Bobby Caldwell, ‘What You Won’t Do for Love’ Singer, Dead at 71
Bobby Caldwell, the oft-sampled, blue-eyed soul singer behind the late Seventies smash “What You Won’t Do for Love,” has died at the age of 71.
“Bobby passed away here at home,” Caldwell’s wife Mary tweeted Wednesday. “I held him tight in my arms as he left us. I am forever heartbroken. Thanks to all of you for your many prayers over the years.”
While no cause of death was provided, Caldwell had struggled with health issues over the past six years, which Mary cited as a result of an adverse reaction to fluoroquinolone antibiotic.
Caldwell was best known for his 1978 hit “What You Don’t Do for Love,” a soul single that rose to Number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks in part to its cross-demographic appeal; early in his career, Caldwell’s label TK Records obscured the fact that he was a white singer (including silhouetting him on his album cover), which allowed the single to rise on R&B-dominant radio stations. However, when Caldwell finally began making public appearances in support of the track, it didn’t lessen the single’s commercial success with Black audiences.
“What You Don’t Do for Love” was later covered by artists like Boyz II Men, Natalie Cole & Peabo Bryson, Michael Bolton, and Jessie Ware, and sampled by Tupac Shakur for the rapper’s posthumous single “Do for Love.”
In fact, much of Caldwell’s contemporary success comes from his catalog being a go-to for hip-hop producers: J Dilla sampled his “Open Your Eyes” for Common’s 2000 single “The Light,” and Kendrick Lamar used the same song for his “R.O.T.C.” Caldwell’s “My Flame” was utilized on the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Sky’s the Limit” with 112, and his “Carry On” was sampled by A$AP Rocky and Lil Nas X, the latter of whom faced a $25 million lawsuit filed by Caldwell over the internet-only track.
While Caldwell never matched the solo success of “What You Don’t Do for Love,” he penned the hit “The Next Time I Fall in Love” for Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, a Grammy-nominated song that reached Number One on the Hot 100 in 1986.
In 2015, Caldwell introduced himself to younger audiences as Cool Uncle, a collaboration with decades-younger producer Jack Splash, an admirer of Caldwell’s. “I thought, man, that’s kind of bizarre,” Caldwell told Rolling Stone at the time. “Because he’s 20 years my junior. My wife encouraged me: ‘Why don’t you give him a call?’ We hit it off on the phone.”
Splash added that he hoped Cool Uncle would encourage younger fans to “dig back through [Caldwell’s] catalog to the first couple albums.”
“There’s some serious gems on there,” the producer said.