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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July, 2005, 23:47 GMT 00:47 UK
Obituary: Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross
Luther Vandross: Silky balladeer

Luther Ronzoni Vandross was born on 20 April 1951 in a poor Bronx neighbourhood of New York City. His family was immersed in gospel and soul music.

His sister sang with a group called The Crests during the Phil Spector/girl group era and had a number one hit with a record called Sixteen Candles. His father died as a result of diabetes when Luther was eight.

So dominant was music in his life that a promising school record was one day suddenly ruined.

"I was so distraught when Diana Ross left The Supremes that my grades went dramatically downhill and, soon after, I dropped out of school. Everything else suddenly seemed meaningless."

After struggling as a musician, his first break came in 1972 when his composition Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day) was included in the hit Broadway musical The Wiz.

Two years later, at the age of 23, he visited a high school friend who was playing with David Bowie.

The Englishman was impressed on overhearing Vandross improvising a line from his song Young Americans and invited him to sing backing vocals on the album of the same name.

He then toured with Bowie and his vocal talent was soon in demand in sessions with such stars as Chaka Khan, Ringo Starr, Donna Summer, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand.

Romantic

He made a living singing advertising jingles and fronted a largely unsuccessful band called Luther before launching a solo career in 1981.

Vandross at the 1990 Annual American Awards
Crossover success came in 1990
Never Too Much earned him an R&B number one, while the accompanying album reached the US Top 20.

Vandross's niche became the luxuriantly arranged romantic ballad delivered in his silky baritone voice, always safe and reassuring. He was particularly popular with female audiences.

Despite achieving heavy airplay on black radio stations, it took a long time for Vandross to achieve the kind of "crossover" popularity of other contemporary black artists like Lionel Richie and James Ingram.

The early 1980s were tough for most black artists - some say because of a backlash against disco music.

The record that changed this was Here and Now which became the most-played song at weddings in 1990. He rejected frequent charges that he watered down his music to make it more palatable for the white consumer.

Other hits followed such as Power of Love/Love Power and Don't Want to be a Fool.

Collaborations

In 1992, Luther Vandross collaborated with Janet Jackson, BBD and Ralph Tresvant on The Best Things in Life are Free, a hit taken from the movie Mo Money.

Vandross singing in 2002
His life was dogged by ill-health
Vandross himself appeared in a cameo role as a silent hit-man in the 1993 comedy Meteor Man.

There followed another Top Ten hit Endless Love, a duet with Mariah Carey from 1994. He had also appeared on the Duets album with Frank Sinatra.

A decline in sales in the mid-1990s saw the termination of his contract with Sony. He was also increasingly troubled by diabetes and his weight would fluctuate wildly.

He suffered a severe stroke in April 2003, and did not perform in public again.

However, his album Dance With My Father, released after his stroke, went straight to Number One in the US charts.

In 2004, he won four Grammys for it, including song of the year for the title track.

He was unable to attend the awards ceremony, but sent a videotaped message from his wheelchair.

"Remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long," he said. "Because, I believe in the power of love."




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