Born on April 20, 1951, in New York, NY; son of an upholsterer and Mary Ida Vandross; youngest of four siblings. Education: Attended Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. Addresses: Record company--J-Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10151, website: Website--Luther Vandross Official Website:

Rhythm and blues singer Luther Vandross is best known for his soulful renditions of emotionally charged love ballads. Vandross' wide singing range runs from lush tenor to robust baritone and represents only one of his various talents. He has won numerous Grammy awards, while maintaining complete artistic control of his work. His musical compositions and arrangements have been recorded by many of the greatest American pop singers. Vandross, in addition to his fame as a solo artist, gained notoriety as one of the most talented backup singers in modern music. He released an astonishing 13 platinum albums in succession, beginning with his first major release.

Vandross was born in New York on Manhattan's Lower East Side on April 20, 1951. The youngest of four siblings, he was the son of an upholsterer who died from diabetes when Vandross was just eight. As a result, Vandross developed a close relationship with his mother, Mary Ida Vandross. The Vandross children were musically inclined, a trait that was encouraged by their parents. His mother recognized Vandross' particular musical bent and saw to his musical education when he was still very young, beginning his piano lessons at age three.

One of Vandross' older sisters sang with the Crests as a teenager, and although she left home while Vandross was still a child, he cultivated a particular love and respect for the female singing styles. He was drawn in particular to the late 1960s moods of Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick, and Aretha Franklin. Vandross saw that the unrestrained emotion of female singers was a magnificent faculty rarely found in the work of male pop vocalists. When Vandross was 13 he moved with his mother to the South Bronx in New York where he attended Taft High School. His interest in music became overpowering by his senior year, and although he enrolled at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he abandoned his formal education after by the end of his second semester, opting instead to embark on a musical career.

Luck and Talent

From that point Vandross achieved prominence through a delicate combination of talent and luck. One of his compositions, "Everybody Rejoice," was incorporated into the score of the Broadway musical The Wiz in 1972. Two years later he attended some taping sessions for rock star David Bowie in the company of a friend who worked as part of the Bowie entourage. As Vandross observed the taping sessions he expressed personal observations about Bowie's musical arrangements. Vandross used his own voice to illustrate his ideas, and his comments were taken seriously by Bowie, who encouraged Vandross to join the company as a backup artist on Bowie's album Young Americans.

Eventually Vandross was invited to tour with Bowie, as a warm up for Bowie's act. Vandross accepted the offer, but soon complained that the experience was exhausting, and expressed apprehension. The stress of performance caused him to be nervous and overwrought. He felt anxious at the thought of facing an audience of strangers. Bowie, convinced of Vandross' potential, influenced Vandross to persevere, emphasizing to Vandross that the experiences of live performance would be critical to his future success as an entertainer.

In time Bowie referred Vandross to Bette Midler who arranged to hire Vandross as a backup singer. Vandross embarked on a career as a backup singer for many popular artists including Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, and the Average White Band. He also made a lucrative living singing jingles for television commercials. During this time Vandross sang with the disco band Change and created a group called Bionic Boogie, a studio production of sound mixes, all performed by Vandross--a virtual one-man band.

Begaon Solo Career

Vandross formed his own R&B group, Luther, in 1975. With the influence of Arif Mardin the group Luther signed to record with Cotillion Records. Luther was a short-lived enterprise, their records falling well short of expectations. Vandross, meanwhile, aspired to a recording contract that would allow him complete creative control over his recordings. Vandross signed with Epic Records in 1981 and his popularity, both as a singer and a songwriter, flourished steadily from that point forward.

Over the years Vandross wrote songs for other artists such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and Dionne Warwick, while his own singing career blossomed steadily. By 1991 his double album, The Best of Luther Vandross, The Best of Love, became a double platinum seller, and Vandross' success was assured. In 1991-92 Vandross embarked on a tour of the United States that culled a total attendance of 650,000 spectators nationwide and earned $15 million in box office receipts. In 1994 he performed a television special for the Public Broadcasting System called In the Spotlight, at Royal Albert Hall in London. He released a Christmas album in 1995, featuring seven new co-written songs, along with a variety of classic carols. In 1996 Vandross performed at the Essence Music Festival. He received the honor of singing the national anthem at the 1997 NFL Super Bowl, and that same year went on a five-city tour beginning in Las Vegas and culminating in Washington D.C.

Ended Epic Partnership

Vandross parted ways with Epic in 1998, after a 16-year partnership during which Vandross released 12 hit albums and sent 22 of singles into the top ten of the R&B charts. The separation from Epic's parent company, Sony, attributed to a dispute over artistic freedom, led to a new contract for Vandross with Virgin Records. His debut with Virgin, 1998's I Know, featured a bevy of stars including Stevie Wonder, Cassandra Wilson, and Bob James. The album received generally excellent reviews. Despite achieving super-stardom as a solo artist, Vandross continued to sing as a back up from time to time for a number of notable singers.

Vandross received four Grammy awards from 1990-98, including two for "Power of Love." All together he received three Grammy nominations in 1994, four nominations in 1995; three nominations in 1996, and three in 1997. Vandross made an acting debut in 1993 in the Robert Townsend film The Meteor Man and co-hosted the Soul Train Music Awards.

I Know turned out to be Vandross's last, as well as first, album for Virgin. After cutting 2000's Smooth Love with the AMW label, he moved to J-Records, where he found a more permanent home. He debuted on that label with a self-titled album in 2001. The new label proved to be a good match for Vandross, and he hit the road for a highly successful concert tour following the release of Luther Vandross. The album went platinum, and Vandross sold out Radio City Music Hall for eight nights.

Taking advantage of his new-found artistic freedom at his new label, Vandross released the very personal Dance With My Father, in whose title cut he wishes for one last chance to spend time with his father. Said Vandross of this album on the J-Records website, "I wrote the songs as we went along so it's definitely fresh and reflects where I'm at musically, lyrically and creatively."

Vandross suffered a debilitating stroke in early 2003, and spent the next several months slowly recovering away from the public eye. Dance With My Father was nominated for five Grammy Awards in 2003, and though Vandross was still too ill to attend the ceremony in early 2004, he was there in spirit as he took home four Grammys, including the award for Song of the Year. The Grammy ceremony also included a tribute to Vandross perfomed by Alicia Keys and Celine Dion. In a taped appearance, Vandross made his first public statement since his stroke to the Grammy audience and home viewers. "I wish I could be with you there tonight. I want to thank everyone for your love and support. And remember, when I say goodbye it's never for long, because I believe in the power of love."

by Gloria Cooksey and Michael Belfiore

Luther Vandross's Career

Wrote "Everybody Rejoice" for The Wiz, 1972; backup singer on David Bowie's Young Americans; toured with David Bowie, 1974; Atlantic Records, backup vocalist for Bette Midler, Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, and others, 1974-81; singer/songwriter of commercial jingles, started group, Bionic Boogie and sang with Change, 1974; signed group, Luther, with Cotillion records, 1975; signed with Sony's Epic Records, released 13 consecutive platinum selling albums, 1981-1997; performed "In the Spotlight" from Royal Albert Hall for Public Broadcasting System, 1994; moved to Virgin Records in 1998; released I Know on Virgin, 1998; released Smooth Love on AMW label, 2000; moved to J-Records, released Luther Vandross, 2001; released J-Records albums Dance With My Father and Live 2003 at Radio City Music Hall, 2003.

Luther Vandross's Awards

Grammy Awards, Best Male Vocalist, 1979; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Here and Now," 1990; Best R&B Song for "Power of Love," 1991; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Power of Love," 1991; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for Your Secret Love, 1996; Song of the Year for "Dance With My Father," 2003; Best R&B Album for Dance With My Father, 2003; Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Dance With My Father," 2003; Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (with Beyoncé Knowles) for "The Closer I Get to You," 2003.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

July 1, 2005: Vandross died on July 1, 2005, in Edison, New Jersey. He was 54. Source:,, July 5, 2005; E! Online,, July 5, 2005.

Further Reading



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