When Luther Vandross died on July 1 at 54, music lovers mourned the loss of one of the premier singers of all time. The man with the magical, silky tenor, he was so beloved by his fans that they referred to him by his first name, calling on “Luther” to provide just the right soundtrack for romance, a wedding day dance, a night of clubbin’ or just pure emotion. At his memorial at Riverside Church in New York a few days later, fans testified to Luther’s “power of love" when they mentioned the children conceived in a passionate moment set by his evocative love songs.
Over a three-decade career, Luther won eight Grammy Awards -- his last for "Dance With My Father" – and numerous Soul Train, NAACP Image and American Music Awards. He was a favorite at the Essence Music Festival, and he was honored with a BET Walk of Fame tribute in 2000, where he serenaded a restaurant full of swooning fans at a luncheon in his honor.
Though always found in the R&B section, Luther’s music transcended labels. He was as much the all-American voice of jingles for Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, Kentucky Fried Chicken (We Do Chicken Right) and NBC (Proud as a Peacock) as he was a soul balladeer. He used his own money to produce his 1981 debut album, Never Too Much, which sold 2 million copies and topped R&B charts. But Luther didn’t “cross over” to pop until 1989 with The Best of Luther Vandross...The Best of Love, which became a top-10 pop album. One of the best-selling male vocalists of all times, Luther sold 30 million records worldwide. His catalog of 14 albums went platinum or multi-platinum.
Ever a perfectionist and known widely for his sense of style and showmanship, Luther was known to pay as much as $12,000 per outfit for each of his female backup singers, inspired by his memories of Diana Ross, for whom he wrote and produced as well as for Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Dionne Warwick.
Choosing favorites among his songs is as difficult as it is to choose between big Luther and little Luther.
He struggled with weight swings and health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. In 2003, Luther suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered, but his singular voice never wavered.
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