Luther Vandross (1951-2005)

Luther Vandross performing with Diana Ross at Madison Square Garden in New York City, July 6, 2000
Courtesy ImagePros (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Singer and entertainer Luther Vandross was born in Manhattan, New York City, New York on April 20, 1951. As a child he was influenced to seek a music career as his older sister, Patricia Van Dross, had done when she joined an all-girl R&B group, the Crests, during the late 1950s. The death of his father, Luther Vandross Sr., left him with only his mother, Mary Vandross, at the age of eight. Vandross integrated himself into the musical world starting with a vocal group at William Howard Taft High School in New York City with friends Carlos Alomar, Robin Clark, Anthony Hinton, and Diane Sumler in 1969. Vandross dropped out of high school in 1970 to pursue a music career.

Vandross’s big break came in 1975 when his friend, Carlos Alomar, introduced him to English pop star David Bowie. Shortly afterwards Vandross went on tour with Bowie who was promoting his 1975 album Young Americans. The tour introduced Vandross to a large national audience but he mostly worked with or behind other artists.

In April 1981, Vandross signed with Epic Records and started working on his debut album Never Too Much, which was released in August of that year. The single from the album, also called “Never Too Much,” climbed to No. 1 on the R&B charts. The album reached the top of the R&B charts and eventually went double platinum.

Vandross’s follow-up albums—Forever, For Always, For Love (1982); Busy Body (1983); The Night I Fell in Love (1985); Give Me the Reason (1986); Any Love (1988); Power of Love (1991); Songs (1994); This is Christmas (1995); Luther Vandross (2001); and Dance with My Father (2002)—all achieved either platinum or double platinum status. For all of his work, he received eight Grammys out of a total of 31 nominations, and he was named the Favorite R&B Male Artist seven times by the American Music Awards between 1981 and 1996.

Aside from making his own music, Vandross produced the songs of other artists including David Bowie, Diana RossAretha FranklinWhitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Dionne Warwick. He appeared on Family FeudSaturday Night LiveThe Tonight ShowSoul TrainOprah, and The Rosie O’Donnell Show. As early as 1969 he was a singer for PBS’s Sesame Street. Vandross toured the world and sold out Wembley Arena in London ten times in a row.

Vandross’s philanthropic career was distinguished as well. He donated to and gave benefit concerts for the United Negro College Fund and the American Diabetes Association. He performed at Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Concert in London in 1990. Two years later in 1992, he dedicated his “The Christmas Song” to benefit the Special Olympics.

Vandross was in entertainment business for 35 years, but career was cut short when he passed away on July 1, 2005, in New Jersey.  He died due to complications from a stroke he suffered in 2003 while completing his final album, Dance With My Father. He was 54.