Luther Vandross Part Two
By popular demand, here’s Luther Vandross Part Two, and Part Three will be here tomorrow, I’m just waiting for it to pop out of the oven.
1980s: Change And Solo Breakthrough
Vandross made his career breakthrough as a featured singer with the vaunted pop-dance act Change, a studio concept created by French-Italian businessman Jacques Fred Petrus. Their 1980 hits, “The Glow of Love“ (by Romani, Malavasi and Garfield) and “Searching“ (by Malavasi), featured Vandross as the lead singer. In a 2001 interview with Vibe, Vandross said “The Glow of Love“ was “the most beautiful song I‘ve ever sung in my life.“ Both songs were from Change‘s debut album, The Glow of Love.
Vandross was originally intended to perform on their second and highly successful album Miracles in 1981, but declined the offer as Petrus didn’t pay enough money. Vandross‘s decision led to a recording contract with Epic Records that same year, but he also provided background vocals on “Miracles“ and on the new Petrus-created act, the B. B. & Q. Band in 1981. During that hectic year Vandross jump-started his second attempt at a solo career with his debut album, Never Too Much. In addition to the hit title track it contained a version of the Dionne Warwick song “A House Is Not a Home“.
The song “Never Too Much“, written by himself, reached number-one on the R&Bcharts. This period also marked the beginning of songwriting collaboration with bassist Marcus Miller, who played on many of the tracks and would also produce or co-produce a number of tracks for Vandross. The Never Too Much album was arranged by Vandross‘s high school classmate Nat Adderley, Jr., a collaboration that would last through Vandross‘s career.
Vandross released a series of successful R&B albums during the 1980s and continued his session work with guest vocals on groups like Charme in 1982. Many of his earlier albums made a bigger impact on the R&B charts than on the pop charts. During the 1980s, two of Vandross‘s singles reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts: “Stop to Love“, in 1986, and a duet with Gregory Hines—“ There‘s Nothing Better Than Love.“ Vandross was at the helm as producer for Aretha Franklin‘s Gold-certified, award-winning comeback album Jump to It. He also produced the follow-up album, 1983‘s Get It Right.
In 1983, the opportunity to work with his main musical influence, Dionne Warwick, came about with Vandross producing, writing songs, and singing on How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye, her fourth album for Arista Records. The title track duet reached No. 27 on the Hot 100 chart (# 7 R&B/ # 4 Adult Contemporary), while the second single, “Got a Date“ was a moderate hit (# 45 R&B/ # 15 ClubPlay).
Vandross wrote and produced “It‘s Hard for Me to Say“ for Diana Ross from her Red Hot Rhythm & Blues album. Ross performed the song as an a cappella tribute to Oprah Winfrey on her final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show. She then proceeded to add it to her successful 2010— 12 “More Today Than Yesterday: The Greatest Hits Tour. Vandross also recorded a version of this song on his Your Secret Love album in 1996. He made two public appearances at Diana Ross‘s Return to Love Tour: at its opening in Philadelphia at First Union Spectrum and its final stop at Madison Square Garden on July 6, 2000.
In December 1985, Vandross filed a libel suit against a British magazine after it attributed his 85-pound weight loss to AIDS. He weighed 325 pounds when he started a diet in May that year.
In 1985, Vandross first spotted the talent of Jimmy Salvemini, who was fifteen at the time, on Star Search. He thought Salvemini had the perfect voice for some of his songs, and contacted him. He was managed by his brother, Larry Salvemini. A contract was negotiated with Elektra Records for $250,000 and Vandross agreed to produce the album. He contacted his old friends – Cheryl Lynn, Alfa Anderson (Chic), Phoebe Snow and Irene Cara – to appear on the record. After the album was completed, Luther, Jimmy, and Larry decided to celebrate. On January 12, 1986, they were riding in Vandross‘s 1985 convertible Mercedes-Benz on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, in the north section of Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles. Luther was driving at 48 mph in a 35 mph zone when his Mercedes veered across the double yellow center line of the two lane street, turned sideways and collided with the front of a 1972 Mercury Marquis that was headed southbound, then swung around and hit a 1979 Cadillac Seville head on. Vandross and Jimmy were rushed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Larry, who was in the passenger seat,was killed during the collision. Vandross suffered three broken ribs, a broken hip, several bruises and facial cuts. Jimmy, who was in the back of the car, had cuts, bruises and contusions. Vandross faced vehicular manslaughter charges as a result of Larry‘s death, and his driving license was suspended for a year. There was no evidence Vandross was under the influence of alcohol or other drugs; he pleaded no contest to reckless driving. At first, the Salvemini family was supportive of Vandross, but later filed a wrongful death suit against him. The case was settled out of court with a payment to the Salvemini family for about $630,000. Jimmy Salvemini‘s album, Roll It, was released later that year.
Vandross also sang the ad-libs and background vocals in Stevie Wonder‘s 1985 hit “Part-Time Lover“. In 1986, he voiced a cartoon character named Zack for ABC‘s Zack of All Trades, a three Saturday morning animated PSA spots.
The 1989 compilation album The Best of Luther Vandross … The Best of Love included the ballad “Here and Now“, his first single to chart in the Billboard pop chart top ten, peaking at number six. He won his first Grammy award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1991.
In 1990, Vandross wrote, produced and sang background for Whitney Houston in asong entitled “Who Do You Love“ which appeared on her I‘m Your Baby Tonight album. That year, he guest starred on the television sitcom 227.
More albums followed in the 1990s, beginning with 1991‘s Power of Love which spawned two top ten pop hits. He won his second Best Male R&B Vocal in the Grammy Awards of 1992, and his track “Power of Love/Love Power“ won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in the same year. In 1992, “The Best Things in Life Are Free“, aduet with Janet Jackson from the movie Mo‘ Money became a hit. In 1993, he hada brief non-speaking role in the Robert Townsend movie The Meteor Man. He played a hit man who plotted to stop Townsend‘s title character.
Vandross hit the top ten again in 1994, teaming with Mariah Carey on a cover version of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross‘s duet “Endless Love“. It was included on the album Songs, a collection of songs which had inspired Vandross over the years. He also appears on “The Lady Is a Tramp“ released on Frank Sinatra‘s Duets album. At the Grammy Awards of 1997, he won his third Best Male R&B Vocal for the track “Your Secret Love“.
A second greatest hits album, released in 1997, compiled most of his 1990s hits and was his final album released through Epic Records. After releasing I Know on Virgin Records, he signed with J Records. His first album on Clive Davis‘s new label, entitled Luther Vandross, was released in 2001, and it produced the hits “Take You Out“ (# 7 R&B/ # 26 Pop), and “I ‘d Rather“ (# 17 AdultContemporary/ # 40 R&B/ # 83 Pop). Vandross scored at least one top 10 R&B hitevery year from 1981— 1994.
In 1997, Vandross sang the American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“,during Super Bowl XXXI at the Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana.
In September 2001, Vandross performed a rendition of Michael Jackson’s hit song “Man in the Mirror” at Jackson’s 30th Anniversary special, alongside Usher and 98Degrees.
In 2002, he performed his final concerts during his last tour, The BK Got Soul Tour starring Vandross featuring Angie Stone and Gerald Levert.
In the spring of 2003, Vandross’s last collaboration was Doc Powell’s “What‘s Going On“, a cover of Marvin Gaye from Powell’s album 97th and Columbus.
In 2003, Vandross released the album Dance with My Father. It sold 442,000 copies in the first week and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. The title track of the same name, which was dedicated to Vandross’s childhood memories of dancing with his father, won Vandross and his co-writer, Richard Marx, the 2004 Grammy Award for Song of the Year. The song also won Vandross his fourth and final award in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category. The album was his only career No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. The video for the title track features various celebrities alongside their fathers and other family members. The second single released from the album, “Think About You“, was the number one Urban Adult Contemporary Song of 2004 according to Radio & Records.
In 2003, after the televised NCAA Men‘s Basketball championship, CBS Sports gave “One Shining Moment” a new look. Vandross, who had been to only one basketball game in his life, was the new singer, and the video had none of the special effects, like glowing basketballs and star trails, that videos from previous years had. This song version is in use today.