Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. (April 20, 1951 – July 1, 2005) was an eight-time Grammy-winning American R&B and soul singer and songwriter. During his career, Vandross sold over 25 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.
Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, Vandross grew up in a musical family that moved to the Bronx when he was thirteen. His sister sang with vocal group The Crests who had a number two hit in the early 1960's with "Sixteen Candles". Vandross' father died of diabetes when Vandross was eight years old. His life-changing moment came when at the age of thirteen he heard Dionne Warwick sing "Anyone Who Had A Heart" (a song he would cover in his later years).
Vandross was in a vocal group, "Listen My Brother", in high school which once played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His first recording credit was as producer of the album Soul Christmas in 1968 and appeared as a vocalist on the Quincy Jones album Best in 1969. He was also a member of a theater workshop at the time and appeared on the first episode of Sesame Street in November 1969.
He attended Western Michigan University for a year, but then dropped out to continue pursuing a career in music.
His next recording credit was on an album by Roberta Flack in 1972. Vandross wrote "Everybody Rejoice", for the 1975 Broadway musical and 1978 movie The Wiz. He also appeared as a choir member in the movie. Having co-written "Fascination" for David Bowie's Young Americans, he went on to tour with him in September 1974.
Vandross also sang backing vocals for Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Chic, and Barbra Streisand. During the beginning of his career, Vandross was content to remain mostly in the background, as a producer and backup singer for other artists. Flack encouraged Vandross into starting his own career. She believed he was an incredible talent who, in addition to his songwriting and production skills, deserved to be heard.
Before his breakthrough, he released two albums with a singing group he formed, also called Luther, on Cotillion Records. The group had a successful single entitled "It's Good for the Soul", although their two albums - the self-titled Luther in 1976 and This Close to You in 1977 - were not successful. 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 & early 1980s, earning upwards of $600,000 per year around the New York area. He created and often sang jingles for such advertising campaigns as Kentucky Fried Chicken's "We Do Chicken Right", NBC's "Proud As A Peacock"and The US Army's "Be All You Can Be". Vandross also voiced a cartoon character named Zack for 3 Saturday morning animated PSA spots for ABC Television called "Zack of All Trades". Vandross continued his successful career as a popular session singer during the late 70's. His lead vocals can be heard on the Gregg Diamond produced single "Hot Butterfly" from Bionic Boogie in 1978 which gained moderate club success.
He eventually made his breakthrough as a guest singer with the group Change. Their 1980 hits, "The Glow of Love" and "Searching" led to a recording contract with Epic Records, and in 1981, he made his first solo recording debut with the album Never Too Much, that contained the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song "A House is Not a Home". The album went double platinum, with the song "Never Too Much" 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.
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 very successful overall, many of his earlier albums made a much bigger impact on the R&B charts. Vandross had more modest success on the pop charts during this time. During the 1980s, Vandross had two other singles that reached number-one on the R&B charts: "Stop to Love" in 1986 and a duet with Gregory Hines "There's Nothing Better Than Love" He was also an in-demand producer; 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, music icon, Dionne Warwick came true. Their collaboration on Dionne's fourth album for Arista was "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye." The title track duet became a smash hit overall on the charts, but especially on the R&B and Adult Contemporary chart. The album's second single, "Got a Date" became a moderate hit. Vandross produced and wrote the songs on the album. He also contributed vocals alongside Dionne on the album. The "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye" album is still highly sought after.
The 1989 compilation of greatest hits, The Best Of Luther Vandross...The Best Of Love, included the ballad "Here And Now", the first Vandross single to chart in the Billboard pop chart top ten. He also won his first award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in the Grammy Awards of 1991. "Here and Now" became a staple at weddings, and on Soft AC radio. In addition, the song allowed him to expand his musical horizons beyond R&B; his songs also became popular on smooth jazz radio.
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 nonspeaking role in the Robert Townsend movie Meteor Man. He played a hit man who plotted to stop Townsend's title character.
Vandross hit the top ten again in 1994 with "Endless Love", a duet with Mariah Carey, from the album Songs and a cover of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross's hit song from the film Endless Love. He also sang a duet with Frank Sinatra on Sinatra's 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 record released through Epic Records. After recording "I Know" on Virgin Records, he signed with J Records. His first album on Clive Davis' new label, entitled Luther Vandross, was released in 2001, and it produced the hits "Take You Out", "Grown Thangs" and "I'd Rather".
In 2003, Vandross released the album Dance With My Father in memory of his father. The title track, which was dedicated to the memory of the younger Vandross' childhood dances with his father, won Luther and his co-writer, singer 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 also the first album by Vandross to reach number-one on the Billboard album chart. The video for the title track features a various celebrities alongside their dads and family members. Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Jason Kidd, Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones submitted home videos or pictures of their families for the music video.
Vandross's last known recording was his signature version of "One Shining Moment",CBS's closing theme song of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
Vandross had diabetes, a disease that ran in his family, as well as hypertension. His weight fluctuated several times over the years, and Vandross had weighed over 300 pounds (136 kg) at his heaviest. His father, Luther Sr., died of complications from diabetes when Luther Jr. was eight years old. Luther Jr.'s two sisters and a brother also predeceased him. On April 16, 2003, Vandross suffered a stroke in his home in Manhattan. Though the cause of Vandross' stroke was not specifically attributed to diabetes, diabetics have been identified as being much more susceptible to strokes than non-diabetics.
He appeared briefly on videotape at the 2004 Grammys to accept his Song of the Year award, he was otherwise never seen in public again. On the videotape on which Vandross appeared, he sent an emotional message that said: "Whenever I say goodbye it's never for long because I believe in the power of love".Vandross died on July 1, 2005 at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey at the age of 54. At this time, the cause of death was not known, although hospital spokesman Rob Cavanaugh has said that Vandross never recovered from the 2003 stroke. It was reported that he died peacefully, surrounded by his family and friends. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a friend of Vandross, described him as "a boy so mellow, so powerful; a boy of rare, rare vintage. We lost Luther very early because of his medical condition, but his legacy will be a powerful legacy."
His funeral was in New York City on July 8, 2005. After two days of viewing, Vandross was laid to rest in George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey.
During Vandross's entire career, he was dogged by questions regarding his sexuality. A lifelong bachelor, his name was never romantically linked in the media with women. Although Vandross never explicitly denied being gay, he never publicly acknowledged it either. He generally attempted to steer questioners away from the issue altogether by saying that his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult and indicated that it wasn't what he wanted. After his death, an article in Out magazine had several of Vandross' friends, including gay comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, claiming that Luther was indeed a very unhappily closeted gay man.
Vandross was inspired by the soul divas of the 1960s and 1970s: Dionne Warwick, Patti LaBelle, Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin, whom he eventually produced.
Vandross' songs have also been covered numerous times by American Idol contestants. Most notable covers include Season 1 Finalist Tamyra Gray's cover of "Dance With My Father" on Boston Public and "A House is Not a Home", which many consider one of the greatest performances in the show's history. Season 2 Winner Ruben Studdard has also covered "A House is Not a Home" and more infamously "Superstar". R&B artist Keyshia Cole covered Vandross' 1981 hit "Never too much" for her 2005 debut album The Way It Is.
Vandross did many covers of older songs, such as "Since I Lost My Baby" (originally recorded by The Temptations), "Love the One You're With" (originally recorded by Stephen Stills), "Superstar/Until You Come Back To Me" ("Superstar" was a hit for The Carpenters and "Until You Come Back To Me" was a 1974 hit for Aretha Franklin), "Love Won't Let Me Wait" (originally recorded by Major Harris), "Always and Forever" (originally recorded by Heatwave), "If This World Were Mine" (originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell), "Creepin'" and "Knocks Me Off My Feet" (both originally recorded by Stevie Wonder), "Hello" (the 1984 number-one hit by Lionel Richie), "Lovely Day" (originally recorded by Bill Withers), "Killing Me Softly" (originally recorded by Roberta Flack) and "A House is Not A Home", a Burt Bacharach standard. His hit "Love Power" included snippets of the soul classic "The Power of Love". Another hit, "Bad Boy (Having a Party)", contained a passage from Sam Cooke's "Having a Party".
Vandross inspired his J Records labelmate, Ruben Studdard, the American Idol winner of 2003. Besides Studdard, Vandross also inspired countless other artists, both male and female, such as Boyz II Men, Usher, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Brandy. It was with Beyoncé that he recorded yet another cover of a well-known song, "The Closer I Get to You", originally recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.
On September 20, 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. The artists on this compilation include Stevie Wonder, Mary J. Blige, Usher, Fantasia, Beyoncé, Donna Summer, Alicia Keys, Cissy Houston, Elton John, Celine Dion, Wyclef Jean, Babyface, Patti LaBelle, John Legend, Angie Stone, Jamie Foxx and Aretha Franklin, who won a Grammy for her rendition of "A House Is Not a Home".
Luther Vandross's home label, J Records, recently released a song called "Shine" to radio, an upbeat R&B track sampling Chic's disco classic "My Forbidden Lover". "Shine" became a massive Top 20 Urban radio hit. The success of the "Shine" led to club mixes of the single. The Freemasons Club Mix of "Shine" became popular on Dance format radio stations and Dancehalls across the U.S. This and a track titled "Got You Home" are never-before-released songs that appeared on The Ultimate Luther Vandross, a greatest hits album that showcases his greatest hits on Epic Records/J Records/Legacy Recordings. The album was released August 22, 2006.