The songs that sit atop my list of Luther favorites shift, constantly. Sometimes it’s “The Glow of Love” (from his early days with Change) and other times, it varies between “Busy Body” and “Creepin’” and his chill-inducing, live version of “Superstar.”  When I’m in a good mood, it’s “Bad Boy” or “Take You Out,” but when I’m feeling somber, I think of his rendition of “The Impossible Dream.” That last one usually brings me to tears.  Oh, and then there’s “Since I Lost My Baby” and “There’s Nothing Better Than Love.” The list just goes on and on…
On Tuesday, a new collection of Luther Vandross songs will be released under the fitting title Hidden Gems. The album, which was compiled with the help of his niece and cousin, features 15 under-the-radar songs from his platinum albums and movie soundtracks, many of which may have slipped off your radar over the years (think “You Stopped Loving Me,” from his 1981 solo debut Never Too Much, or “The Thrill I’m In,” from the Money Train soundtrack). But as his longtime friend and collaborator Fonzi Thornton writes in the album’s liner notes, Luther treated each of his creations with precious care. “The song was always the main thing,” Thornton says, “thus, nothing [he] ever recorded was just an ‘album filler’ or ‘throwaway.’  He wrote and chose songs carefully, crafting them like mini-operas to interpret what the lyrics and arrangements made him feel.”
Vandross recorded countless classics, sold more than 30 million records worldwide, and won eight Grammys during his career. He also touched the world and moved our hearts. He wrote and sang of, and with, love, and since his passing in 2005, there’s been such a void. Many have paid tribute and covered his songs (Lalah Hathaway’s version of “Forever, for Always, for Love” is especially gorgeous), but the fact remains that there was – is – only one Luther.  His voice was golden, his smile infectious, and while he is truly missed, the majesty of his music continues to endure.
Next Thursday would have been his 61st birthday, and as much as I wish he were still here, he’s always around, in song and intertwined in our memories. When I hear his voice, I think back to the night that I brought my grandmother as my date to his show at Madison Square Garden. At one point, I looked over at her and she was beaming up at him, singing along to every word. That was such a great night and as always, Luther was in amazing voice.

Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor for ESSENCE.  Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.