I never met him, never knew him, but I miss him. Luther Vandross was a rare artist, a man with a golden voice, and from all appearances, a golden personality. Having grown up on his music — raise your hand if you had a copy of The Best of Luther Vandross at your crib! — I associate Luther Vandross songs with key moments in my life.
Here and Now will forever remind me of my brother Clint’s wedding — that was the song he and his wife danced to. A House Is Not A Home takes me back to Sunday mornings at my home in Trinidad, when my father would enlist all of us to help with the housecleaning. Loud music was a must to complete the task, and Luther was often in the mix. I knew Luther’s version of Superstar long before I knew who The Carpenters were (and long, LONG before I heard Sonic Youth’s version which is so different from Luther’s. Proof that that song is timeless). But Luther’s like Aretha Franklin in that sense — once he covered your song, it was HIS. Forever. His voice is so often imitated, but there will never, ever be another Luther Vandross.
We’re rapidly approaching the anniversary of his passing — I still remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news. The news left me so sad and so shocked — especially when I realized he was only 54 years old. On July 1, 2005, Luther Vandross passed away from causes that were never publicly released, although it was well known that he dealt with weight loss and food issues. Luther’s weight vacillated greatly throughout his career, and he was known for moments of tremendous indulgence. All of the reports about Luther’s death addressed his health issues — he suffered with hereditary diabetes and hypertension, and had a stroke in 2003 days before his 52nd birthday. He never fully recovered from the effects of that, although he went on to release the poignant Dance With My Father shortly afterwards. He won four Grammys, but he was unable to celebrate the victory. Luther won song of the year for the song, Dance With My Father — the video for which, like Aaliyah’s Miss You, brings me practically to tears every time I watch it. Luther described that song as his “Piano Man,” and it’s heartbreaking that he isn’t around to perform it today.
Luther’s life and music inspire me creatively, his music stirs my soul and can bring prickly tears to the back of my eyes. But the circumstances of his passing inspire me in another way — Luther Vandross succumbed too young, to health conditions that are too common in America. Especially in the African American community. These are health conditions that plague my own family. If you’re like me, you’ve probably got some diabetes somewhere in the fam, and in my case, high blood pressure definitely runs close in the blood. I am doing everything I can now, while I can, to keep the health issues that simmer in my bloodstream at bay. It’s a daily struggle, one that I’m going to be writing about more often.
Luther Vandross left this world too soon, but he left us with such a glorious gift. So much great music, so many wonderful songs. What’s my favorite Luther song? That’s easy. Never Too Much! Oh, how I love that song. It showcases his voice’s incredible range and ability so perfectly, IMO.
Here’s Luther LIVE on The Early Show in 2000.
Look at how rapt that audience is. Listen to how flawless his voice is. Wow. I wish I could have been there.
Do you have a favorite Luther song? Did you love Luther’s spirit? Tell me how he made you feel. And happy Thursday — it’s almost the weekend!