R&B Crooner Luther Vandross Dies at 54
By NEKESA MUMBI MOODY, AP Music Writer 29 minutes ago

NEW YORK - Grammy award winner Luther Vandross, whose deep, lush voice on such hits as "Here and Now" and "Any Love" sold more than 25 million albums while providing the romantic backdrop for millions of couples worldwide, died Friday. He was 54.

Vandross 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 still 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. He was a close friend of mine and right now it's shocking."

O'Conner said he received condolence calls Friday from music luminaries such as  Aretha Franklin Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.

Luther Vandross with Oprah Winfrey

Vandross was a four-time Grammy winner in the best male R&B performance category, taking home the trophy in 1990 for the single "Here and Now," in 1991 for his album "Power of Love," in 1996 for the track "Your Secret Love" and a last time for "Dance With My Father."

The album, with its single of the same name, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts while Vandross remained hospitalized from his stroke. It was the first time a Vandross album had topped the charts in its first week of release.

In 2005, he was nominated for a Soul Train Music Award for a duet with Beyonce on "The Closer I Get To You."

Vandross' sound was so unusual few tried to copy it; even fewer could.

"I'm proud of that — it's one of the things that I'm most proud of," he told The Associated Press in a 2001 interview. "I was never compared to anyone in terms of sound."

Vandross' style harkened back to a more genteel era of crooning. While many of his contemporaries and successors belted out tunes that were sexually charged and explicit, Vandross preferred soft pillow talk and songs that spoke to heartfelt emotions.

"I'm more into poetry and metaphor, and I would much rather imply something rather than to blatantly state it," he said. "You blatantly state stuff sometimes when you can't think of a a poetic way to say it."

A career in music seemed predestined for the New York native; both his parents were singers, and his sister, Patricia, was part of a 1950s group called the Crests.

But he happily toiled in the musical background for years before he would have his first hit. He wrote songs for projects as varied as a David Bowie album ("Fascination") and the Broadway musical "The Wiz" ("Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)"), sang backup for acts such as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand, and even became a leading commercial jingle singer.

Vandross credited singer Roberta Flack for prodding him to move into the spotlight after listening to one of his future hits, "Never Too Much."

"She started crying," he recalled. "She said, `No, you're getting too comfortable (in the background). ... I'm going to introduce you to some people and get your career started.'"

Vandross' first big hit came as the lead vocalist for the group Change, with their 1980 hit, "The Glow of Love." That led to a recording contract with Epic Records, and in 1981, he made his solo recording debut with the disc "Never Too Much." The album, which contained his aching rendition of "A House is Not a Home," became an instant classic.

Over the years, Vandross would emerge as the leading romantic singer of his generation, racking up one platinum album after another and charting several R&B hits, such as "Superstar," "Give Me The Reason" and "Love Won't Let Me Wait."

Yet, while Vandross was a household name in the black community, he was frustrated by his failure to become a mainstream pop star. Indeed, it took Vandross until 1990 to score his first top 10 hit — the wedding staple "Here & Now."

"I just wanted more success. I didn't want to suddenly start wearing blond wigs to appeal to anyone," he told the AP.

"This is the same voice that sang Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, NBC 'proud as a peacock,' ... America, the world, has heard the voice, so there's no reason that that music shouldn't have gone the complete distance, I mean, to number one."

Another frustration for Vandross was his lifelong battle with obesity. Health problems ran in his family, and Vandross struggled for years to control his waistline. When he first became a star, he was a hefty size; a few years later, he was almost skinny. His weight fluctuated so much that rumors swirled that he had more serious health problems than the hypertension and diabetes caused by his large frame.

Vandross' two sisters and a brother died before him. The lifelong bachelor never had any children, but doted on his nieces and nephews. The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn't what he wanted. 

1990  S Here and Now                    Best Male R&B Vocal Performance
1991  S Power of Love/Love Power   Best R&B Song
1991  A Power of Love                    Best Male R&B Vocal Performance
1996  S Your Secret Love               Best Male R&B Vocal Performance
2003  S Dance With My Father       Best Male R&B Vocal Performance
2003  A Dance With My Father       Best R&B Album
2003  S Dance With My Father       Song Of The Year
2003  S The Closer I Get to You      Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals 

Associated Press Writer Sam Dolnick contributed to this story.


On the Net:


Alicia Keys, Ruben Studdard, Mya Remember Luther Vandross
July 04, 2005

When Luther Vandross died Friday afternoon, R&B lost an icon, and the artists he influenced were quick to express their loss and respect.

Vandross had established himself as one of the most soulful and captivating voices in music, up there with the likes of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. In his heyday, he was the man who had women screaming "Luuvffa!" and had the guys reaching for his album when they were trying to romance their dates. Love songs like "If Only for One Night," "Never Too Much," "Stop to Love" and "A House Is Not a Home" may very well have played a role in the reason some of us are here today.

The man was loved and respected by his peers. Even if you don't count acts like Kanye West, Janet Jackson or the Young Gunz, who have all sampled his music (and occasionally name-checked him; see Kanye's "Slow Jamz"), just ask any R&B singer and they'll tell you Vandross was a major influence on their lives and careers.

"I'm gonna try to give a hand to Luther Vandross one more time," John Legend said onstage Friday night at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, just hours after hearing of Vandross' death. "All us people making slow jams now, we was inspired by the slow jams Luther Vandross was making."

Backstage at the festival, the man who has drawn the most comparisons to Vandross over the past few years -- Ruben Studdard -- echoed Legend's praise.

"I'm still sad right now," Studdard said. "Luther was a big influence on me. I'm blessed to be able to have seen him do his thing and have him influence me musically. I love him. He has been and continues to be a great inspiration to me. He will be truly missed."

Also performing at the Essence Music Festival were Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys, who both spoke of Vandross onstage, with Franklin addressing the loss before performing "Precious Memories" and Keys dedicating "If I Ain't Got You."

"I can't believe it, I'm so sad," Keys said backstage. "There's something in the back of your mind that wishes someone was playing a big prank on you. That's how I felt when I found out. I couldn't even believe it. I'm happy to say I can call him my friend. I think he's such a wonderful man that's left behind such a beautiful legacy. That's something that will truly inspire generations to come. We will absolutely miss him. We pray for his family, that they heal, and ... My goodness, this is so sad."

"He was one of the greatest voices that ever sang a song," Patti LaBelle said. "He was one of the sweetest men I have ever known. And he was one of the best friends I have ever had. I'm so happy that his legacy will live on forever. ... Luther was one of a kind and will never be forgotten. I miss him more than words could ever say."

"I've studied Luther for such a long time because he was the epitome of perfect tone," offered Mint Condition lead singer Stokley Williams. "He will be greatly missed, but he has left an indelible stamp on music for the world to continue to enjoy."

"Luther was my idol," Jaheim said. "I can't believe he's gone. The first songs I ever learned were Luther's, and I got my deal singing three of his hits. Luther Vandross is music to me. There will never be another voice like his. I hope that now he'll get a chance to 'dance with his father' again."

Daron of 112 said the first song he ever performed in a talent show was the Vandross/ Gregory Hines duet "There's Nothing Better Than Love." He and the rest of 112 released a statement Friday saying, "Truly the music industry along with the rest of the world has lost an icon -- one of the greatest voices of our time. He was an inspiration to 112 and he'll never know the extent of how much his music influenced our lives. Rather than mourn his death, we celebrate his life and the gift of song that he gave us. We love you and we'll miss you, Luther."

"It's definitely a tremendous loss," said R&B crooner Joe. "Luther was one of the greatest singers. Being a male singer myself, I took inspiration from Luther. His beautiful tone and his full, round tenor have always inspired me."

"I love Luther and his music," said Mya, who worked with Vandross on Michael Jackson's all-star "What More Can I Give" benefit single. "It was a real pleasure to work with him. It is a very sad loss."

Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Bridget Bland (MTV.com)


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