Osborne, Jeffrey 1948–
Jeffrey Osborne 1948–
Rhythm and blues vocalist
The 1980s were a golden age of African American vocal artistry, sandwiched between the disco-dominated 1970s and the spoken-word hip-hop experimentation of the 1990s. From car radios and concert stages everywhere bloomed big, romantic voices, well schooled in both singing technique and pure romantic appeal. One of the best-selling recording artists among the crop of 1980s balladeers was Jeffrey Osborne, who notched five gold or platinum albums with sales of over 500,000 units each.
Osborne was born on March 9, 1948, in Providence, Rhode Island. More than those of most other artists, his was an upbringing steeped in musical traditions, and several of his siblings also went on to make music professionally. Osborne’s father, Clarence “Legs” Osborne, was a big-band trumpeter who played with the Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Lionel Hampton bands. He could have had an even more distinguished career had he not opted to spend more time with his family. Clarence Osborne died when Jeffrey was 13-years-old.
After his father’s death, Osborne switched from trumpet to drums, and two years later, he kept the family musical tradition alive by moving to Los Angeles in search of a musical career. He had the blessing of his mother, who was a descendant of the Native American Pequot tribe. She had always nurtured his musical side, encouraging him to perform renditions of Johnny Mathis songs at parties while he was still a youngster.
Before he ever sang professionally, Osborne was a drummer. Not long after arriving in Los Angeles, he landed a guest slot on drums for a live performance with the soon-to-be-famous soul group the O’Jays, and ended up performing with the band for two weeks. That brush with musical greatness kept Osborne going through several years of musical apprenticeship. Back home in Providence in 1969, he went to a performance by a group called Love Men Ltd. that was in sudden need of a drummer—their usual drummer was arrested for fighting with an audience member during
At a Glance…
Born March 9, 1948, in Providence, RI; father’s name Clarence “Legs” Osborne; married to Sheri; children: Tiffany, Dawn, and Jeanine.
Career: Popular recording artist, songwriter, and producer. Joined group Love Men Ltd., 1969; group renamed LTD; became lead vocalist for LTD, early 1970s; with LTD, recorded “Love Ballad,’ 1976; with LTD, recorded “Every Time I Turn Around (Back in Love Again), “1977; made debut as solo artist with the album Jeffrey Osborne, 1982; scored five gold or platinum albums, 1980s and early 1990s; with Dionn eWarwick, recorded “Love Power,” 1987; released CD That’s forSure, 2000.
Addresses: Publishing company— Almo-lrving Publishing Company, 1358 N. LaBrea, Hollywood, CA 90028.
the show’s intermission. Osborne filled in, was signed to a contract, and went back to Los Angeles with the band, where they altered their name to LTD. They explained to their female fans that the initials stood for Love, Togetherness, and Devotion.
Bookings for the band were lean at first, as LTD served as the backup group for a female impersonator. However, several members of LTD were southern soul veterans who had backed the 1960s soul duo Sam & Dave on horns and had an ear for potential vocal power. The rich tenor voice of their new drummer impressed them, and Osborne was encouraged to take vocal solos with LTD. Finally, Osborne became the group’s lead vocalist. He stayed with LTD for 11 years, contributing vocals to six hit albums and to such individual song successes as “Love Ballad” (1976) and “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again” (1977). Although the latter was a bigger hit originally, “Love Ballad” became a signature tune for Osborne, and he was still singing it in concerts a quarter of a century later.
LTD experienced some crossover success in addition to its stellar performance on African American pop charts. Toward the end of the 1970s, buoyed by session work for such artists as Smokey Robinson, Osborne began to consider a solo career. In contrast to the straight R&B inclinations of his bandmates, Osborne wanted to move in the direction of a more pop-oriented style. He chose as a producer the jazz-pop keyboard player George Duke, whose work was perfectly suited to, and indeed formed much of the musical basis for, the romantic “Quiet Storm” style of the early 1980s. Osborne could not have made a better choice, for Duke provided him with low-key but sophisticated backing that showcased his smoothly soaring vocals to maximum advantage.
Osborne’s debut solo album, Jeffrey Osborne, was released on the A&M label in 1982, in the midst of strong competition from similarly-styled vocal powerhouses such as Luther Vandross and Teddy Pender-grass. It yielded three hit singles, of which one, the wedding-ready “On the Wings of Love,” cracked the pop top 30 and also became an international hit. His next three album releases—Stay with Me Tonight, (1983) Don’t Stop, (1984) and Emotional, (1986)—likewise offered radio-ready material and sold well. Osborne placed nine singles in the top three positions of Billboard’s R&B chart, with several crossing over to pop as well.
A multi-talented musician, Osborne wrote or co-wrote many of his hits. He also began to branch out into production, co-producing his 1988 album release One Love —One Dream. That disc yielded the biggest R&B hit of his career, “She’s on the Left.” His highest pop chart performances came with “You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song),” from Emotional, and with a 1987 duet with Dionne Warwick, “Love Power.” That song, composed by legendary pop tunesmith Burt Bacharach, offered Osborne a chance to demonstrate his interpretive skills, which stacked up well against those of veteran pop vocalist Warwick.
For a variety of reasons, Osborne’s career faltered after the release of One Love —One Dream. Jumping into other endeavors such as producing albums for other artists, he took two years to release a follow-up, Only Human. For that album he moved to a new label, Arista, which backed Osborne with high-tech accompaniments less suited to his style. “In pushing Osborne into a livelier dance vein,” noted People reviewer David Hiltbrand, “[Arista head Clive] Davis has handed this booming balladeer some bum steers.” The ultimate cause of Osborne’s decline may simply have been a change in musical tastes—African American music of the 1990s had a harder edge than the music of Osborne’s prime years.
The title track of Only Human reached number three on the R&B charts, giving Osborne what may remain his last top ten hit. Osborne left Arista in 1994, and did not cut another album until the Modern label holiday release Something Warm for Christmas in 1997. In 1999 he signed with the Private label, which also was working to resuscitate the careers of one-time romantic icons Barry White, Peabo Bryson, and James Ingram. His first album for the label, That’s for Sure, was released in 2000. Produced and largely composed by Osborne himself, the album included a live version of “Love Ballad” as well as new music.
Jeffrey Osborne, A&M, 1982.
Stay with Me Tonight, A&M, 1983.
Don’t Stop, A&M, 1984.
Emotional, A&M, 1986.
One Love: One Dream, A&M, 1988.
Only Human, Arista, 1991.
Something Warm for Christmas, Modern, 1997.
That’s for Sure, Private Music, 2000.
Larkin, Colin, ed., The Enyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK, 1998.
Nite, Norm N., with Charles Crespo, Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n’ Roll, Harper & Row, 1985.
Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George-Warren, eds., The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.
Tee, Ralph, Soul Music: Who’s Who, Prima Publishing, 1992.
Billboard, January 15, 2000, p. 25.
People, September 19, 1988, p. 22; February 4, 1991, p. 19.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from http://www.allmusic.com
—James M. Manheim
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