Velvet-voiced R&B singer Luther Vandross died Friday in Edison, New Jersey. He was fifty-four.
“Luther Vandross had a peaceful passing under the watchful eye of friends, family and the medical support team,” reads a statement issued by Rob Cavanaugh, a spokesman for John F. Kennedy Medical Center, where Vandross died. “Luther was deeply touched by all the thoughts and wishes from his fans, family and the hospital.”
Vandross suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered, on April 16, 2003. Two months later, the singer’s final album, Dance With My Father, was released. Featuring collaborations with Beyonce and Busta Rhymes, the album debuted at Number One and earned the singer four Grammy awards.
Vandross got his start in the 1970s singing jingles. His pitch-perfect voice got him work as a backup singer for the likes of Barbra Streisand, David Bowie and Donna Summer. He scored his first hit as a lead vocalist in 1980, fronting the R&B group Change on their song “The Glow of Love.” The following year, encouraged by Roberta Flack, Vandross released his first solo album, Never Too Much, embarking on a career that would include collaborations with Dionne Warwick (1983’s “How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye”), Janet Jackson (1992’s “The Best Things in Life Are Free”) and Mariah Carey (1994’s “Endless Love”), and account for more than twenty million records sold worldwide.
The singer struggled with his weight throughout his career, something he discussed with Rolling Stone in 1990. “I’ve never been high in my life — never tasted wine, never puffed pot,” he said. “I’m unbrainwashable and don’t give in to peer pressure, but food is different.”
At Saturday’s Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, friend and fan Alicia Keys dedicated “For All We Know” to “our brother and friend Luther Vandross.” Producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam are organizing a Vandross tribute album, which will include Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion and Ruben Studdard.
Luther Vandross is survived by his mother, Mary Ida Vandross.