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Luther Ronzoni Vandross, Jr. (April 20, 1951 - July 1, 2005) was an American R&B and soul singer and songwriter. During his career, Vandross sold over twenty-five million albums and won eight Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance four times. He won four Grammy Awards in 2004 including the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for the track "Dance With My Father", co-written with Richard Marx.
Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City, he was born in Smith Housing Project. At age three he began playing the piano. Vandross grew up in a musical family that moved to the Bronx when he was thirteen. His sister sang with vocal group The Crests who had a number two hit in the early 1960s with "Sixteen Candles". Vandross' father died of diabetes when Vandross was eight years old. His life-changing moment came when, at the age of thirteen, he heard Dionne Warwick sing "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (a song he would cover in his later years).
Luther Vandross was in a vocal group in high school-Shades of Jade-that once played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His first recording credit was as producer of the album Soul Christmas in 1968, his first vocal credit as a vocalist on the Quincy Jones album Best in 1969. He was also a member of a theater workshop, "Listen My Brother" who released a 1969 single(Only Love Can Make A Better World,Listen My Brother), at the time and appeared on the second and fifth episodes of Sesame Street in November 1969.
He attended Western Michigan University for a year, but dropped out to continue pursuing a career in music.
His next recording credit was on an album by Roberta Flack in 1972. Luther also sang on Delores Hall's Hall-Mark album from 1973. He sang with her on Who's Gonna Make It Easier For Me which he wrote and contributed another song In This Lonely Hour. Having co-written "Fascination" for David Bowie's Young Americans, he went on to tour with him as a back-up vocalist in September 1974. Vandross wrote "Everybody Rejoice" for the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz; also appearing as a choir member in the movie.
Vandross also sang backing vocals for Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Chic, and Barbra Streisand. Early in his career, Vandross was content to remain mostly in the background, as a producer and backup singer for other artists, but Flack encouraged Vandross to start his own career.
Before his breakthrough, he released two albums with a singing group he formed, also called Luther, on Cotillion Records. The group had a successful single entitled "It's Good for the Soul", although their two albums-the self-titled Luther in 1976 and This Close to You in 1977-were not successful. Vandross bought back the rights to these albums after the record label dropped the group, preventing their later re-release.
Vandross also wrote and sang commercials jingles during the late 1970s and early 1980s, earning upwards of $600,000 per year around the New York area. He created and often sang jingles for such advertising campaigns as Kentucky Fried Chicken's "We Do Chicken Right", NBC's "Proud As a Peacock" and The US Army's "Be All You Can Be". Vandross also voiced a cartoon character named Zack for three Saturday morning animated PSA spots for ABC Television called "Zack of All Trades". Vandross continued his successful career as a popular session singer during the late 1970s. His lead vocals can be heard on the Gregg Diamond produced single "Hot Butterfly" from Bionic Boogie in 1978, which gained moderate club success.Luther also sang in studio session groups Lemon,Roundtree,The Good Vibrations,Bionic Boogie's 1979 Tiger Tiger(Lay It On The Line,Crazy Lady Luck,Take The Boogie Home,Rushin' Roulette), Charme'(Georgy Porgy),Soiree(You Keep Me Hanging On,You Are The Sunshine Of My Life),Mascara(See You In L.A.,It's Cool, If Don't Want To Be In My Life), New York City Band(Got To Have Your Body,Bo Diddley), and The Charlie Calello Orchestra.
With some contributions from friend and songwriter/producer, Wayne K. Garfield , Vandross finally made his long desired career breakthrough as a featured singer with the vaunted pop-dance act Change, a studio concept created by French-Italian bussinessman Jacques Fred Petrus (1949-1986) with songs written and produced by his Italian co-workers Davide Romani, Paolo Gianolio and Mauro Malavasi. Their 1980 hits, "A Lover's Holiday" (by Romani and Willoughby), "The Glow of Love" (by Romani, Malavasi and Garfield) and "Searching" (by Malavasi), of which Vandross sang on the last two, opened up the world for Vandross. And there was no doubt about whether Vandross liked the song "The Glow of Love". In an interview that Vibe Magazine did with him in 2001 Vandross said, "This is the most beautiful song I've ever sung in my life." Vandross was also originally intended to perform on the second and highly successful Change album "Miracles" in 1981, but declined the offer as Petrus didn't pay enough money. Vandross' decision rapidly led to a recording contract with Epic Records that same year but didn't stop him from doing some background vocals on "Miracles" and on the new Petrus created acts, NYC band, 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 Burt Bacharach / Hal David song "A House Is Not a Home". The album went double platinum, with the song "Never Too Much" reaching number-one on the R&B charts. This period also marked the beginning of frequent 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.
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 with the track "Power of Love/Love Power" winning the Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in the same year. In 1992, "The Best Things in Life Are Free", a duet with Janet Jackson from the movie Mo' Money became a hit.
In 1993, Vandross had a brief speaking role in the Robert Townsend movie Meteor Man. He played a hit man who plotted to stop Townsend's title character.
Vandross hit the top ten again in 1994 with Mariah Carey, doing a cover version of Lionel Richie and Diana Ross's duet "Endless Love." He also appears on Frank Sinatra's posthumous Duets album. In 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 Adult Contemporary/#40 R&B/#83 Pop)
In 2003, Vandross released the album Dance With My Father The title track, which was dedicated to Vandross' memory childhood dances with his father, won Luther 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 first to reach number one on the Billboard album chart. The video for the title track features various celebrities alongside their fathers and other family members. Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Celine Dion, Jason Kidd, Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones submitted home videos or pictures of their families for the music video.
Vandross's last known recording was his version of "One Shining Moment", CBS's closing theme song of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
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