Luther's solo recording career began in 1981 with the release of Never Too Much on Epic Records, but he had already been recording for almost ten years before his velvet voice wowed audiences around the world. Singer, songwriter, producer - Luther did it all and with such perfection - he is truly a legend in the music world.
Born on New York's Lower East Side in 1951, Luther Ronzoni Vandross, was the youngest of four children. He started playing piano at the tender age of three and grew up listening to all the great divas - Aretha, Dionne and Diana Music was his passion.
One of his first big breaks came when he penned the song "Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day)" for the hit Broadway musical, The Wiz,in 1972. Shortly after that David Bowie asked Luther to sing on his Young Americans LP and then followed that up with a tour, which is how Luther met up with Bette Midler. Bette asked him to sing on her Songs For the New Depression album and then he toured with the Divine Miss M. It wasn't too long before the word was out in the industry about Mr. Vandross and he became in great demand as a session/background singer (adding his soulful voice to albums for artists AWB, Change, Chic, Cissy Houston, Barbra Streisand and Roberta Flack to name just a very few)- not to mention the major TV commercials (KFC, AT&T, Miller Beer and NBC are just a few examples) for which he wrote and sang jingles. A couple of disco classics in the 70's by Change (â€˜The Glow of Love') and Bionic Boogie (â€˜Hot Butterfly') both featured Luther on lead vocals.
Luther then formed his own band (Luther) towards the end of the 70's and they recorded three albums on the Cotillion label - Luther, Family Christmas and This Close To You. Shortly after this his good friend and mentor Roberta Flack (with whom he had toured and for whom he had done vocal arrangements) pushed Luther to take that step out into the "solo" spotlight. He did just that and in 1981, Never Too Much, his first of 13 Epic albums, was released. Forever,For Always,For Love, Busy Body, The Night I Fell In Love, Give Me The Reason, Any Love, The Best Of Luther Vandross, The Best Of Love, Power Of Love, Never Let Me Go, Songs, This Is Christmas, Your Secret Love and One Night With You, The Best Of Love Vol II followed, each and everyone a platinum success. Feeling somewhat constricted with Epic Records as the years went by and looking for more "freedom" as a producer, singer and songwriter, Luther left Epic on a new quest. (They would later release Always & Forever:The Classics and Greatest Hits on the Sony label in 1998 and 1999 respectively.)
In 1998 Luther recorded his 14th album for Virgin Records. The album, I Know, was a departure from his usual offerings and failed to pass the million-sellers track record he had set. Luther was very disappointed as he had hoped this signing with Virgin was going to be a new beginning for him. It just wasn't meant to be and so Virgin and Luther parted ways. It was the first time in two decades that Luther was without a record deal.
This didn't mean Luther was "out of work" by any stretch of the imagination! Mr. Vandross had made his mark in the music industry and was in demand as a producer, arranger, background vocalist and writer. From 1973 to 2003 he worked on over 100 albums for other artists (Aretha, Frank Sinatra, Natalie Cole, Stephanie Mills, Judy Collins, Cher, Richard Marx - just to show you the diversity of talent he has worked with). His contribution to modern music and his obvious influences on many new artists went for the most part unheralded, but to those in the business his presence was felt. Many "old" and "new" artists do cite Luther as having had a major influence on their music careers and his body of work with so many of those artists speaks for itself.
By the time the millennium arrived Luther was anxious to get back in the game. Clive Davis came to his rescue and by the Summer of 2000 Luther was signed to J Records. His first offering was self-titled, Luther Vandross, which passed the million sales mark. Luther was a happy man again! Next came Dance With My Father - from which camd the single of the same title. Luther said was his "career song, my Grammy â€˜Song Of The Year' song!" Indeed it was and it won him not one but four Grammys. Suddenly the whole world knew about Luther and Dance With My Father was being played right across the board on all kinds of radio stations. Its sad to note that his biggest career song came as his own life was coming to an end. Luther's third and final album for J records was Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall. A live performance that just solidifies the man's awesome talent - sheer perfection!
Sadly, Luther suffered a stroke in 2003 (just before the release of the Dance With My Father CD) and passed away on July 1st, 2005. There will be no more Luther albums but he has left us a wonderful legacy to enjoy for decades to come. As writer David Nathan often described him Luther was "black music's pre-eminent vocalist." He will go down in the music history books as having influenced both old and new generations alike with his distinctive style of harmonies, warm and heartfelt lyrics together with a pure sound that he delivered with perfection in every note. Plenty of people have tried to emulate Luther and I am sure will continue to do so. However, there will only ever be one Luther! "Don't You Know That?"
by Ann J. Bishundayal-Tavares