The pride month has passed, but remnants of the celebration can still be felt in social media. That being the case, we’ve been highlighting the contribution of the black community in the world of music, most specifically in the vocal arts. They deserve recognition, don’t they? Here is one.
For today’s inspirational singer, we have Luther Vandross, another multi-Grammy Awards recipient artist that has captured the hearts of many during his illustrious career. He lived in the times when only a handful of people accept homosexuality.
Anyway, dissimilar to most of the inspirational singers that we have featured, Luther Vandross wasn’t instantly catapulted to the limelight. He worked hard for it by experiencing lots of failed attempts to get attention.
The Smooth Operator
He was known as one of the few celebrities to be described as having a velvet voice. But it took him almost a decade to reach his breakthrough. He spent most of his early days as a backup vocalist for celebrities, which isn’t really that inferior if you think about it.
However, even if he had a good voice, the early bands and songs he was involved with never got the recognition they deserved. And once his career was over, that’s the time those things received the praise they warranted.
Funnily enough, this generation knows his songs well, but only a few knew who sang it first. Luther’s songs are staples for covers, especially the song Dance With My Father.
Most of his works were wholesome and homely. Some were great as disco and party songs: that’s what I remembered. But as I was scouring through the net to gather more information about him, I found many people regarded his creations as great baby-making songs. I mean who wouldn’t get romantic if If Only One Night or Endless Love is playing in the background.I chuckled and moved on.
Now, let’s delve deeper further and find out what we get out of this sensational artist.
Early Years And Attempts At Stardom
Luther Vandross is a proud New Yorker. His father was an enthusiastic singer and modest upholsterer, and his mother was a humble nurse. He started his tough journey to become a renowned musician when he was given his first phonograph when he turned three. This “toy” made him quickly develop keen ears, which allowed him to fantastically play by ear.
His first ever song was Dance With My Father. He dreadfully wrote it after his father died of diabetes when Luther was eight. The song was titled as such because of his fond memories of his father heartily singing and dancing at home with the rest of the family.
He was a fan of Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, who he frantically led a fan club for. During his teenage years, he often performed in the acclaimed Apollo Theater. There, he usually received requests to become a backup vocalist.
A few of the personalities he worked with as backup were Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Ringo Starr, and David Bowie. As an aside, he sang in a quintet, which didn’t make it to the limelight. He released a few singles and albums, but they were quietly put off the shelves because they weren’t selling well.
Everything changed when he was invited to be a guest singer for the Italian band, Change. Definitely not a pun. The band liked him, and Luther became its lead singer. The band’s songs heavily tilted on disco and pop. The group and Luther’s popularity went through the roof. It was all thanks to the song, which was also the album name, The Glow of Love.
Unfortunately, Luther Vandross quit Change because he can’t come in terms with his pay. Riding his still influential status in the industry, he, again, tried to go solo.
This time, he was lucky enough to release a song that reached the number one spot in the R&B charts with the song Never Too Much. With this success, he continued to collaborate with multiple artists and songwriters.
Luther’s tenor voice kept him afloat in the charts until the 1990s. His career transitioned to music production work. He did, however, accept any singing offers given to him.
Luther Vandross didn’t meet the fate of other black-skinned artists at the height of his career. He didn’t also get involved in the usage of illegal substances. Instead, his sexuality was always questioned.
Luther was never married and never had a kid. This hinted to the paparazzi and his fans to speculate his orientation. However, according to insiders and his friends, he was indeed gay. He just didn’t expose it to the public.
It’s unfortunate for Luther. He was unable to tell the world what he was. And being in the show business, he was ostracized just because he wouldn’t let people know the truth about him. People back then should have really toned it out a bit. Public figures aren’t public property.
Luther was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension early, but the strokes he experienced debilitated him too much. And the last stroke he had when he was at home in New York made him fall to a coma. The coma persisted for two months, but it affected his speech, and he started using a wheelchair from that point onward.
What We Can Learn
I can’t find old interviews with Luther Vandross anywhere, but he had a lot during his last years. But I can surmise that what drove him to his success was his fixation to his goal: spreading his songs on to the world.
Before he became famous, he also worked as a jingle writer. He has written and sang for juicy Fruit, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Mountain Dew.
We can see that he’ll do almost everything to reach his dream. It doesn’t matter if he worked as a backup vocalist, a songwriter, or a jingle singer. As long as the job took him closer to the stage, he was willing to do it.
No wonder why he was able to turn his life around – he consistently found accumulated ways to achieve a goal of becoming what we knew of him during the pinnacle of his career. “It’s not the blowing of the wind, but the set of the sail”, Jim Rohn.