Born 72 years ago today, Luther Vandross graced the world with his velvety voice and timeless charm. Hailing from New York City, Vandross discovered his passion for music after witnessing a captivating live performance by Dionne Warwick. As a teenager, he started to hone his vocal talents by singing in various groups, which ultimately led to him providing backup vocals for renowned artists such as David Bowie, Bette Midler, Roberta Flack, and Chaka Khan.
In 1981, Vandross released the album Never Too Much, which became a critical and commercial success, officially launching his solo career. With hits like “Here and Now,” “Power of Love/Love Power” and “Your Secret Love,” he became an eight-time Grammy winner. Vandross' voice was often compared to that of other great R&B and soul singers, such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson, but he had a style all his own. His ability to convey emotion through his singing was unparalleled. Whether he was singing an upbeat pop song or a slow ballad, his voice could effortlessly convey a wide range of emotions. Vandross also collaborated with a range of artists, including Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey, solidifying him as not just a singer but also a producer.
While debates continue about who is the greatest, as singer-songwriter Richard Marx, who won a Grammy for his work on Vandross’ “Dance With My Father,” said, “There’s never been a better singer than Luther Vandross.”
Here are five performances that prove Luther Vandross is simply the best.
“A House Is Not A Home”
At the 1988 NAACP Image Awards, Luther Vandross honored one of his idols, Dionne Warwick. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and recorded by Dionne Warwick in 1964, Vandross sang “A House Is Not A Home,” which he recorded in 1981. A 37-year-old Vandross had the crowd in a frenzy with his impressive range and impeccable control over his voice. Warwick once said about Vandross’ vocal style, “When I heard Luther's voice, I heard peace. It made me feel good.”
“If Only For One Night”
If you want to know if somebody can sang, listen to them sing a capella. On May 27, 1994, the final episode of The Arsenio Hall Show, Vandross made a surprise appearance. Ironically, Vandross was Hall's first musical guest back in January 1989. Hall was overwhelmed when Vandross sang his 1986 hit “If Only for One Night" – a capella. Listen to the velvet vocals above.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
Luther Vandross did not grow up singing in church but it didn’t mean he couldn’t take you to church. In 1987, Vandross appeared on the All-Star Gospel Session for a performance with Broadway superstar Jennifer Holliday and singer-songwriter Paul Simon. They sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which was written by Simon. Singing gospel with a powerhouse like Holliday is no small feat, but Vandross reminded everyone before the label of “crooner” he was a vocal beast, regardless of the genre. Listen above!
“Here And Now”
After nine Grammy nominations, Luther Vandross finally won his first Grammy for “Here and Now” in 1990. Arguably his most famous song, it is one of the best love songs of all time with Vandross’ flawless voice. In 1994, Vandross delivered an iconic performance at Royal Albert Hall in London. He sang a version of “Here and Now” that no one will ever forget.
In February 2003, Luther Vandross performed for the last time before his stroke in April 2003. At 51 years old, Vandross was pitch-perfect belting out all of his hits. He also delivered an over 12-minute version of “Superstar,” which was originally recorded by The Carpenters in 1971. The song became a staple for Vandorss and he put every bit of his soul into this performance, grab a tissue and listen above.
Vandross’ stroke left him in a coma. Although he eventually regained consciousness, his health never fully recovered, and he died on July 1, 2005, at the age of 54. Nonetheless, his legacy is unmatched.
Happy heavenly birthday to Luther Vandross, the greatest male R&B singer of all time.
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