Luther Vandross

Luther Vandross (April 20, 1951 — July 1, 2005) was an American soul singer, songwriter, and producer from N.Y.C. who emerged from the session scene fronting the namesake five-piece Luther for two albums on Cotillion in 1976 and 1977. In 1981, he released his first of 11 albums for Epic over the ensuing 15-year period.

He was born Luther Ronzoni Vandross Jr. on April 20, 1951, in Manhattan, the fourth child and second son of nurse Mary Ida and singer/upholsterer Luther Vandross Sr. He grew up on the Lower East Side in the Alfred E. Smith housing project, where he taught himself piano by ear. During the mid-1950s, his older sister Patricia (1943–1993) sang with doo-wopsters The Crests, scoring a 1957 hit with “Sweetest One.”

When Vandross was eight, his father died of diabetes. In 2003, two years before his own death at age 54 from diabetes, he wrote the song “Dance with My Father,” drawn from childhood memories and Mary Ida’s accounts of the children singing and dancing with their father. When Vandross was nine, his family moved to the Bronx, where Patricia took him to the Apollo Theater to see concerts by Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin.

As a student at William Howard Taft High School, he founded the first fan club for Patti LaBelle, then frontwoman of the Blue Belles. He started his own performing career in Shades of Jade, which once played the Apollo. On several occasions, he did solo showcases there on amateur nights. His first studio presence was on the 1969 single “Only Love Can Make a Better World” (b/w “Listen My Brother”) by the theater group Listen My Brother, which appeared on the first season (1969–70) of Sesame Street. The single was issued on soul-press Maxwell (Faith, Hope & Charity).

In 1972, Vandross sang uncredited backup on a joint album between Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. The following year, he contributed two songs (“Who’s Gonna Make It Easier For Me,”In This Lonely Hour”) to the RCA release Hall-Mark by singer Delores Hall (credited as Van Dross).

Vandross proliferated in 1975 with backing-vocal credits on albums by Gary Glitter (G. G.), Linda Lewis (Not a Little Girl Anymore), and Stephanie Mills (Movin’ In the Right Direction). He also wrote the Mills-sung “Everybody Rejoice,” featured in the Broadway musical The Wiz, in which Mills starred that year in the role of Dorothy. Another song of his, “Funky Music,” got repurposed by David Bowie as “Fascination,” included on Young Americans. That album features Vandross among several notable guests, including John Lennon, David Sanborn, and future collaborator Ava Cherry.

Amid these activities, Vandross secured a deal with Atlantic-subsidiary Cotillion for his own group, Luther, featuring singers Theresa V. Reed, Christine Wiltshire, and former Shades of Jade members Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler.

(more to come…)


  • Luther (1976 • Luther)
  • This Close to You (1977 • Luther)
  • Never Too Much (1981)
  • Forever, for Always, for Love (1982)
  • Busy Body (1983)
  • The Night I Fell in Love (1985)
  • Give Me the Reason (1986)
  • Any Love (1988)
  • Power of Love (1991)
  • Never Let Me Go (1993)
  • Songs (1994)
  • This Is Christmas (1995)
  • Your Secret Love (1996)
  • I Know (1998)
  • Luther Vandross (2001)
  • Dance With My Father (2003)


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