Luther Vandross was an American R&B singer and songwriter who was well known for being a background vocalist for many famous artists as well as the lead singer for the group “Change”. He was born on April 20, 1951 in Manhattan, New York City to Mary Ida Vandross and Luther Vandross, Sr. He was raised in the public housing development projects on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His father passed away when he was eight years old and the family moved to the Bronx when he was nine. He was musically inclined as a child and learned to play the piano by ear at the age of three. He was fond of attending the Apollo Theatre with his sister Patricia to see performances by famous artists such as Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin. Patricia herself was the lead singer for the band “The Crests”.
During high school, Vandross performed with a group called “Shades of Jade” as well as being a member of a theater workshop called “Listen My Brother”. He graduated from William Howard Taft High School in 1969, the same year he appeared in two episodes of the children’s show Sesame Street. He attended Western Michigan University for a year but then dropped out to pursue a career in music. In 1972, he appeared on an album by Roberta Flack and in 1973, he sang on Delores Hall’s album “Hall-Mark”. He wrote the song “Fascination” for David Bowie’s album “Young Americans” and also toured with him as a back-up vocalist. Throughout his career, he continued to sing back-up vocals for many other high profile artists such as Chaka Khan, Ben E. King, Bette Midler, Diana Ross, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer.
Vandross first achieved independent commercial success as the lead singer of the pop group “Change”. The band’s debut album “The Glow of Love” was released in 1980 and reached No. 29 on the US Billboard Album Chart and No. 10 on the US Billboard Black Albums chart. It included the hit singles “The Glow of Love” and “Searching” which helped to establish Vandross’s reputation as a renowned singer. In 1981, he left the group and released his own solo debut album with Epic Records. The album was titled “Never Too Much” and included the hit tracks “A House Is Not A Home” and “Never Too Much” which reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. He collaborated with his high school classmate Nat Adderley, Jr. on the album.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s he continued to churn out successful albums such as “Forever, for Always, for Love” in 1982, “The Night I Fell in Love” in 1985, “Power of Love” in 1991, “Never Let Me Go” in 1993, “Your Secret Love” in 1996 and “Luther Vandross” in 2001. Vandross sold over 25 million records worldwide and received 8 Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance on four separate occasions. In 2004, he won 4 Grammys including the Grammy Award for “Song of the Year” for the song “Dance with My Father” which he recorded shortly before his death. The song was co-written with his friend, the singer Richard Marx.
Vandross suffered from diabetes and hypertension which was partly hereditary and partly aggravated by his lifestyle. He suffered a severe stroke in April 2003, as a result of which he was comatose for two months, while also battling meningitis and pneumonia. The illnesses left him confined to a wheelchair but he made two short public appearances, once at the 2004 Grammy Awards and lastly on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He died in July 2005 at the age of 54 due to a heart attack. A tribute album to him was released in September 2005, including performances by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Usher, Beyoncé, Donna Summer, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Celine Dion, John Legend, Jamie Foxx and Aretha Franklin. He has left his indelible mark on R&B and is still remembered for his amazing vocal range and soulful music.