Thursday, March 27, 2008

Old School Artist Spotlight: Luther Vandross Slow Songs


It's my 35th birthday to day but it is also Old School Thursday!!!

I have two mixes for you today full of Luther Vandross love songs!

There are some changes taking place around here, so please pardon the apperance while the blog is under construction.

I didn't find any dirt but I found this beautiful piece:

When making his first public appearance since his stroke, Luther said slowly:

"I wish I could be with you there tonight. I want to thank everyone for

your love and support". He then added, "And remember, when I say goodbye

it's never for long, because"--and he sang--"I believe in the power of

love!" Luther's appearance that evening would be one of his final moments in

the public.

Here are the two mixtapes. I hope you enjoy them. I know me and Scribe will !

Yearning Track Listing

A House Is Not A Home
Anyone Who Had A Heart
Any Love
If Only For One Night/Creep Creep
Make Me A Believer
Promise Me
I'd Rather
Any Love
I'd Rather
Since I Lost My Baby
Don't Want To Be A Fool
You Got me Going in Circles
How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye (Duet with Dionne Warwick)

Listen Here:

Download Here:

Romantic Love Track Listing

Love Won't Let Me Wait
4 Always, 4 Ever, 4 Love
All the Woman I Need
So Amazing
There's Nothing Better Than Love (Duet with Gregory Hines)
Here and Now
If This World Was Mine (Duet with Cheryl Lynn)
Always & Forever
The Closer I Get To You (Duet with Beyonce Knowles)
Knocks Me off My Feet
I Thought About You
I Can Make It Better
Can Heaven Wait
Dance With My Father

Listen Here:

Download Here:

Biography Below the break:

Luther Vandross was one of the most successful R&B artists of the 1980s

and '90s. Not only did he score a series of multi-million-selling albums

containing chart-topping hit singles and perform in sold-out tours in

the U.S. and around the world, but he also took charge of his music

creatively, writing or co-writing most of his songs and arranging and

producing his records. He also performed these functions for other

artists, providing them with hits as well. He was, however, equally well

known for his distinctive interpretations of classic pop and R&B songs,

reflecting his knowledge and appreciation of the popular music of his

youth. Possessed of a smooth, versatile tenor voice, he charmed millions

with his romantic music.

Vandross was born in New York City on April 20, 1951, and grew up in the

Alfred E. Smith housing projects in lower Manhattan. Both of his

parents, Luther Vandross, Sr., an upholsterer, and Mary Ida Vandross, a

nurse, sang, and they encouraged their children to pursue music as a

career. Vandross Sr.'s older sister Patricia Van Dross was an early

member of the Crests in the mid-'50s (appearing on their early singles,

but leaving before they achieved success with "Sixteen Candles"), and

Vandross himself began playing the piano at the age of three and took

lessons at five, although he remained a largely self-taught musician.

After the death of his father in 1959 when he was eight years old, he

was raised by his mother, who moved the family to the Bronx. While

attending William Howard Taft High School, he formed a vocal group,

Shades of Jade, with friends Carlos Alomar, Robin Clark, Anthony Hinton,

Diane Sumler, and Fonzi Thornton. All five, along with 11 other teenage

performers, were also part of a musical theater workshop, Listen, My

Brother, organized by the Apollo Theater in Harlem that recorded a

single, "Listen, My Brother"/"Only Love Can Make a Better World," and

appeared on the initial episodes of the children's television series

Sesame Street in 1969. After graduating from high school that year,

Vandross attended Western Michigan University, but dropped out after a

year and returned home. He spent the next few years working at odd jobs

while trying to break into the music business.

In 1973, Vandross got two of his compositions, "In This Lovely Hour" and

"Who's Gonna Make It Easier for Me," recorded by Delores Hall on her

album Hall-Mark, singing the latter song with her as a duet. In 1974,

though uncredited, he sang background vocals on Maggie Bell's Queen of

the Night, and in August of the same year Carlos Alomar, who had become

David Bowie's guitarist, invited him to attend a Bowie recording session

at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. He quickly became more than an

observer, singing background vocals, serving as a vocal arranger, and

co-writing the song "Fascination" with Bowie. The session resulted in

the album Young Americans, released in March 1975, and Vandross also

went on tour with Bowie in September 1974 as both backup singer and

opening act. Meanwhile, Vandross' 1972 composition "Everybody Rejoice (A

Brand New Day)" was featured in the Broadway musical The Wiz, which

opened a run of 1,672 performances on January 5, 1975. (It was later

made into a 1978 film.) The show starred Stephanie Mills, who used

Vandross as a background singer on her 1975 album Movin' in the Right

Direction. (He also sang, uncredited, on Gary Glitter's self-titled 1975

album.) Through Bowie, Vandross met Bette Midler, who hired him to

arrange vocals for her Broadway revue Bette Midler's Clams on the Half

Shell, which played ten weeks at the Minskoff Theater starting on April

14, 1975. Midler also introduced him to her record producer, Arif

Mardin, at Atlantic Records, and Vandross began to get steady work as a

background singer and vocal arranger. In 1976, he appeared on albums by

Midler (Songs for the New Depression), the Brecker Brothers Band (Back

to Back), Roy Buchanan (A Street Called Straight), Andy Pratt

(Resolution), and Judy Collins (Bread and Roses). He also put together a

vocal quintet called Luther, consisting of himself, former Shades of

Jade members Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, Theresa V. Reed, and

Christine Wiltshire, which signed to Atlantic's Cotillion Records

subsidiary. Their self-titled debut album was released in June 1976. It

did not sell well enough to reach the charts, but the tracks "It's Good

for the Soul," "Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)," and "The Second Time

Around" reached the R&B Top 40.

Reed and Wiltshire dropped out, and the remaining trio made a second

Luther album, This Close to You (April 1977), with Vandross given top

billing, while Hinton and Sumler were credited as featured soloists. The

title song reached the R&B charts, but that wasn't enough to keep

Cotillion from dropping the group, which then broke up. (Vandross

acquired the rights to the Luther recordings and saw to it that they

remained out of print.) Meanwhile, Vandross continued doing sessions. In

1977, he appeared on albums by Nils Lofgren (I Came to Dance), Geils

(aka the J. Geils Band; Monkey Island), the Average White Band and Ben

E. King (Benny and Us), Andy Pratt (Shiver in the Night), Ringo Starr

(Ringo the 4th), and Chic (Chic). He also entered the lucrative world of

writing and singing commercial jingles, and before long was the musical

voice of everything from telephones, fast food, and beverages to various

branches of the U.S. military on radio and television. And the recording

sessions continued. In 1978, he appeared on albums by Garland Jeffreys

(One Eyed Jack), Carly Simon (Boys in the Trees), Roy Buchanan (You're

Not Alone), Quincy Jones (Sounds...and Stuff Like That!!), Norma Jean

(Norma Jean), T. Life (That's Life), Roberta Flack (Roberta Flack),

Odyssey (Hollywood Party Tonight), the soundtrack to the movie version

of The Wiz, Chic (C'est Chic), Cat Stevens (Back to Earth), David

Spinozza (Spinozza), Carole Bayer Sager (Too), Sean Delaney (Highway),

the Good Vibrations (I Get Around), and Lemon (Lemon). And he was the

uncredited lead singer on the song "Get on Up (Get on Down)," by

Roundtree, an R&B chart entry that fall. Vandross began to gain greater

attention in 1979. During the year, he appeared on albums by Sister

Sledge (We Are Family), the Average White Band (Feel No Fret), Chic

(Risqué), Bette Midler (Thighs and Whispers), Jay Hoggard (Days Like

These), Revelation (Get in Touch), John Tropea (To Touch You Again), the

Charlie Calello Orchestra (Calello Serenade), Charme (Let It In), Cher

(Prisoner), Roberta Flack (Featuring Donny Hathaway), Delores Hall

(Delores Hall, Evelyn "Champagne" King (Music Box), Ben Sidran (The Cat

and the Hat), and Soirée (Soirée), and on the soundtracks to the films

Sunnyside and The Warriors. Especially on the jazz and disco recordings,

he was just as likely to be a featured vocalist as a background singer.

And he got a prominent credit when he arranged the background vocals for

Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer's duet "No More Tears (Enough Is

Enough)," which became a number one pop hit in November 1979. He gained

even more recognition in 1980, a year in which he appeared on studio

albums by Chaka Khan (Naughty), Melba Moore (Closer), Mtume (In Search

of the Rainbow Seekers), Dave Valentin (Land of the Third Eye), the

Brecker Brothers (Detente), Terumasa Hino (Daydream), Cissy Houston

(Step Aside for a Lady), Jimmy Maelen (Beats Workin'), the Jess Roden

Band (Stonechaser), and the Michael Zager Band (Zager), as well as live

albums by Bette Midler (Divine Madness) and the duo of Roberta Flack and

Peabo Bryson (Live & More), and on the soundtrack to the film Fame. But

the most important credit for him that year was his work as lead

vocalist of the studio group Change. He sang on the band's tracks

"Searching," a Top 40 R&B hit, and "The Glow of Love," which also

reached the R&B charts, and his name was listed prominently on the

discs. This increased his profile even more, and he began circulating a

demo tape to recording companies, seeking a solo deal that would allow

him to write and produce his own records.

On April 21, 1981, he signed with the Epic Records subsidiary of the

major label CBS Records. Vandross immediately began work on his debut

album, cutting down on sideman sessions, although during 1981 he

appeared on albums by Bob James (All Around the Town), Bernard Wright

('Nard), Change (Miracles), the J. Geils Band (Freeze Frame), Hi Gloss

(You'll Never Know), the Brooklyn, Bronx & Queens Band (The Brooklyn,

Bronx & Queens Band), Stephanie Mills (Stephanie), and the Spinners

(Can't Shake This Feelin'), and in June 1981 his composition "You

Stopped Loving Me" was sung by Roberta Flack, with him arranging and

singing background vocals, on the soundtrack to the film Bustin' Loose

and became a Top 40 R&B hit for her. (Damaris revived the song for an

R&B chart entry in 1984.) Vandross' own version was included on his

debut solo album, Never Too Much, released in August. The LP was a tour

de force for him; he produced it and wrote six of its seven songs, the

exception being a cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's Dionne Warwick

hit "A House Is Not a Home." Vandross expressed his musical vision on

Never Too Much, and that vision was of a smooth neo-soul style that

recalled the pop/R&B of his youth, particularly the music of such

predecessors as Warwick, Aretha Franklin, the softer Motown artists,

like Smokey Robinson, and some of the girl groups of the early '60s,

such as the Shirelles. To those influences, Vandross added some

contemporary elements of jazz and disco. But his approach was steeped in

tradition; he was a stylist, harking back to the past, yet pointing to a

possible post-disco future for R&B music. And R&B fans responded warmly.

The title song, "Never Too Much," topped the R&B charts; second single

"Don't You Know That?" reached the R&B Top Ten; and third single "Sugar

and Spice (I Found Me a Girl)" also charted R&B. The album hit number

one R&B in November and was certified gold in December. (It went

platinum five years later and double platinum in 1997.) But Vandross

encountered more resistance in the pop realm, where the album reached

only the Top 20 and the single "Never Too Much" only made the Top 40.

Artistically and commercially, these results set a pattern for Vandross'

career. Appearing regularly, his albums showed great consistency in

style and content, even to the point of featuring a cover of a classic

pop/R&B song on each disc. And while they also sold consistently to the

R&B audience, they rarely received equal support from pop fans. Having

successfully launched his solo career, Vandross might have been expected

to abandon session work; certainly, he had less time for it. But he

still enjoyed working as a background singer, so he still did it

selectively. In 1982, for example, he appeared on albums by Irene Cara

(Anyone Can See), Michael Franks (Objects of Desire), Kleeer (Taste the

Music), Bob James (Hands Down), Linda Clifford (I'll Keep on Loving You,

and Ullanda McCullough (Watching Me, Watching You). At the same time,

Vandross' demonstrated abilities as songwriter, producer, and vocal

arranger opened up to him the opportunity to work in these capacities

with some of the artists he had grown up idolizing, as well as his

contemporaries. He first turned his attention to Cheryl Lynn, producing

her R&B Top Ten album Instant Love (June 1982); writing the title song,

which became a Top 20 R&B hit; and singing a duet with her on a revival

of the 1968 Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell hit "If This World Were Mine,"

which reached the R&B Top Five. ("Look Before You Leap," from the album,

also made the R&B charts.) Next, he turned to Aretha Franklin, producing

her July 1982 LP Jump to It, and writing or co-writing four of its eight

songs, including the title track, an R&B number one; "Love Me Right,"

which went Top 40 R&B; and "This Is for Real," an R&B chart entry.

Topping the R&B chart, it was her first gold album in six years. He also

sang on Diana Ross' October 1982 LP Silk Electric. Somehow, he found

time to make his second solo album, Forever, for Always, for Love,

released in September, again serving as his own producer and writing or

co-writing all the tracks except for covers of Smokey Robinson's 1965

hit for the Temptations "Since I Lost My Baby" and, in a medley with his

own "Bad Boy," Sam Cooke's "Having a Party." Vandross' co-writers on

some of the songs were bassist Marcus Miller and keyboard player Nat

Adderley, Jr. (a former member of Listen, My Brother), musical

associates who would work with him throughout his career. A musical

complement to Never Too Much, Forever, for Always, for Love was another

R&B chart-topper for Vandross, throwing off three singles, the Top Five

"Bad Boy/Having a Party," the Top 20 "Since I Lost My Baby," and the

chart entry "Promise Me." That, of course, was as far as the R&B charts

were concerned. On the pop side, the album went Top 20 and only "Bad

Boy/Having a Party" charted. Nevertheless, the LP was certified gold in

two months and platinum in six. Vandross' multiple career tracks

continued apace in 1983. He sang on albums by David Sanborn

(Backstreet), James Ingram (It's Your Night), former Shades of Jade

member Fonzi Thornton (The Leader), Linda Lewis (A Tear and a Smile),

Stephanie Mills (Merciless), and Betty Wright (Back at You). He produced

Aretha Franklin's next album, Get It Right, composing the title song,

which hit number one R&B, with Marcus Miller, and its follow-up, "Every

Girl (Wants My Guy)," a Top Ten R&B hit. Then, he turned to another idol

of his youth, Dionne Warwick, producing her album How Many Times Can We

Say Goodbye. He and Warwick sang the title song as a duet that became

her first R&B Top Ten hit in eight years; it also made the pop Top 40.

"Got a Date," the Vandross/Miller composition released as a second

single from the album, also made the R&B charts. And, although it took

until December, Vandross managed to come up with his third solo album,

the aptly titled Busy Body. On this album, he co-produced several of the

tracks with Miller, also writing most of the material with Miller and

Nat Adderley, Jr., the exceptions being "How Many Times Can We Say

Goodbye" and a medley of the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett standard

"Superstar" with Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What

I'm Gonna Do)." As usual, there were three singles: "I'll Let You Slide"

and "Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)"

made the R&B Top Ten, and "Make Me a Believer" was a chart entry (of the

three, only the medley scraped into the pop chart); as usual, the album

hit number one R&B, but only the Top 40 of the pop chart; and as usual,

sales certifications poured in, the album going gold in two months and

platinum in January 1985. Vandross finally eased off on his recording

schedule during 1984, if only because he was now a major concert

attraction and toured in both North America and Europe. His only credit

for the year was his composing (with Marcus Miller), arranging,

producing, and singing background vocals on the song "You're My Choice

Tonight (Choose Me)" for Teddy Pendergrass, a Top 20 R&B hit.

Vandross thus was able to lavish more time on his fourth album, The

Night I Fell in Love, released in March 1985. Overall producer credit

again went to him, with three of the eight tracks co-produced by Miller.

Six of the songs were written by Vandross alone or co-written with

Miller or Nat Adderley, Jr., the exceptions being covers of Brenda

Russell's "If Only for One Night" and Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'." The

album spawned four R&B single hits: "'Til My Baby Comes Home" (Top Ten

and a Top 40 pop hit); "It's Over Now" (Top Five); "Wait for Love" (Top

20); and "If Only for One Night." The album spent seven weeks atop

Billboard's R&B LP list, going gold and platinum simultaneously as soon

as it was eligible for certification in May and double platinum in 1990.

It also reached number 14 in the pop charts, Vandross' best showing yet.

With his own album out of the way, he made some selected appearances on

other albums during 1985, contributing a song, "She's So Good to Me," to

the soundtrack of the film The Goonies and singing on albums by Carly

Simon (Spoiled Girl), Patti Austin (Gettin' Away with Murder), and

Wonder (In Square Circle). He also sang background vocals on the

Temptations' "Do You Really Love Your Baby," a song he co-wrote with

Miller that peaked in the R&B Top 20 in early 1986. Vandross spent much

of 1986 working on his own material, only pausing to contribute

background vocals on David Bowie's soundtrack to the film Labyrinth. The

results of his efforts were first heard in June when "Give Me the

Reason" was included on the soundtrack to the film Ruthless People and

released as a single that went Top Five R&B and reached the pop chart.

Vandross' fifth album, also titled Give Me the Reason, followed in

September. His fifth consecutive R&B chart-topper, it included

additional singles "Stop to Love" (number one R&B and his first Top 20

pop hit); the duet with Gregory Hines "There's Nothing Better Than

Love," co-written with John "Skip" Anderson, a synthesizer player in

Vandross' band (also number one R&B and a pop chart entry); "I Really

Didn't Mean It" (Top Ten R&B); and "So Amazing" (an R&B chart entry of a

Vandross song previously recorded by Dionne Warwick, whose Burt

Bacharach/Hal David hit "Anyone Who Had a Heart" was revived on the LP).

Simultaneous gold and platinum certifications in December were followed

by a double-platinum award in 1990. In 1987, Vandross contributed a

song, "It's Hard for Me to Say," which he co-wrote with John "Skip"

Anderson and co-produced, to Diana Ross' album Red Hot Rhythm & Blues,

and worked as a background singer and arranger on Ava Cherry's Picture

Me and Cheryl Lynn's Start Over. He also appeared on Irene Cara's

Carasmatic, Nick Kamen's self-titled album, and Doc Powell's Love Is

Where It's At. Meanwhile, Gerald Albright covered "So Amazing" and took

it into the R&B Top 20. In 1988, Vandross sang background vocals on

Patti Austin's The Real Me and Barbra Streisand's Till I Loved You, and

he wrote "The Girl Wants to Dance with You," which became a Top Ten R&B

hit for Gregory Hines. The song appeared on Hines' self-titled album,

which Vandross produced. Otherwise, he spent the two-year interval

between his fifth and sixth albums doing shows and working on that sixth

album, Any Love, which appeared in October 1988 and was supported by a

three-month U.S. tour. By now, Marcus Miller had been promoted to full

co-producer, and other co-writers had joined the team, but the approach

was still the same. And so was the success. Any Love topped the R&B

charts and gave Vandross his first Top Ten pop album, with the usual

simultaneous gold and platinum certifications two months after release.

The title song topped the R&B list and penetrated the pop chart; second

single "She Won't Talk to Me" went Top Five R&B and made the pop Top 40;

and "For You to Love" was another Top Five R&B hit. Vandross had by now

become an international success, and a record-breaking ten-night stand

at London's Wembley Arena in March 1989 was commemorated with a home

video, Live at Wembley. At the close of an enormously successful decade,

Vandross and Epic determined to sum things up, and in October 1989

issued the two-LP greatest-hits compilation The Best of Luther Vandross:

The Best of Love, which included two new tracks, "Here and Now" and

"Treat You Right." With those additions, the collection didn't just

summarize Vandross' career, it finally gave him his long-sought major

crossover hit, as "Here and Now," a song co-written by Dionne Warwick's

son David L. Elliott with Terry Steele, not only topped the R&B chart

but also hit the pop Top Ten, going gold in the process. It also won

Vandross his first Grammy Award, for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.

"Treat You Right" went Top Five R&B, and the set was a million seller by

March 1990. (By 1997, it was triple platinum.) Between the release of

the hits album and his next regular studio album, Power of Love, which

appeared in April 1991, Vandross as usual lent his talents to other

artists' recordings. He sang background vocals for Quincy Jones (Back on

the Block), Paul Jackson, Jr. (Out of the Shadows), and David Lasley

(Soldiers on the Moon). He contributed a song, "There's Only You," to

the soundtrack of the 1990 film Made in Heaven. He wrote and produced

the song "Who Do You Love" for Whitney Houston's album I'm Your Baby

Tonight. And he served as an arranger, producer, and background vocalist

on Lisa Fischer's So Intense, released the same day as Power of Love.

Vandross' seventh album, Power of Love suggested that the pop

breakthrough he had achieved with "Here and Now" would be sustained. The

advance single, a medley of Vandross and Marcus Miller's song "Power of

Love" with the Sandpebbles' 1967 hit "Love Power," not only topped the

R&B charts, but also went Top Five pop, and the LP, Vandross' seventh

R&B number one, was his second to penetrate the pop Top Ten. A million

seller by June 1991, it went double platinum two years later in the wake

of the further singles "Don't Want to Be a Fool" (Top Five R&B, Top Ten

pop), "The Rush" (Top Ten R&B and a pop chart entry), and "Sometimes

It's Only Love" (Top Ten R&B). Vandross' national tour to support the

album began in September 1991 and included four sold-out nights at

Madison Square Garden in October as it ran through January 1992. "Power

of Love/Love Power" was named Best R&B Song at the 1991 Grammys, and the

Power of Love album won Vandross another trophy for Best R&B Vocal

Performance, Male.

One might have supposed that all was well in the world of Luther

Vandross, but on January 2, 1992, he filed suit in Los Angeles Superior

Court against Sony Music Entertainment (which had acquired CBS Records),

citing California Labor Code Section 2855, which limits personal service

contracts to seven years. By then, he had been with CBS/Sony for nearly

11 years, fulfilling a ten-album contract that still had three albums to

go. Vandross was not the first or the last recording artist to file such

a suit, and whether he really wanted to void his contract, believing

that Epic still hadn't done enough to sell his records to the pop

audience, or simply intended to use the suit to induce the record

company to renegotiate his deal on more favorable terms, is unclear. Not

for the first or last time, the record company in question settled

quietly, not wishing to test the law. The terms of the settlement were

not reported, but thereafter, Vandross had his own vanity label, his

records going out under the Epic/LV imprint. As usual, following the

release of Power of Love, Vandross found the time to work with other

artists. He appeared on 1991 albums by BeBe & CeCe Winans (Different

Lifestyles), Patti LaBelle (Burnin'), Richard Marx (Rush Street), and

Kevin Owens (That Time Again), and he co-wrote and produced the song

"Doctor's Orders" on Aretha Franklin's What You See Is What You Sweat.

In 1992, without a new album out, he kept his name before the public

with special appearances, starting with the soundtrack to the film Mo'

Money, released in June, which featured a song called "The Best Things

in Life Are Free" (not the 1927 standard by Buddy DeSylva, Lew Brown,

and Ray Henderson, but a newly written composition) that he performed

with Janet Jackson, Bell Biv DeVoe, and Ralph Tresvant (which is to say,

four of the five members of New Edition). It hit number one on the R&B

chart and went Top Ten pop. Next, Vandross wrote and performed the theme

song "Heart of a Hero" for the soundtrack of the movie Hero, released in

October 1992, and the same month he contributed a performance of "The

Christmas Song" to the seasonal charity album A Very Special Christmas,

Vol. 2. He made more modest contributions to two albums released in the

first quarter of 1993, Dionne Warwick's Friends Can Be Lovers and Eddie

Murphy's Love's Alright. Never Let Me Go, Vandross' eighth album, was

released on June 1, 1993, prefaced by the single "Little Miracles

(Happen Every Day)." Maybe the promotional staff at Epic Records was

demoralized by the recent lawsuit, or perhaps changing musical styles,

notably the rise of hip-hop, were affecting matters, but the commercial

response to Vandross' new music was slightly disappointing. The single

reached the R&B Top Ten but was only a minor pop chart entry, and Never

Let Me Go, despite marking a new pop chart peak for Vandross at number

six, stayed in that chart less than half the tenure enjoyed by Power of

Love; on the R&B chart, it crested at number three, Vandross' first new

album not to reach number one. Three further singles charted -- "Heaven

Knows," a cover of the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love," and "Never Let

Me Go" -- but none was a substantial hit. The falloff in sales was

actually minor; the album took one month longer to go platinum than

Vandross albums usually did. But for the first time, the singer's

momentum was slowing. Despite this, he continued his usual round of

activities, initially touring Europe to promote the album; appearing in

the small part of a hitman in the film The Meteor Man in August;

launching a U.S. arena tour that began in September and ran through

November; and, in November, singing a duet with Frank Sinatra of Rodgers

& Hart's "The Lady Is a Tramp" as the leadoff track on Sinatra's

celebrated Duets album. Then it was back to Europe for another round of

dates. Vandross also paid visits to his friends in recording studios,

resulting in appearances on the 1994 albums Paid Vacation by Richard

Marx, Restless by Bob James, and World Tour by Jason Miles. But he

clearly knew something had to be done to revitalize his own recording


An idea came from Sony president Tommy Mottola and his then-wife,

superstar Mariah Carey. Vandross had put at least one oldie on every one

of his albums: why not do an all-covers album? For most other artists,

this would have seemed like a typically clichéd record company concept,

commercial but artistically stifling. For Vandross, who was steeped in

pop music history and who had done some of his best work reimagining the

music of others, it was a natural. He even agreed to give up the

production reins to a Sony stalwart, the commercially savvy Walter

Afanasieff, whose recent clients included Carey, Michael Bolton, and

Celine Dion. The result was the modestly titled Songs, released

September 27, 1994. The album was prefaced by a cover of the 1981 Lionel

Richie/Diana Ross hit "Endless Love," on which Vandross sang a duet with

Carey. The single peaked at number two on the pop charts, a new high for

Vandross, even outpacing its number seven showing on the R&B charts. The

album went to number two R&B and number five pop, another crossover high

for the singer. With follow-up singles in revivals of Heatwave's 1978

hit "Always and Forever" (Top 20 R&B and a pop chart entry) and the

double-sided "Going in Circles"/"Love the One You're With" (the former

previously a hit for both the Friends of Distinction and the Gap Band;

the latter the Stephen Stills hit), which went Top 40 R&B and was

another pop chart entry, the album was an immediate million-seller and

went double platinum within 18 months. His commercial status restored,

Vandross undertook his usual pursuits, singing background vocals on the

occasional album (Cindy Mizelle's Cindy Mizelle [1994], Naomi Campbell's

Babywoman, Yvonne Lewis' No Strangers in Paradise [both 1995]) and

undertaking a tour that began on May 31, 1995, in San Diego, CA. For his

next album, he tried another favorite record company concept, the

holiday collection. This Is Christmas, which contained seven originals

along with only three traditional Christmas songs and restored the

production team of Vandross, Nat Adderley, Jr., and Marcus Miller, was

released October 24, 1995. It went Top Five R&B (with the track "Every

Year, Every Christmas" making the R&B Top 40) and peaked at number 28 in

the pop charts. An immediately certified gold album, it became a

perennial seller and went platinum in 2002. Also in the 1995 holiday

season, Vandross contributed a track, "The Thrill I'm In," to the

soundtrack of the film Money Train. Vandross did some touring during the

summer of 1996, and he contributed a cover of the Peter, Paul & Mary hit

"If I Had a Hammer" to the benefit album For Our Children Too, released

in September, but he spent most of the year working on Your Secret Love,

the album that would complete his Epic Records contract. It was released

on October 1, following the title song, which came out as an advance

single that made the R&B Top Five and was a pop chart entry. (The track

went on to win Vandross another Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance,

Male.) The album itself spent a week at number two in the R&B charts and

made the pop Top Ten, as second single "I Can Make It Better" hit the

R&B Top 20, also making the pop chart, and third single "Love Don't Love

You Anymore" became a minor R&B hit. Simultaneous gold and platinum

certifications arrived in December. Vandross spent much of 1997 touring,

beginning with an appearance at Superbowl XXXI on January 26 to sing the

national anthem. He did take time out to sing background vocals on

Richard Marx's April release, Flesh & Bone, however. On September 30,

Epic/LV released his valedictory collection, One Night with You: The

Best of Love, Vol. 2, which began with four new recordings, none of them

written or produced by him, but instead contributed by such usually

reliable hitmakers as Diane Warren, R. Kelly, and the team of Jimmy Jam

& Terry Lewis. Understandably, Epic didn't do much of a promotional job

on this contractual obligation release, which nevertheless reached the

R&B Top 40 and the pop Top 50, spawning a Top 40 R&B hit in R. Kelly's

"When You Call on Me/Baby That's When I Come Runnin'" and an R&B chart

entry in Jam & Lewis' "I Won't Let You Do That to Me," with a gold-disc

certification in December. While weighing offers from different record

companies, Vandross made some guest appearances, turning up on BeBe

Winans' self-titled album in October 1997, on Jimmy Reid's Forever Loved

in March 1998, and on his associate Marcus Miller's Suddenly in June. On

April 8, he performed at a Burt Bacharach tribute concert at the

Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, singing "Windows of the World" and

"What the World Needs Now." The show was filmed for television and

taped, resulting in a soundtrack album, One Amazing Night, released in

November. Vandross also paid tribute to Patti LaBelle at the same venue

on June 2 for a PBS special. Deciding on Virgin Records, a subsidiary of

the major label EMI, he presented a new album, I Know, on August 11. He

had already begun to introduce contemporary elements of rap and hip-hop

on Your Secret Love, and I Know continued this trend, but it was a

commercial disappointment, only going gold and generating just one Top

40 R&B hit in "Nights in Harlem." As a result, he left Virgin after only

this one release. During 1999 and 2000, Vandross kept his hand in with

soundtrack and session work. He co-wrote and co-produced "When You're a

Woman" for Lisa Fischer and Masters at Work, featured on the soundtrack

of the film 24 Hour Woman, released in March 1999; contributed

background vocals to Natalie Cole's Snowfall on the Sahara in June 1999;

sang and arranged for Dave Koz's The Dance in September 1999; and sang

background vocals and did vocal arrangements on BeBe Winans' Love &

Freedom in August 2000. That same month, he ended his search for a new

record company affiliation, becoming the first act signed to veteran

record executive Clive Davis' new startup label, J Records. He made his

label debut with the track "If I Was the One," included on the

soundtrack of Dr. Doolittle 2 on June 5, 2001. The song also appeared on

Luther Vandross, which was released two weeks later. Vandross and Davis

served as co-album producers, with individual tracks produced by others,

and new songwriters were brought in to give Vandross a new, current

sound. The makeover was largely successful. Leadoff single "Take You

Out" became a Top Ten R&B and Top 40 pop hit, followed by the R&B chart

entry "Can Heaven Wait" and the R&B Top 40 and pop chart entry "I'd

Rather," as the album made the pop Top Ten and just missed topping the

R&B chart, reaching platinum status by November. His career revitalized

once again, Vandross toured in early 2002, then began work on a second

album for J, taking time out to sing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" on

Doc Powell's album 97th and Columbus and to contribute background vocals

to "Load Is Lifted" on Suzanne Couch's In the Rhythm (not released until

2005). He co-wrote the title song for his new album, "Dance with My

Father," with Richard Marx, and they combined for a heartfelt tribute to

Vandross' father. The album was finished by the spring of 2003, and

Vandross was preparing for a round of publicity work when he collapsed

in his New York apartment on April 16, 2003, the victim of a serious

stroke, apparently brought on by his diabetes and the physical strain of

his lifelong struggles with his weight. Despite his illness, J released

"Dance with My Father," which became an R&B and pop Top 40 hit and a

gold record, introducing the album, which hit number one on both charts,

a first for him. Over the next year, "Smooth Love," "Think About You,"

"Buy Me a Rose," and "The Closer I Get to You" (a duet with Beyoncé

Knowles re-creating the original version by Roberta Flack and Donny

Hathaway) figured in the pop, R&B, and/or adult contemporary (AC)

charts, as the album sold over two million copies. Vandross was a

sentimental favorite at the 2003 Grammy Awards, and his career total of

trophies doubled from four to eight as he won Song of the Year and Best

R&B Vocal Performance, Male, for "Dance with My Father," Best R&B Album,

and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "The Closer I

Get to You." He made an appearance via videotape to accept his awards

and promised to return to action soon. Meanwhile, J Records had kept his

name before the public by releasing the concert collection Live Radio

City Music Hall 2003, recorded in February 2003, on October 14, 2003; it

reached number six in the R&B charts and number 22 in the pop charts. By

all reports, Vandross continued his recovery during 2004 and into 2005;

he even appeared on Oprah Winfrey's television show in May 2005. But on

July 1, 2005, it was announced that he had died, having "never really

recovered" from his stroke. During his lifetime, Luther Vandross' albums

were certified for sales of 23-and-a-half-million copies in the U.S.;

estimates of his total worldwide record sales were as high as 40

million. Sales, of course, tell only part of the story, but it is

notable that, in the precarious world of popular music, and in

particular of the notoriously fickle genre of R&B and the difficult

category of crossover pop, Vandross sold records in the millions

consistently for over two decades. It is even more notable that,

although he certainly molded his music to a certain extent to meet the

marketplace, he also imposed his own direction on R&B. Prior to him, the

popular music of African-Americans tended to jump from one style to

another with nary a look backward. But Vandross, coming along in the

wake of disco and while rap/hip-hop was in its infancy, insisted on

reverence for the soul music of the recent past and deliberately

reformulated it in an "old-school" approach that came to be known as the

black AC radio format "quiet storm." Even as rap dominated the charts in

the early years of the 21st century, he maintained his passion for

romantic, melodic music, and he drew listeners along with him. His early

death at the age of 54 robbed American popular music of one of its more

consistent and compelling voices, and it is only a partial comfort that

he left behind a substantial body of work. ~ William Ruhlmann, All Music


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