandross, J-Records, 2001.

The Ultimate Luther Vandross, Epic, 2001.

The Very Best of Luther Vandross, Sony, 2002.

Dance with My Father, J-Records, 2003.

Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall, J-Records, 2003.

The Essential Luther Vandross, Epic/Legacy, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Ebony, December 1985, pp. 83-87; December 1991, pp. 93-98; December 18, 1995, pp. 32-37.

Entertainment Weekly, October 17, 2003, p. 34.

Jet, June 28, 1993, pp. 34-36; October 24, 1994, pp. 36-39; July 16, 2001, p. 12; January 19, 2004, p. 58.

New York, February 15, 1982, pp. 45-49.

New York Times Magazine, September 22, 1991, pp. 53-63.

People, February 28, 1983, pp. 101-102; September 7, 1998, p. 121; June 16, 2003, p. 101; October 20, 2003, p. 95.

Rolling Stone, September 6, 1990, pp. 76-81.

On-line

"Luther Vandross," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (October 28, 2004).

Luther Vandross, www.luthervandross.com/ (January 24, 2004).

Robert R. Jacobson and

Tom Pendergast

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Vandross, Luther

Luther Vandross

Singer Luther Vandross (1951–2005), best known for his soulful love songs, was one of the most respected R&B singers of the late twentieth century. With multiple Grammy Awards, 14 platinum-selling albums, and over 25 million total albums sold, Vandross rode high from 1980 until his death. Having worked with artists as diverse as David Bowie and Beyoncé Knowles, Vandross has an assured place in the pantheon of genuine R&B superstars.

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.

By 1994, Vandross had become increasingly upset by his failure to have a number one pop hit. The head of Sony Music, Tommy Mottola, suggested Vandross work with respected pop producer Walter Afansieff on a cover album; Vandross, despite never having had a producer on his solo albums, agreed. The result, Songs, managed to produce a number two hit, a duet with Mariah Carey called "Endless Love." However, the top spot continued to elude Vandross and critics hated his newly-produced sound. Trying to reconnect with his original fans, Vandross released a holiday album, This is Christmas, in late 1995, and the following year, an album of new material, Your Secret Love. The album went platinum and the title track reached the R&B charts, but music was changing rapidly; as Seymour noted in Luther, "the cool, never-break-a-sweat vibe of folks like Luther … seemed more dated every day."

In 1997, Vandross completed his contract with Sony with the release of a second greatest hits compilation, One Night With You. He signed with Virgin Records and began work on a new album, released in 1998 as I Know. This album—the first to miss platinum status—was a crushing disappointment. He left Virgin and took a break from recording. In 2000, Vandross signed with new label, J Records, and the following year commenced work on a new album.

Hit High Notes at the End

The self-titled release in 2001 was much more successful than I Know, bringing back his streak of platinum records. The following year, he returned to the studio; seeking to put some contemporary edge on his sound, he invited rappers Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah and Foxy Brown, as well as pop star Beyoncé Knowles, to appear on the album. With the help of songwriter Richard Marx, Vandross had written the song he believed would define his career, "Dance with my Father." In the midst of album release preparation, Vandross unexpectedly suffered a stroke and spent weeks in the hospital followed by months at a rehabilitation center. The release of his album, Dance With My Father, went ahead as scheduled and debuted at number one on the pop charts, at last garnering Vandross the long wished-for accolades. Vandross received five Grammy nominations, winning four including the prestigious Song of the Year. Still at a rehabilitation center from his stroke, Vandross was unable to attend the ceremony.

Vandross never fully recovered from his 2003 stroke. His long-time battle with his weight added stresses of diabetes and high blood pressure to his body. On July 1, 2005, Vandross died from a heart attack. Hundreds of people, including many of the musical luminaries he had worked with, came to pay their respects at his funeral. In September 2005, J Records released a tribute album, So Amazing, featuring well-known artists singing many of Vandross's most enduring songs.

Books

Seymour, Craig, Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross, HarperCollins, 2004.

Periodicals

Entertainment Weekly, December 20, 2005; January 6, 2006. Jet, July 25, 2005.

New York Times, July 2, 2005; July 7, 2005.

Online

"Luther Vandross: Biography," http://www.luthervandross.com, January 8, 2006.

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Vandross, Luther 1951–

Luther Vandross 1951

At a Glance

Selected discography

Sources

Singer, songwriter, and producer

Luther Vandross is a vintage Cadillac among banged-up jalopies in the used car lot of current male pop singers. A throwback to the smooth soul stylings of the 1960s, Vandross has been a fixture on the rhythm and blues charts since his solo recording debut in 1981. Since then, he has produced a string of nearly one dozen platinum albums and has firmly established himself as one of the leading romantic singers of his generation. Much of his appeal comes from his emotional approach to music, which is modeled after great female vocalists such as Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, rather than their male counterparts.

Born in New York City in 1951, Vandross was the youngest of four children. His father, an upholsterer, died when Luther was only eight years old, leaving his mother, Mary Ida Vandross, to support the family through her job as a licensed practical nurse. They lived in the Alfred E. Smith housing project in lower Manhattan. The Vandross family was a musical one, and from an early age, Luther was exposed to the black pop music of the day. His first piano lessons came at the age of three. His sister Pat was a member of a doo-wop group called the Crests, whose song Sixteen Candles was a fairly big hit when it came out.

By the time he was 13, Vandross was the only child still living at home. He and his mother moved to the Bronx. As a senior at William Howard Taft High School, Vandross became obsessed with the girl groups of the Motown label, as well as the gospel-based soul sounds being produced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Cissy Houston. He was part of a crowd that liked to hang out in the school hallways and sing doo-wop. As he immersed himself more deeply in music, his interest in school waned. His grades plummeted, and he became increasingly certain that his future was in the music industry.

After high school, Vandross enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He quit after two miserable semesters, more determined than ever to pursue his dream of becoming a professional singer. In 1972, a song written by Vandross, Everybody Rejoice, was chosen for the Broadway musical The Wiz.Although he received substantial royalties for the composition, the money was not enough to support himself completely, and Vandross continued to work at a variety ofday

At a Glance

Born Luther Vandross, April 20, 1951, in New York, NY; son of Mary Ida (a licensed practical nurse) Vandross.Education: Attended Western Michigan University, 1970.

Professional singer and songwriter, 1972. Wrote the song Everybody Rejoice for the Broadway musical The Wiz, 1972; toured with David Bowie, 1974; sang and arranged on albums numerous performers, including Chaka Khan, BetteMidler, Average White Band, and Roberta Flack, 1974; sang commercial jingles, c. 1970s-1981 ; solo performer and record producer, 1981

Selected awards: Two Amerian Music awards, 1992; two Grammy awards, 1992; 9 other grammy nominations; NAACP Image Award, 1990.

Addresses: Officedo Epic Records, 40 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

jobs while he continued in his pursuit of fame.

In 1974, Vandross received his first real professional break. A childhood friend, guitarist Carlos Alomar, had landed a job backing British singer David Bowie, and he invited Vandross to accompany him to a recording session during the making of Bowies album Young Americans.During the session, Bowie overheard Vandross mentioning some background vocal arrangement suggestions to Alomar. Bowie loved the ideas, and he immediately hired Vandross to sing and arrange backup vocals for the album. He also recorded a Vandrosspenned song, Fascination. When the album was finished, Vandross joined the Bowie tour as a backup singer. Through Bowie, Vandross made many important connections in the music industry, laying the groundwork for his own budding career.

One of the musicians to whom Bowie introduced Vandross was Bette Midler. Impressed with his voice and ideas, she hired Vandross to sing backup vocals on her next two albums. Vandross soon became much sought after for singing and arranging work, and was finally able to concentrate on music full-time. Among the artists whose recordings his voice appeared on during the next few years were Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Ringo Starr, the Average White Band, Barbra Streisand, and Donna Summer. He also became one of Madison Avenues favorite voices for commercial jingles. During the late 1970s, Vandrosss anonymous voice was used to sell everything from fried chicken to long-distance telephone service, not mention as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Army.

Through this combination of commercial and backup work, Vandross was earning a more-than-comfortable living from music by the end of the 1970s. Artistically, however, those jobs did not satisfy him, and he continued to try to break out as a solo act. He formed or joined several groups, with such names as Luther, Bionic Boogie, and Change, but none proved commercially viable. He also sang the lead vocal on Chics song Dance, Dance, Dance.

Part of the problem in landing a solo recording contract was Vandrosss insistence on total creative control of the recording process. Another problem was the prevalence of disco, a musical form antithetical to Vandross lyrical approach. Finally, in 1980, Vandross used his own money to rent a studio and began recording. He took the resulting handful of songs to Epic Records, and he was immediately given a contract. Epic released Vandrosss first solo album, Never Too Much, in 1981. The album sold more than one million copies, cracked the top ten on black pop charts, and effectively launched Vandrosss career as a solo superstar.

Vandross released his follow-up album, For Ever, For Always, For Love, one year later. It, too, sold more than one million copies and cemented Vandross growing reputation as a first class love balladeer. His third LP, Busy Body, likewise sold more than a million copies. All three of those albums, and the next three as well, reached number one on the R&B charts. In fact, it was not until 1989, with The Best of Luther, The Best of Love, that a Vandross LP failed to make it to the top of the R&B charts. Each of those albums also included at least one single that made it into the R&B top ten. Meanwhile, his talent as a producer was gaining recognition as well. In 1982, Vandross produced Cheryl Lynns hit album Instant Love, and over the years, he has produced songs and/or albums for such stars as Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Whitney Houston.

As Vandrosss career expanded, so did his waistline. At times his weight soared to well over 300 pounds. Angered by the constant mention of his size in the press, where he was tagged with such nicknames as the heavyweight of soul, Vandross shed 120 pounds, only to seesaw back and forth between weight extremes for the next several years. In a number of interviews, Vandross has attributed this yo-yoing to his love life. When things are going well, he loses weight; when he his heartsick, he overmedicates himself with food.

In spite of the success of his first several albums, by the late 1980s Vandross was vexed by his failure to produce a major crossover hitone that would be as popular among white audiences as it was with black buyers. He finally cracked the pop top ten in 1989, with the single Here and Now. From that point on, Vandross became the kind of fixture on the pop charts that he had been on the R&B lists for nearly a decade. In 1991, his gospel medley Power of Love/Love Power reached number four on the pop charts. In addition to his own albums, Vandross continued to produce recordings for other artists on occasion, and, in 1993, he made his motion picture acting debut in Robert Townsends Meteor Man.

In 1994 Vandross released the album Songs, which consisted of remakes of hits from the past. Endless Love, a duet with pop star Mariah Carey from the album, soared to number two on the pop charts. The following year, Vandross recorded an album of Christmas standards. Now that his name is known to pop fans of every race, music writers are able to describe the proportions of Vandrosss stardom in terms once reserved for descriptions of his girth.

Selected discography

Never Too Much, Epic, 1981.

Forever, For Always, For Love, Epic, 1982.

Busy Body, Epic, 1983.

The Night I Fell in Love, Epic, 1985.

Give Me The Reason, Epic, 1986.

Any Love, Epic, 1988.

The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, Epic, 1989.

Power of Love (includes Power of LoveVLove Power), Epic, 1991.

Never Let Me Go, Epic, 1993.

Songs (includes Endless Love), Epic, 1994.

This Is Christmas, Epic, 1995.

Sources

Ebony, December 1985, pp. 83-87; December 1991, pp. 93-98; December 18, 1995, pp. 32-37.

Jet, June 28,1993, pp. 34-36; October 24,1994, pp. 36-39.

New York, February 15, 1982, pp. 45-49.

New York Times Magazine, September 22,1991, pp. 53-63.

People, February 28, 1983, pp. 101-102.

Rolling Stone, September 6, 1990, pp. 76-81.

Robert R. Jacobson

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Vandross, Luther

Luther Vandross

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Rhythm and blues singer Luther Vandross is best known for his soulful renditions of emotionally charged love ballads. Vandross wide singing range runs from lush tenor to robust baritone and represents only one of his various talents. He has won numerous Grammy awards, while maintaining complete artistic control of his work. His musical compositions and arrangements have been recorded by many of the greatest American pop singers. Vandross, in addition to his fame as a solo artist, gained notoriety as one of the most talented backup singers in modern music. He released an astonishing 13 platinum albums in succession, beginning with his first major release.

Vandross was born in New York on Manhattans Lower East Side on April 20, 1951. The youngest of four siblings, he was the son of an upholsterer who died from diabetes when Vandross was just eight. As a result, Vandross developed a close relationship with his mother, Mary Ida Vandross. The Vandross children were musically inclined, a trait that they inherited from their parents. His mother recognized Vandross particular musical bent and saw to his musical education when he was still very young, beginning his piano lessons at age three.

One of Vandross older sisters sang with the Crests as a teen-ager, and although she left home while Vandross was still a child, he cultivated a particular love and respect for the female singing styles. He was drawn in particular to the late 1960s moods of Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, and Aretha Franklin. Vandross saw the unrestrained emotion of female singers was a magnificent faculty rarely found in the work of male pop vocalists. When Vandross was 13 he moved with his mother to the South Bronx in New York where he attended Taft High School. His interest in music became overpowering by his senior year, and although he enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, he abandoned his formal education after by the end of his second semester, opting instead to embark on a musical career.

From that point Vandross achieved prominence through a delicate combination of talent and luck. One of his compositions, Everybody Rejoice, was incorporated into the score of the Broadway musical The Wizln 1972. Two years later he attended some taping sessions for rock star David Bowie in the company of a friend who worked as part of the Bowie entourage. As Vandross observed the taping sessions he expressed personal observations about Bowies musical arrangements. Vandross used his own voice to illustrate his ideas, and his comments were taken seriously by Bowie, who encouraged Vandross to join the company as a backup artist on Bowies album Young Americans.

Eventually Vandross was invited to tour with Bowie, as a warm up for Bowies act. Vandross accepted the offer, but soon complained that the experience was exhausting, and expressed apprehension. The stress of performance caused him to be nervous and overwrought. He felt anxious at the thought of facing an audience of strangers. Bowie, convinced of Vandross potential, influenced Vandross to persevere, emphasizing to Vandross that the experiences of live performance would be critical to his future success as an entertainer.

In time Bowie referred Vandross to Bette Midler who arranged to hire Vandross as a backup singer. Vandross embarked on a career as a backup singer for many popular artists including Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, and the Average White Band. He also made a lucrative living singing jingles fortelevision commercials. During this time Vandross sang with the disco band Change and created a group called Bionic Boogie, a studio production of sound mixes, all performed by Vandrossa virtual one-man band.

Vandross formed his own R&B group, Luther, in 1975. With the influence of Arif Mardin the group Luther signed to record with Cotillion Records. Luther was a short-lived enterprise, their records falling well short of expectations.

For the Record

Born April 20, 1951, in New York; father, an upholsterer; mother, Mary Ida Vandross; youngest of four siblings. Education: Attended Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI.

Career: wrote Everybody Rejoice for The Wiz, 1972; backup singer on David Bowies Young Americans; toured with David Bowie, 1974; Atlantic Records, backup vocalist for Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, and others, 1974-81; singer/songwriter of commercial jingles, started group, Bionic Boogie and sang with Change, 1974; signed group, Luther, with Cotillion records, 1975; signed with Sonys Epic Records, released 13 consecutive platinum selling albums, 1981-1997; performed In the Spotlight from Royal Albert Hall for Public Broadcasting System, 1994; first release with Virgin Records in 1998.

Awards: National Academy of Recording Arts & Science Most Valuable PlayerBest Male Vocalist, 1979; Grammy awards: Best R&B Song, Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, 1990; Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, 1998.

Addresses: Record company Virgin Records, 338 North Foothill Road, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.

Vandross, meanwhile, aspired to a recording contract that would allow him complete creative control over his recordings. Vandross signed with Epic Records in 1981 and his popularity, both as a singer and a songwriter, flourished steadily from that point forward.

Over the years Vandross wrote songs for Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, while his own singing career blossomed steadily. By 1991 his double album, The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, became a double platinum seller, and Vandross success was assured. In 1991-92 Vandross embarked on a U.S. tour that culled a total attendance of 650,000 spectators nationwide and earned $15 million in box office receipts. In 1994 he performed a television special for the Public Broadcasting System called In the Spotlight, from Royal Albert Hall in London. He released a Christmas album in 1995, featuring seven new co-written songs, along with a variety of classic carols. In 1996 Vandross performed at the Essence Music Festival. Vandross received the honor of singing the national anthem at the 1997 NFL Super Bowl, and that same year went on a five-city U.S. tour beginning in Las Vegas and culminating in Washington D.C.

Vandross parted ways with Epic in 1998, after a 16-year partnership during which Vandross released 12 hit albums and sent22 of singles into the top tenof the R&B charts. The separation from Sonyattributed to a dispute over artistic freedomled to a new contract for Vandross with Virgin Records. His firstalbum for Virgin, 1998s/Know, featured a bevy of stars including Stevie Wonder, Precise, Cassandra Wilson, and Bob James. The album received generally excellent reviews. Despite achieving super-stardom as a solo artist, Vandross continued to sing as a back up from time to time for a number of notable singers.

Vandross received five Grammy awards from 1990-98, including two for Power of Love. He received three Grammys for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, and also one for Best R&B song. All together he received three Grammy nominations in 1994, four nominations in 1995; three nominations in 1996, and three in 1997. Vandross made an acting debut in 1993 in the Robert Townsend film The Meteor Man and co-hosted the Soul Train Music Awards.

Selected discography

Never Too Much, Epic, 1981.

Forever, for Always, for Love, Epic, 1982.

The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, 1989.

Songs, Epic, 1994.

Luther Vandross 1981-1995 Greatest Hits, Epic, 1995.

This is Christmas, Epic, 1995.

Your Secret Love, Epic, 1997.

One Night With You: The Best of Love II, Epic, 1997.

/Know, Virgin Records, 1998.

Sources

Books

Clarke, Donald, ed., The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Viking, 1989.

Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n Roll, the Video Revolution, 1978-present, Volume 3.

Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, revised, St. Martins Press, 1989.

Periodicals

Arizona Republic, December 19, 1997.

Baltimore Afro-American, November 30, 1996.

Detroit News, September 1, 1998.

Gannett News Service, November 27, 1994.

Independent, March 7, 1997, p. 10 (2).

Rocky Mountain News, September 5, 1997, p. 18D.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 1997, p. 5.

Sacramento Observer, January 22, 1997.

Tulsa World, August 7, 1998.

Online

www.virginrecords.com/artists/vr.cgi?artist_name=luther_vandross, (October 5, 1998).

www.sonymusic.com/artists/luthervandross/biography.html (September 23, 1998).

www.dotmusic.co.uk/mwtalentluther.html (September 10, 1998).

Gloria Cooksey

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"Vandross, Luther." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Vandross, Luther." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/vandross-luther

"Vandross, Luther." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/vandross-luther

Vandross, Luther

LUTHER VANDROSS

Born: New York, New York, 20 April 1951

Genre: R&B

Best-selling album since 1990: Power of Love (1991)

Hit songs since 1990: "Power of Love/Love Power," "Endless Love," "Your Secret Love"


Since the early 1980s Luther Vandross has established himself as one of the most successful, durable performers in rhythm and blues. Known for his supple tenor voice, Vandross favors romantic love ballads with clear, easily recognizable melodies, while his lyrics explore themes of devotion, longing, and heartbreak. In this respect, his music shares more in common with rhythm and blues songs of the 1960s and 1970s than with the more sexually explicit sounds of younger performers such as D'Angelo and Sisqó. Nonetheless, Vandross has maintained his popularity with mainstream audiences by keeping in touch with changing trends while at the same time holding on to his core musical values. Vandross has also gained respect for his work with other artists, writing and producing songs for singers such as Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston.


Early Years

Raised on New York's Lower East Side, Vandross grew up listening to early 1960s pop music, as well as gospel songs. He received his first break in early 1975, when his composition "Everybody Rejoice" was featured in the Broadway musical, The Wiz, based on the popular film The Wizard of Oz (1939). That same year, he contributed vocals to rock singer David Bowie's Young Americans album, co-writing "Fascination" with Bowie. By the end of the decade, he had performed extensively as a jingle and background singer and recorded the album Luther (1976) with his own band.

In 1981 he was given a recording contract with Epic Records and released his first solo album, Never Too Much. For the remainder of the decade he racked up a sizable number of rhythm and blues hits, including "Never Too Much," "It's Over Now," and "Any Love." His albums, which he produced, wrote, and arranged himself, became showcases for his creativity and rich musical imagination. The hit "Wait for Love" perfectly illustrates the Vandross
approach. Working against a lush, rhythmic arrangement, with a powerful female chorus providing dramatic tension, Vandross slowly builds intensity through subtle changes in the volume and timing of his vocals. By the end, he is improvising freely, playing with the words in a manner that draws out the song's emotion.

On the strength of his singles and albums, Vandross developed a loyal, largely female, fan base. However, he had yet to achieve full-fledged pop stardom by the late 1980s. Perhaps his music was too rhythm-and-blues-oriented, although a factor more likely to have prevented his crossing over to a pop audience was the laid-back, conservative image he projected both in music and in his personal life. In an era dominated by performers such as Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna, all of whom made audacious statements in their fashion and music, Vandross seemed slightly old-fashioned. Neither glamorous nor trend setting, he was instead characterized by consistency.


Pop Success

In 1989, Vandross's years of commitment finally paid off when "Here and Now," another romantic ballad, stormed into the Pop Top 10. "Here and Now" has a slicker, more polished sound than his previous hits, making it more accessible for mainstream radio audiences. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance in 1990 and transformed Vandross into a pop star. The next year, he hit his commercial and artistic peak with Power of Love, an album many critics regard as his finest. In his notes to a reissue of the album in 2001, Billboard magazine writer Matthew S. Robinson called it "one of [Vandross's] most fulfilling meditations on the search for love." The album's first single, "Power of Love/Love Power," became Vandross's biggest pop hit and carried him to a new level of popularity. With its bouncy rhythm, upbeat lyrics, and infectious melody, the song proved extremely influential, pointing to the hip-hop style of the 1990s while staying rooted in the smooth vocalizing of the past. A soaring vocal choir gives the song an inspirational quality that hearkens back to Vandross's childhood love of gospel music. The rest of the album is a cohesive blend of seductive up-tempo tunes and atmospheric ballads, all sung with emotion and tenderness. Both the album and the "Love Power/Power of Love" single won Grammy Awards in 1991. In 1992 Vandross scored another big hit with "The Best Things in Life Are Free," a duet with Janet Jackson from the film Mo' Money (1992).

In 1994 Vandross released a version of the 1981 Diana Ross/Lionel Richie hit "Endless Love" with fellow superstar Mariah Carey. The new "Endless Love" was so successful that it led to an album, Songs (1994), in which Vandross interprets material initially made famous by other performers. The album was a commercial hit, although some longtime fans complained that Vandross was aiming too heavily for the mainstream pop market. Nonetheless Vandross remained at the top of his game, earning his fourth Grammy in 1996 for the hit "Your Secret Love." The success of the song, taken from his album of the same name, proved that at age forty-five Vandross had no intention of slowing down. Always good-natured and diplomatic, he succeeded in keeping his personal life out of the press, although he openly discussed his battles with diabetes, food, and weight gain.


New Directions

After Your Secret Love, Vandross ended his long association with Epic Records, a relationship sometimes marked by conflict. In 1992, for example, he had filed suit against Epic's parent company, Sony Entertainment, citing a portion of the California Labor Code that stipulates a seven-year limit for personal service contracts. Speaking to the Amsterdam News in 1998, Vandross hinted that he had been frustrated by Epic's inability to give him a number one pop hit, a goal which he claimed "was never aimed for and prioritized as important" at the label. That year he moved to Virgin Records and released I Know, a solid album that was accepted warmly by both critics and fans. Due to inadequate publicity, however, it failed to garner any substantial hits.

In 2001 Vandross signed with J-Records, a new label headed by music industry veteran Clive Davis, and he released a self-titled album that brought him fully back into the contemporary spotlight. The album differs from most previous Vandross efforts in that it employs the skills of outside producers and songwriters, among them proven hit-makers Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Warryn Campbell, and Shep Crawford. Vandross's image was updated as well: Having lost 125 pounds prior to the album's release, he now sported a sleek new wardrobe of designer clothes. In many ways, however, Luther Vandross stays true to the qualities that made the singer a star. Although he did not write it, the album's hit ballad, "I'd Rather," closely resembles his compositions from the 1980s and 1990s. The melody is lilting and catchy, while the lyrics embody values of romantic dedication: "I'd rather have bad times with you, than good times with someone else / I'd rather be beside you in a storm, than safe and warm by myself." On the heels of the album's release Vandross resumed his rigorous live touring schedule, performing extensively in the United States and Europe during 2001 and 2002. In April 2003 Vandross suffered a debilitating stroke in his New York apartment. Although he had yet to regain full consciousness, his record company released a new album, Dance with My Father, in June.

While other singers came and went during the 1980s and 1990s, Vandross remained near the top. His longevity is the combined result of tremendous talent, a solid commitment to creating great music, and an understanding that good love songs will always be in style.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Never Too Much (Epic, 1981); The Night I Fell in Love (Epic, 1985); Give Me the Reason (Epic, 1986); Any Love (Epic, 1988); The Best of Love (Epic, 1989); Power of Love (Epic, 1991); Never Let Me Go (Epic, 1993); Songs (Epic, 1994); This Is Christmas (Epic, 1995); Your Secret Love (Epic, 1996); I Know (Virgin, 1998); Luther Vandross (J-Records, 2001).

WEBSITE:

www.luthervandross.com.

david freeland

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"Vandross, Luther." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vandross-luther