Luther Van Dross April 20, 1951- July 1, 2005
It is always sad when a child pre-deceases a parent. Whether the child dies in infancy, as a young adult who has not completely grown into fullness as an adult or as a fully-grown man or woman, it is always sad to consider the grieving parent. Yesterday, the talented
Luther Vandross succumbed to death. Almost two years after the death of another romantic singer/composer, Barry White, the voice of this singer of love songs is now stilled. The details are sketchy. One can only conclude the cause of his demise is the result of the debilitating stroke he suffered more than two years ago. For two months Vandross was unconscious following the incident. He never fully recovered from the stroke, the result of damage caused by the diabetes he so valiantly fought.
His mother, now 80, Mary Ida Vandross, an ordained interdenominational minister, and a spokesman for the
Charles Ray Diabetes Association, gave an interview in March 2004, about one year after Luther’s stroke, to then NPR interviewer Tavis Smiley. At the time Mrs. Vandross explained how this dread disease has decimated her family:
“I feel that I'm not an authority on diabetes, but I am certainly in a position to tell you the aftermath of diabetes in a family. First, my husband was taken by diabetes at a very early and young age, and then my oldest son, my oldest daughter and my one and only grandson, who was a juvenile diabetic, and then Luther, as you know from the stroke, that it was from diabetes and the complications that he suffered this massive stroke. And having suffered so much, losing my family as I did, I feel that if there is any way on earth that I can warn anyone to see about yourself and to check yourself out to make sure that if there's any hope, that you get it in time, and to please, don't just put it aside, as something that you can pick up later. Check yourself out. Don't do to your family what has been done to me.”
Mrs Vandross reminded us what we all should know: “It has been said that it affects black people more, but diabetes will attack anyone, regardless of race, creed or color.”
When questioned about how soon we could expect her son to return to public performances she said, “.. inasmuch as he is progressing very well, his doctors and his therapist and the nurses are all very pleased with his progress, but you don't expect a man who has had a massive stroke to jump out of bed and jump onstage again.”
Mrs. V., as she is affectionately called, reported he never stopped singing, except during the time when he was unconscious. She said his memory was good, and that as his mother she optimistically sees “ progress every day and improvement.”
A tribute to his mother is the fact his name, Luther Ronzoni Vandross, was never associated with scandal. Mary Vandross confesses she took his middle name from a box of pasta. Family and close friends call him Ronnie. Oh there were reports of his conflict with other performers with whom he toured over his fastidious, demandingly driven, perfectionist artistic ways. The Anita Baker/Vandross tour comes to mind. I say the man did what was necessary to achieve the desired results. He obviously knew the business, and he knew music. He was expert.
Questions about his personal romantic life persisted. It was only natural the fans were curious about a man who sang so fluently of love. He was firm in keeping his personal life personal. In a world where we know just a tad too much about the personal lives of celebrities and near celebrated persons it is refreshing to have some mystique about a public person. Mary's son set the professional standard for today's generation of singers. He was a gentleman.
There were two things that stand out as obstacles for the “King of Baby Making Music”. They were his battle of the bulge and his inability to reach number 1 on the pop charts as his idols had done. I loved him full bodied or svelte. Sadly his quest for mass appeal ended following the stroke in April 2003 with the release of his last album and the hit title song Dance with My Father. He was always number one on my pop chart. Wow! I love how his music is always sheer perfection, always melodious. Who among us hasn’t had a romantic encounter where Luther’s music set the mood? How many people are in the world today because their parents made love to Luther Vandross’ songs sung in that beautiful clear baritone? Put on a Vandross song at a party. The result is a jammin’ good time.
When I think of Luther Vandross I think of him as a towering talent. He was a singer, composer, lyricist and arranger, a producer and a veritable musical powerhouse. The list of his collaborations with well known name singers reads like a Who’s Who of the music industry: David Bowie, (Luther wrote Bowie’s hit “Fame”), who according to Vandross biographer Craig Seymour, discovered Luther; Janet Jackson, BBD and Ralph Tresvant, Mariah Carey, Cheryl Lynn, Diana Ross, the late Gregory Hines, Whitney Houston, Queen Latifah, Kenneth “Baby Face” Edmonds, Beyonce Knowles, Foxy Brown, Patti LaBelle, Busta Rhymes are just a few of those who worked with him. He began his career as a studio session singer for the likes of Chaka Khan, Cher, Sister Sledge, Bette Middler, Ringo Starr, Chic, Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, James Ingram, Carly Simon, Teddy Pendergrass, Natalie Cole, Patti Austin, and Roberta Flack, who encouraged him to step out of the background and up front into the spotlight. Thank you Roberta for being an astute talent scout. His was the familiar male voice that sang the musical jingles that identified some of the nation’s most popular products and services.
How fortunate he was to have worked with two of the singers who inspired him Dionne Warwick, and Aretha Franklin. He produced at least two albums for Franklin,