LUTHER VANDROSS, 1951 - 2005
There was something special about Luther Vandross (who died 1st July). Free of the brashness of the other male soul performers of the 80s; here was simply a man who let his listeners believe that he would take care of them. Without bravado or grandstanding, his productions and distinctive tenor lent credibility to a genre that often could be criticised as bordering on the mawkish.
Although Vandross appeared to arrive fully formed on the music scene in the early 80s, his meteoric success was down to at least a decade of hard work on the New York session scene. Luther Ronzoni Vandross was born on 20th April 1951 and grew up in the Johnson Projects in Harlem. He was one of the early stars of groundbreaking children's programme, Sesame Street with his group, Listen My Brother, who worked out of Harlem's legendary Apollo Theater. Often with his friends, guitarist Carlos Alomar and vocalist Fonzi Thornton, Vandross began to perform session work in New York, and after countless recordings (including his own composition, Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day) being featured in the Broadway smash, The Wiz); he got his break, singing with David Bowie on his Young Americans album. Bowie even took his song, Funky Music, and rewrote it as Fascination. When Bowie asked Vandross if this would be possible, he famously replied 'you're David Bowie. I live with my mother. Of course you can change the lyrics.'
The success of this record led Vandross to form the group Luther, who released two albums on Cotillion in the mid-70s. But by the end of the decade, he was back singing on sessions and jingles, where his infectious sense of humour and coaching skills would bring out the best in the artists he worked with. His involvement in the original Chic studio line-up was critical ? he can clearly be heard on Le Freak and We Are Family; he sang with Charme and most notably for his career, Change, an Italian outfit who were setting up as rivals to Chic. Vandross' vocals on the international hits Searching and The Glow Of Love led to his solo deal with CBS in 1981.
Working with Marcus Miller, Vandross delivered the song Never Too Much, one of the sweetest, uplifting love songs on record. It became an US R&B No.1 hit single as well as reaching the US pop Top 40. From that moment on, Vandross became the love man of choice for millions. His albums such as The Night I Fell in Love and Give Me The Reason were all US million sellers, and he went on to produce albums for other singers such as Aretha Franklin.
Suffering from diabetes and hypertension, his weight would fluctuate dramatically. After a triumphant comeback album, Songs For My Father, which topped the US charts and demonstrated that he was still a potent force for the 21st Century, Vandross suffered a major stroke in 2003; although he allegedly recorded in the18 months before his death, he was never to perform again. (Daryl Easlea)