Just a few weeks ago as I was driving along one morning I heard a radio DJ mention that April 20th would have been the late Luther Vandross’ sixty-second birthday. Immediately I started to think back and realized that Luther Vandross died going on eight years ago. Could it really be that long? It does not seem that long because his music still surrounds us and is still a part of our lives. Always considered the pinnacle of modern balladeers, Luther Vandross songs can be heard on radio stations literally anywhere in the world. The very popular singer was truly one the most loved entertainer of all times. Most fans have their favorite songs and memories that go with them very much like a photo scrapbook filled with old pictures of family members.
For me it was somewhat different, but not so dissimilar from other men. Luther Vandross’ fan base was and still is predominately female. Not unusual when you consider the history of the male vocalist famous for love songs. The traditional crooner if you will. Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby have been characterized as famous singers who make women faint at hearing them sing. However, men view the traditional crooner very differently. From the male perspective the love songs are the way to sway the object of affection in your direction. Early on I had that same view of Luther Vandross’ music. That is until I really took time to listen with my musician’s ear.
I think most of you musicians reading today understand that you can listen to music several ways. To listen as a musician though, means that even if you prefer to hear other performers you still appreciate the technique of the artist. This does not mean I did not like Luther Vandross’ singing. He was very good indeed. I had an appreciation more for his ability to perform within the musical arrangement, which created a fantastic sound.
My appreciation really started to build for Luther after attending one of his live performances. It was the late 1990’s when Luther Vandross was on his way to a couple of shows here in South Florida. My wife wanted to go and by that time I was looking forward to his concert too. Just over a year before Vandross released the album Your Secret Love, which I admired as a collection of brilliant musical works. By this time I was working in the industry myself, and recognized the work of many studio musicians and producers. Luther Vandross had some very good ones around him at all times, like Marcus Miller, Lisa Fischer and Nat Adderly Jr. That show was one of the best concerts I have ever attended, as Luther Vandross performed as advertised and maybe more. For those of you reading who also attended one of his concerts, you understand that he always gave excellent performances and interacted well with the audience with humor.
One of the things many remember is that Luther Vandross had a wonderful sense of humor. Those close to Luther Vandross truly loved and appreciated so much more about his personality. Nat Adderly Jr. first met Luther Vandross in high school and later spent much of his musical career working as pianist, arranger, producer and music director for Vandross. He said of Luther Vandross, “he was ‘a hilarious guy‘, a great employer, a great friend, and an incredible musician”. I didn’t think it was possible to describe Vandross in a few words, but Adderly did just that. Overall, Luther Vandross’ music will tell his story for the rest of our lives and well into the future. For now and tomorrow, continue to enjoy some great music as we remember one of the greatest musicians of all time, Luther Vandross.