The soul of the '80s
Luther Vandross leads a generation of special American crooners
Last week Saturday, April 20, we observed the 62nd birth anniversary of Luther Vandross, widely accepted by musicologists and fans, as the most talented singer of his generation.
That generation included stalwarts, the likes of Michael Bolton, Larry Graham, James Ingram, George Benson and Peabo Bryson.
Bryson, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, where he was born in 1951, grew up on a farm in the town of his birth, and had his first exposure while singing in a rural church. He had his first hit, a top-30 piece, titled Do It With Feeling, in 1976.
Like the others, his heyday was in the 1980s, when he had a number of hit recordings that boosted his popularity worldwide.
Among them, was perhaps his biggest hit, Tonight I Celebrate My Love To You (1983), in duet with Roberta Flack.
The following year, he consolidated his position as the consumate balladeer with the very haunting, If Ever You're In My Arms Again - a No.10 R&B hit.
Seemingly attracted to the ladies, he had further successful duets with Celine Dion and Regina Bell in 1992 and 1993, respectively.
Michael Bolton hit hard at the turn of the decade (1989-90), with his mega-album, Soul Provider, which spawned the hits, How Am I Supposed To Live Without You, When I'm Back On My Feet Again, and Soul Provider - the title track.
Possessing a voice of steel, Bolton's effort at enunciation seems arduous. He, however, managed to win countless fans with his unique style.
Larry Graham, born in 1946, honed his musical talents, while with the late 1960s group Sly and the Family Stones.
By 1972, he had formed his own group - Graham Central Station, and had an album of the same name, which sold moderately. His best-known recording was perhaps, the No. 9 single, One In A Million.
In 1981, Graham produced and played nearly all the instruments on Just Be My Lady, and followed up with Sooner or Later the following year.
Jeffrey Osbourne, whose singing style provoked comparison with Luther Vandross and Teddy Pendergrass, first came to attention as a drummer for the group LTD in 1970, at age 22. Born in Rhode Island, United States in 1948, he had creditable hits with Love Ballad, On The Wings Of Love, and You Should Be Mine, in 1976, 1982 and 1986, respectively.
George Benson, born in Pennsylvania in 1943, was a jazz-guitarist/vocalist by profession. He got into the music business as a session guitarist in the late 1950s, and went into singing proper in 1975. He had to his credit, among others, the hits Give Me The Night (No.4 in 1980), and Turn Your Love Around in 1981.
James Ingram, born in Ohio, United States on February 17, 1952, hit the charts at No. 14 in 1981 with One Hundred Ways, and Just Once, at No. 17 that same year.
From the outset, a career in music seemed predestined for the New York City-born Vandross, who saw the light of day on April 20, 1951.
Both his parents were singers, and his sister Pat, was part of the 1950s R&B group, The Crests, who had a No. 2 hit with Sixteen Candles, in 1958.
He began learning the piano at age three, and by his early teens, he was a part of his high school singing group - Shades of Jade.
After attending Western Michigan University for a year, Vandross dropped out to continue a career in music. To this end he did commercial jingles and backup vocals for Roberta Flack (1972), Delores Hall (1973), Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. His writing skills soon came to the fore and was demonstrated on Fascination by The Young Americans, and Everybody Rejoice, for the 1975 broadway musical Wiz.
Vandross finally earned his long-awaited breakthrough, as a features vocalist with the highly-rated pop-dance group, Change, on the 1980 recordings, Searching, and The Glow Of Love:
Flowers blooming morning dew and the beauty seems to say,
Its a pleasure when you treasure all that's new and true and gay.
Easy living, and we're giving what we know we're dreaming of,
we owe having it for walking in the glow of love.
In 1981, Vandross signed a recording contract with Epic Records. The contract was the start of Vandross' solo career, the platinum-selling album, Never Too Much coming soon after.
An instant success, the album spawned several hits, including his self-penned, title track, which climbed to No. 1 on the R&B charts.
Vandross' career suddenly soared to new heights, resulting in a lifetime of chart-topping hits in a career spanning two-decades.
His body of work has sold in excess of thirty million records worldwide.
But perhaps, his crowning achievement was his haul of eight grammy awards, four in 2004 for his co-written song, Dance With My Father, which reinforced the importance of an ever-present father figure:
My father would lift me high and dance with my mother and me
and then spin me around till I fell asleep, and I knew for sure I was loved.
Vandross, in fact, scored his first Grammy for his 1989 recording Here And Now.
Of the singles recorded during that period, two reached No. 1: There's Nothing Better Than Love, and Stop To Love (1986). Vandross had at least one top-10 R&B hit every year from 1981-1994.
During the 1980s, he widened his career by excelling as a producer for several artistes, including Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, while having frequent song-writing collaborations.
The man, who one writer claimed 'made women swoon with his silky, forceful tenor, which he revved up like a motor engine, before reaching his beautiful crescendos', racked up several other successful albums during the 1990s, before sickness began taking a toll on him.
He suffered a stroke on April 16, 2003, but miraculously managed to finish the final vocals for the album Dance With My Father, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. After suffering from the effects of his stroke for nearly two years, Vandross succumbed on July 1, 2005 at age 54.