EW remembers Luther Vandross
To his millions of fans, singer Luther Vandross, who died July 1 at 54 of complications from his April 2003 stroke, will forever be linked with the L-word — love. The New York-born crooner’s distinctive deep, velvet voice, which powered such classics as ”A House Is Not a Home,” ”Any Love,” and ”Here and Now,” was legendary for its ability to help set the stage for a romantic evening. Yet his capacity for expressing passion wasn’t limited to ballads of seduction: The title track of his last studio album, Dance With My Father — which won four Grammy awards in 2004 — found Vandross professing his love for his dad, who died when Vandross was 7.
In October of 2003, EW got to glimpse the abundant love and concern Vandross’ inner circle had for the ailing star. At her home in Philadelphia, Vandross’ mother, Mary Ida, spoke candidly about her son’s condition. At that time, Vandross had been languishing in a hospital bed for six months and was said to be slowly emerging from the minimally responsive state he had been in since his stroke. Mrs. Vandross — who wept unabashedly during the interview — said that she was cautiously optimistic about her son’s future; others in the singer’s camp maintained similarly brave fronts. Mary Ida said that music — both his own and that of Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, and others — played constantly in Vandross’ room as part of a therapy regimen that his loved ones hoped would aid his recovery.
Ultimately, though, not even the most heavenly sounds could keep the man some called ”the Pavarotti of Pop” from slipping away. Longtime collaborator Richard Marx, who co-wrote ”Dance With My Father” with the singer, recalls the heartbreak of visiting his friend at the New Jersey rehab center where Vandross spent his final days. ”The stroke was incredibly severe, the brain damage was terrible,” says Marx. ”He didn’t even know who I was. It just wasn’t the Luther I knew, and I feel ripped off, because Luther was one of the really good ones — the best that humanity has to offer. And as a singer, he was as good as it gets; he may have been the best of his generation.”
Marx points out that his friend ”hated to be called an R&B singer,” feeling the categorization stigmatized him. Indeed, before he emerged as a solo star with his 1981 debut, Never Too Much, Vandross was a backup vocalist/ arranger for rock and pop bigwigs like David Bowie (whose 1975 Young Americans he sang on and helped arrange), Bette Midler, and Barbra Streisand. He went on to chalk up a remarkable 14 platinum albums (to date, Dance With My Father has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide).
Kenneth ”Babyface” Edmonds believes that Vandross’ appeal ”transcended categories like R&B or pop.” Edmonds first met Vandross in 1982, when his then band, the Deele, toured with Vandross (they would later collaborate). ”Watching Luther taught me so much — his professionalism, his classiness, his musicality,” says Edmonds. ”He also had one of the most unique, most magical voices of all time. That was Luther’s gift: He made you fall in love with his voice.” And for the hordes of heartbroken Luther lovers mourning his passing, may we offer these words from his 1991 hit ”Power of Love/Love Power”: ”When I say goodbye it is never for long/’Cause I know our love still lives on.”
The Best of Love (1989) This retrospective includes the killer hit ”Here and Now.”
Songs (1994) His reinterpretive gifts are in full effect on this album of covers.
”A House Is Not a Home” (1981) This chestnut can still make grown men weep.
”Dance With My Father” (2003) Nowhere is his heartfelt emotion more viscerally evoked than on this song.