Happy 65th earthday Luther “Velvet Voiced” Vandross
Luther Ronzoni Vandross was born a Tauren on 20th April 1951 in New York and grew up in a lower Manhattan housing project till his father passed when he was 8 years old before moving to the Bronx. Influenced by his parents and older sister singing, whilst at William Howard Taft high school he formed a vocal group Shades Of Jade with friends Carlos Alomar Diane Sumler and Fonzi Thornton whom he would work with in future times. As part of a musical theatre workshop, they recorded “Listen My Brother” which Luther and his group sang on the children’s Sesame Street in 1969.
By 1973 he written 2 songs recorded by Delores Hall and a year later school friend Carlos Alomar became David Bowie’s guitarist and invited Luther to a recording session at the famous Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Bowie upon hearing his velvet tones recruited Luther who co wrote “Fascination” and did BV’s on the “Young American” album. Also rumoured is that Luther sang BV’s on “Golden Years” a track he would sing with another outfit Mascara a few years later.
His composition “Brand New Day” was featured in both the film and Broadway musical of “The Wiz”. By now he was working with Bette Midler, Judy Collins, Gary Glitter and the Brecker Brothers. Whilst working with Bette Midler he met Arif Mardin of Atlantic who worked with the Average White Band Aretha and Chaka Khan and reacquainted his Shades of Jade outfit with the addition of Christine Wiltshire who went on to work with Jocelyn Brown and Leroy Burgess and record two albums under the guise of Luther.
Providential not co incidental Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards were part of Luther’s Band reigniting their collaborations from the Sesame Street band. Cotillion dropped the group and Luther ended up retaining the rights to the album so they were out of print why I don’t know as they were nice albums. He became an in demand session singer working with Chic headlining the BV’s of the their “C’est Chic” debut album and the original instrumental version of “Everybody Dance”, Sister Sledge, Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, Odyssey, Peter Jacques Band, New York City Band, BB&Q Band, Kleeer to Cat Stevens, Ringo Starr & Carole Bayer Sager.
As disco became prevalent Luther fronted bands Lemon, Gregg Diamond, Charme, Mascara and Change…the rest is history. Now 1981 his voice was unmistakable and he touted a successful record deal with Epic a subsidiary of Sony. Again releasing album after album he alongside his partner in rhyme the Marvellous Marcus Miller he co wrote and produced his own albums as well as a few for Cheryl Lynn, Aretha Franklin. Covering many a classic by artists Brenda Russell, Stevie Wonder and Burt Bacharach & Hal David, and Heatwave, Luther had a unique style of replicating a composition as though he’d sung it first.
Luther has sung with many female vocalists including Cheryl Lynn, Gwen Guthrie, Patti Austin, Dionne Warwick, Janet Jackson & Patti Labelle. Travelling around the world doing live concerts, I was lucky enough to see him in the mid 80’s at Wembley, Luther was undoubtedly instantly recognisable on a track even if he was doing BV’s.
His film credit includes “The Meteor Man” a Robert Townsend film where he played a villain within a gang. As wells singing for the 70’s gang epic “The Warriors” and writing a song sung by Roberta Flack for the film starring Cicely Tyson and Richard Prior “Bustin’ Loose”.
Lending his voice to many musical styles mostly gospel & soul based but versatile in other genres, he truly was one in a million as sung by Dee Dee Bridgewater. Even now I discover tracks he featured on and when you listen carefully you wonder how you never recognised him as on it. The reason being that he blends in with background as much as he shines in the fore front. Two years back Melba Moore told me to listen to her album “Closer” and when you hear Luther on “Something On Your Mind” I you’ll understand why. Vocalist songwriter producer and an all around African American Artist of huge proportions…I miss you Luther “Velvet Voice” Vandross.
This was written in July 2010 to celebrate at the time 5 years of losing Luther. I also did a show links included below around the same time so enjoy..Fitzroy