Archiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1120475348

From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: VANDROSS; Luther-1/7/2005-USA
Date: Mon, 4 Jul 2005 12:09:08 +0100

Luther Vandross
(Filed: 04/07/2005)
The Daily Telegraph & the

Soul singer whose breathy vibrato ballads and graceful baritone won him
legions of adoring female fans

Luther Vandross, who has died aged 54, was a pre-eminent exponent of the
breathy vibrato ballads and smooth grooves favoured by popular soul crooners
of the 1980s; with songs such as Give Me the Reason and Never Too Much
delivered in a polished, silky baritone, he forged the way for a new
generation of black singers, including Boyz II Men, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé

Although the slick and graceful restraint of Vandross's crooning was less
forceful than the music of his soul predecessors, his voice had an almost
operatic quality, and he was often referred to as "the Pavarotti of pop".
Vandross's physique could also reach operatic proportions, and during the
course of his career, his weight ranged from 13 to 23 stone, correlating, he
would say, with the state of his love life (he would binge when he was

His legions of fans loved him whatever his weight, and his concerts were
always packed with ladies of a certain age, swaying to the music and calling
out "Sing it, baby!" and "Take your time!". In a review of Vandross's album,
Never Let Me Go (1983), Tony Parsons wrote in The Daily Telegraph: "If
Barbara Cartland were a six-foot black American male she would be Luther

Vandross was indignant at suggestions that his songs contained no passion or
anguish, but with 10 platinum albums to back up his tried-and-tested
formula, he was not interested in changing his sound. "Somebody's gotta be
rough," he explained, "but somebody's also gotta be smooth."

Luther Vandross was born on the Lower East Side, New York, on April 20 1951.
The son of an upholsterer who died when Luther was eight years old, he was
encouraged by his mother to learn the piano from the age of three.

His love of music was fostered at William Howard Taft High School where he
would draw pictures of his musical idols - the Supremes, Aretha Franklin and
Dionne Warwick - for his friends. It was these singers, as opposed to their
male counterparts such as Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson - who were his

"When I saw Dionne Warwick at the Brooklyn Fox," Vandross explained, "my
life changed. She showed me there were standards." By his late teens, he was
determined to pursue a musical career, and after two unhappy terms at
Western Michigan University, he left to become a professional singer.

is first break came in the early 1970s, when the guitarist Carlos Alomar,
who had been at school with Vandross, was hired to join David Bowie's band.
When Bowie went to Philadelphia to record his Young Americans album, he
asked Vandross to sing backing vocals.

Although Bowie predicted that Vandross would "be a star within a year", it
was the era of disco, when smooth love songs and jazz-tinged harmonies no
longer fitted the bill. "Singers were almost frowned upon at that time,"
Vandross recalled. "A singer was simply a vehicle for the producer's
vision." Instead, he worked as a backing vocalist for Bette Midler and Donna
Summer and forged a lucrative career writing advertising jingles for
Kentucky Fried Chicken and 7-Up.

Although he was financially secure - by 1980 he was making $500,000 a year
from advertising work - Vandross desperately wanted to become an artist in
his own right. His professional frustration was beginning to manifest itself
in binge-eating and the weight problems that he continued to battle with for
the rest of his life.

In 1981 Vandross was finally signed to Epic and Never Too Much, his first
album, sold more than one million copies. He produced the album himself, and
soon the heroines of his youth, Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin, were
asking Vandross to apply his polished restraint to their own recordings.

Throughout the 1980s Vandross released a series of best-selling albums
including a greatests hits collection in 1989. In 1990 he won one of several
Grammy awards for the single, Here and Now, which he followed up with a
sell-out tour.

An imposing 6ft3in, Vandross, even at his largest, was a handsome man. To
accomodate his fluctuating weight he acquired a vast collection of gaudy
jackets in every size. For years he lived in sumptuous splendour in Beverly
Hills, in a house adorned with pictures by Hockney, Matisse and Picasso. But
in 1996 his fear of earthquakes prompted him to move back to New York.

In 2003, soon after recording The Closer I Get To You with Beyoncé Knowles,
he suffered a debilitating stroke from which he never really recovered. He
died on July 1.

Vandross countered rumours about his sexuality by saying that he was
continually depressed by his lack of success with women. "I long to find the
things that I sing about," he said recently. "Sometimes I even resent having
to sing about it because it hasn't happened that way for me."

He was a devoted uncle, but never married.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

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