Luther Ronzoni Vandross (April 20, 1951 ? July 1, 2005) was an American R&B and soul singer-songwriter, and record producer. During his career, Vandross sold over twenty-five million albums and won eight Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance four times. He won four Grammy Awards in 2004 including the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for the track "Dance with My Father", co-written with Richard Marx.
1951?1979: Early life and career
Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City in the Smith Housing Project, Vandross began playing the piano at the age of three. He grew up in a musical family that moved to the Bronx when he was thirteen. His sister Patricia sang with vocal group The Crests who had a number two hit in 1958 with "Sixteen Candles", though she left the group before the recording. Vandross' father died of diabetes when Vandross was eight years old.
Luther Vandross was in a high school group, Shades of Jade, that once played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He was also a member of a theater workshop, "Listen My Brother" who released the singles, "Only Love Can Make a Better World" and "Listen My Brother", and appeared on the second and fifth episodes of Sesame Street in November 1969.
Vandross attended Western Michigan University for a year before dropping out to continue pursuing a career in music.
His next recording credit was on an album by Roberta Flack in 1972. He was the founder of the first ever Patti LaBelle fan club. Luther also sang on Delores Hall's Hall-Mark album from 1973. He sang with her on the song "Who's Gonna Make It Easier For Me", which he wrote. He also contributed another song, "In This Lonely Hour". Having co-written "Fascination" for David Bowie's Young Americans, he went on to tour with him as a back-up vocalist in September 1974. Vandross wrote "Everybody Rejoice" for the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz; also appearing as a choir member in the movie.
Vandross also sang backing vocals for Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Chic, Barbra Streisand, and David Bowie.
Before his breakthrough, Vandross was part of a singing quintet in the late '70s, consisting of former Shades of Jade members Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, Theresa V. Reed, and Christine Wiltshire, also called Luther, signed to Cotillion Records. Although the singles "It's Good for the Soul", "Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)", and "The Second Time Around" were relatively successful, their two albums, the self-titled Luther (1976) and This Close to You (1977), didn't sell enough to make the charts. Vandross bought back the rights to these albums after the record label dropped the group, preventing their later re-release.
Vandross also wrote and sang commercials jingles during the late 1970s and early 1980s,continued his successful career as a popular session singer during the late 1970s.
Luther also sang lead vocals for a disco band called Greg Diamond's Bionic Boogie singing lead for the song titled "Hot Butterfly."
1980?2003: Career success
Luther Vandross finally made his long desired career breakthrough as a featured singer with the vaunted pop-dance act Change, a studio concept created by French-Italian businessman Jacques Fred Petrus. Their 1980 hits, "A Lover's Holiday" (by Romani and Willoughby), "The Glow of Love" (by Romani, Malavasi and Garfield) and "Searching" (by Malavasi), of which Vandross sang on all three, opened up the world for Vandross. And there was no doubt about whether Vandross liked the song "The Glow of Love". In an interview that Vibe Magazine did with him in 2001 Vandross said, "This is the most beautiful song I've ever sung in my life." Vandross was also originally intended to perform on the second and highly successful Change album "Miracles" in 1981, but declined the offer as Petrus didn't pay enough money. Vandross' decision rapidly led to a recording contract with Epic Records that same year but didn't stop him from doing some background vocals on "Miracles" and on the new Petrus created act, NYC band, The B. B. & Q. band in 1981. During that hectic year Vandross jump-started his second attempt at a solo career with his debut album, Never Too Much. In addition to the hit title track it contained a version of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song "A House Is Not a Home". The song "Never Too Much", written by himself, reaching number-one on the R&B charts. This period also marked the beginning of frequent songwriting collaboration with bassist Marcus Miller, who played on many of the tracks and would also produce or co-produce a number of tracks for Vandross. The Never Too Much album was arranged by high school classmate Nat Adderley, Jr., a collaboration that would last through Vandross's career.
Vandross released a series of successful albums during the 1980s and continued his session work with guest vocals on groups like Charme in 1982. Although the albums were successful overall, many of his earlier albums made a much bigger impact on the R&B charts than on the pop charts. During the 1980s, Vandross had two singles that reached number one on the Billboard R&B charts: "Stop to Love", in 1986, and a duet with Gregory Hines?"There's Nothing Better Than Love." He was at the helm for Aretha Franklin's albums Jump to It and Get It Right. In 1983, the opportunity to work with his main music influence, Dionne Warwick, came about with Vandross producing, writing songs, and singing on How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, her fourth album for Arista Records. The title track duet reached #27 on the Hot 100 chart (#7 R&B/#4 Adult Contemporary), while the second single, "Got a Date" was only a moderate hit (#45 R&B/#15 Club Play).
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In 1985, Luther Vandross first spotted the talent of Jimmy Salvemini, 15 at the time, on "Star Search." He thought Salvemini had the perfect voice for some of his songs. He contacted Salvemini, who was managed by his brother Larry. A contract was negotiated with Elektra records for $250,000 and Luther agreed to produce the album. Luther even contacted old friends to appear on the album, Cheryl Lynn, Alfa Anderson (Chic), Phoebe Snow and Irene Cara. After the album was completed, Luther, Jimmy, and Larry decided to celebrate. On January 12, 1986, they were riding in Luther's convertible Mercedes when it crossed the yellow lines of the two lane street and smashed into two vehicles. All three men were rushed to the hospital. Larry Salvemini died during surgery, and Vandross and Jimmy Salvemini survived. At first, the Salvemini family was supportive of Luther. In 1986, Luther faced vehicular manslaughter charges as a result of Larry's death. Vandross pled no contest to reckless driving, and the Salvemini family filed a wrongful death suit. The case was quietly settled out of court for $700,000. In light of the tragedy, the record label decided not to release the album.
The 1989 compilation The Best of Luther Vandross... The Best of Love, included the ballad "Here and Now", his first single to chart in the Billboard pop chart top ten, peaking at number six. He won his first Grammy award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1991.
More albums followed in the 1990s, beginning with 1991's Power of Love which spawned two top ten pop hits. He won his second Best Male R&B Vocal in the Grammy Awards of 1992 with the track "Power of Love/Love Power" winning the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in the same year. In 1992, "The Best Things in Life Are Free", a duet with Janet Jackson from the movie Mo' Money became a hit.
In 1993, Vandross had a brief non-speaking role in the Robert Townsend movie The Meteor Man. He played a hit man who plotted to stop Townsend's title character.
Vandross hit the top ten again in 1994 with Mariah Carey, doing a cover version of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross's duet "Endless Love." He also appears on Frank Sinatra's posthumous Duets album. In the Grammy Awards of 1997, he won his third Best Male R&B Vocal for the track "Your Secret Love". A second greatest hits album, released in 1997, compiled most of his 1990s hits and was his final album released through Epic Records. After releasing I Know on Virgin Records, he signed with J Records. His first album on Clive Davis's new label, entitled Luther Vandross, was released in 2001, and it produced the hits "Take You Out" (#7 R&B/#26 Pop), and "I'd Rather" (#17 Adult Contemporary/#40 R&B/#83 Pop)
In 1997, Luther Vandross sang the American national anthem during Super Bowl XXXI at the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana.
In 2002 he gave some of his final concerts during his last tour, The BK Got Soul Tour starring Luther Vandross featuring Angie Stone and Gerald Levert.
In 2003, Vandross released the album Dance With My Father. The title track, which was dedicated to Vandross' memory childhood dances with his father, won Luther and his co-writer, Richard Marx, the 2004 Grammy Award for Song Of The Year. The song also won Vandross his fourth and final award in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category. The album was his first to reach number one on the Billboard album chart. The video for the title track features various celebrities alongside their fathers and other family members. The 2nd Single released from that album, "Think About You" was the Number One Urban Adult Contemporary Song of 2004 according to Radio & Records.
"One Shining Moment" Soundtrack to Final Four Men's Basketball finals, on CBS-TV. In 2003, after the televised NCAA Men's Basketball championship, CBS Sports gave "One Shining Moment" a new look. Luther Vandross, who had been to only one basketball game in his life, was the new singer, and the video didn't have any special effects like glowing basketballs and star trails like it did in previous years. This song version is in use today. From Song Facts web site: http:www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=1318
2003?2005: Illness and death
Vandross had diabetes, a disease that ran in his family, as well as hypertension. On , 2003, just four days before his 52nd birthday, Vandross suffered a stroke in his home in Manhattan.
He appeared briefly on videotape at the 2004 Grammys to accept his Song of the Year award, where he said, "Whenever I say goodbye it's never for long because I believe in the power of love". Other than an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, he was never seen in public again. Vandross died on , 2005 at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey at the age of 54. The cause of his death was an apparent heart attack.
His funeral was in New York City on , 2005. After two days of viewing, Vandross was laid to rest in George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey.
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On , 2004, GRP Records released a smooth jazz various artists tribute album, Forever, For Always, For Luther, with ten popular songs written by Luther. The album featured vocal arrangements by Luther, and was produced by Rex Rideout and Bud Harner. Rideout had co-authored songs and contributed arrangements and played keyboards on Luther's final three albums. The tribute album was mixed by Ray Bardani, who recorded and mixed most of Luther's music over the years. It featured an ensemble of smooth jazz performers, many of whom had previously worked with Luther.
On , 2005, the album So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross was released. The album is a collection of some of Luther's songs performed by various artists, including Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Fantasia, Beyonc?, Donna Summer, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Celine Dion, Wyclef Jean, Babyface, Patti LaBelle, John Legend, Angie Stone, Jamie Foxx, Teddy Pendergrass, and Aretha Franklin. Aretha Franklin won a Grammy for her rendition of "A House Is Not a Home", and Stevie Wonder and Beyonc? won a Grammy for their cover of "So Amazing."
The violin duo Nuttin' But Stringz did a remix of the song Dance with My Father for their album Struggle From The Subway To The Charts which was released on , 2006.
On , 2006, saxophonist Dave Koz released a followup to the earlier smooth jazz GRP tribute album, this time on his own Rendezvous Entertainment label, an album called Forever, For Always, For Luther Volume II, also produced by Rex Rideout and Bud Harner. Dave Koz played on all the featured Luther Vandross tracks, which were recorded by various smooth jazz artists.
On , 2008, the release of the music video "Bye Bye" from Mariah Carey sees Luther's picture appear in the closing images. His image was included as a tribute along with various other deceased people with whom Carey had collaborated with during her career.
On A Different Me, Keyshia Cole sings the outro to "Luther Vandross" on "Playa Cardz Right" which features posthumous rapper Tupac Shakur on her third studio album.
Guitarist Norman Brown did the rendition of "Any Love" on his 1994 album, After The Storm.
Saxophonist Boney James covers his rendition on his final track "The Night I Fell In Love" on Backbone in 1994.
Author Craig Seymour wrote a book about Vandross called Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross. The book includes numerous interviews with Vandross.
In 2009, Jadakiss sampled Vandross' "Promise Me" to make his song "The Things I've Been Through" on his album, "The Last Kiss".
J Records released a song "Shine"?an upbeat R&B track that samples Chic's disco song "My Forbidden Lover"?reaching #31 on the R&B chart. A later remix peaked at #10 on the Club Play chart. "Shine" and a track entitled "Got You Home" are previously unreleased songs on The Ultimate Luther Vandross, a greatest hits album on Epic Records/J Records/Legacy Recordings that was released , 2006.
On , 2007, Epic Records/J Records/Legacy Recordings released a 4 disc box set entitled Love, Luther. It features all of Vandross' hits throughout his 24 year career. A single will be released from the box set entitled, "There's Only You", a version of which had originally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1987 movie Made in Heaven.