Luther Vandross Dies at 54

R&B Crooner Luther Vandross Dies at 54 (AP)

Luther Vandross’ style harkened back to a more genteel era of crooning, with songs that spoke to heartfelt emotions and gentle pillow talk rather than explicit sexuality. “I’m more into poetry and metaphor, and I would much rather imply something rather than to blatantly state it,” the Grammy award winner once said. “You blatantly state stuff sometimes when you can’t think of a a poetic way to say it.” Vandross, whose deep, lush voice on hits such as “Here and Now” and “Any Love” provided the romantic backdrop for millions of couples, died Friday. He was 54.

The singer died at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, N.J., said hospital spokesman Rob Cavanaugh. He did not release the cause of death but said in a statement that Vandross “never really recovered” from a stroke two years ago. Since the stroke in his Manhattan home on April 16, 2003, the R&B crooner stopped making public appearances — but amazingly managed to continue his recording career. In 2004, he captured four Grammys as a sentimental favorite, including best song for the bittersweet “Dance With My Father.” Vandross, who was in a wheelchair at the time, delivered a videotaped thank you. “Remember, when I say goodbye it’s never for long,” said a weak-looking Vandross. “Because” — he broke into his familiar hit — “I believe in the power of love.”

Vandross also battled weight problems for years while suffering from diabetes and hypertension.

He was arguably the most celebrated R&B balladeer of his generation. He made women swoon with his silky yet forceful tenor, which he often revved up like a motor engine before reaching his beautiful crescendos.

Jeff O’Conner, Vandross’ publicist, called his death “a huge loss in the R&B industry.” O’Conner said he received condolence calls Friday from music luminaries such as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.

Luther Vandross’ Swan Song (E!)

Luther Vandross wasn’t just a singer. He was a wedding day. A radio-show song dedication. A seduction. The supremely smooth Grammy-winner died Friday at a hospital in New Jersey. He was 54. The cause of death was not immediately disclosed.

Vandross, whose hits included the romantic renderings “Power of Love/Love Power,” “Here and Now,” and “Always and Forever,” was felled by stroke on April 16, 2003, at his Manhattan apartment. Less than two months later, what would be Vandross’ final studio album, the reflective Dance with My Father, was released. The album proved to be his most successful, immediately topping the charts and winning four Grammy Awards in 2004, including Song of the Year for the title cut. While Vandross regained consciousness, and sufficiently recovered to appear in a taped message at the 2004 Grammys and on The Oprah Winfrey Show later that same year, he never resumed his recording or performing career.

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The future R&B crooner got his start in gospel. As a teenager, he played Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre with the gospel-soul group, Listen My Brother. At the age of 20, his career moved downtown to Broadway, where his composition, “Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day),” was featured in the hit musical The Wiz. The young Vandross went on to pay the bills as a commercial jingle writer and backup vocalist for the likes of Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and David Bowie. Vandross scored the Bowie gig through an old school friend. At the time, the English rocker was working on his landmark 1975 album, Young Americans. Hired as a singer, Vandross ended up arranging the vocal parts and cowriting the song, “Fascination.”

The following year, Vandross moved from the background to the foreground with the disco group, Luther. To the relief of wedding deejays, Vandross’ bout with Saturday Night Fever was brief. Luther, the group, was a bust. Vandross, the sultry R&B star, was about to be born.

His breakthrough–more than 10 years in the making–came with the 1981 solo debut, Never Too Much. The seven-track collection included the hit title track and a cover of a Burt Bacharach standard he made his own, “A House Is Not a Home.” The platinum-selling album was a career-definer. No more would Vandross ping-pong from Broadway to Bowie. He was, always and forever, the standard-bearer of the smooth love song.

A shame, indeed. Vandross’ music wasn’t my cup of tea but he was undeniably one of the major figures in popular music for years.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Shirley S says:

    Just had to let the Family, Friends, and Fans of Luther Vandross know that it is “indeed” a Sad Day to lose such a talented man for us all.

    No doubt he has made an indelible impression in the hearts and souls of many many people. Thank God for giving Luther to us for 54 years.

    I’m just thankful that he brought and shared such beauty while here on earth. He will truly be missed and always loved.