Did any entertainer have a voice as silky-smooth as the late Luther Vandross? The singer who died at age 54 in 2005 of complications following a stroke, had few, if any peers in the recording studio and concert stage. Sadly, he also never came out publicly, but after his passing some of those close to him, including comic-writer Bruce Vilanch shared some insight into Vandross’ personal struggle. “He was way ‘in’ (the closet). He said to me, ‘No one knows I’m in the life,” Vilanch said in 2005. Writer Michael Musto offered, “A famously open gay singer/songwriter (told me) Luther was dying to have a boyfriend. It was an inside show business open secret.” It’s worth remembering that just over a decade ago it was still considered career suicide by many for a black male entertainer to reveal he was gay. Who can say what would have happened had he lived in the era where Lee Daniels and Jussie Smollett can be open and enjoy incredible success. In a related note, imagine Luther as a guest star on Empire!
Some other facts you might not know about Luther (courtesy of The Guardian):
• His first big break came when he was asked to sing the alphabet on the first episode of Sesame Street.
• In 1974, David Bowie overheard Vandross singing and hired him on the spot to sing and arrange background vocals on his Young Americans album: he co-wrote the classic “Fame” with Bowie and John Lennon.
• Vandross was an in-demand backup singer, having recorded with Bette Midler, Ringo Star, Chic and even on the Barbra Streisand-Donna Summer duet “No More Tears (Enough is Enough).”
• He helped the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin launch a huge comeback in 1982 by writing and producing her hit album Jump To It.
So pay your respects on what would have been a joyful 65th birthday and enjoy highlights of his musical legacy.
Vandross properly launched his solo career with “Never Too Much,” which garnered Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.
His 1985 ballad “Here and Now” won Vandross his first Grammy for Male R&B Vocal Performance.
One of his biggest chart successes was the buoyant 1986 hit “Stop to Love.”
His live rendition of “A House Is Not a Home” in 1988 is guaranteed to send you chills down your spine.
Vandross won both American Music Awards and a Grammy Award for 1991’s stirring “Power of Love (Love Power).”
“Dance With My Father” was the title track of his final studio album, which was released in 2003, two years before his death.