Vandross Awake, Responsive

Singer recovering in time for album release

R&B singer Luther Vandross is awake and responding to questions for the first time since suffering a debilitating stroke almost two months ago. According to his J Records spokeswoman, the singer started showing real improvement at the end of last week and continues to progress. "He had a breakthrough," she says. "He's answering yes and no questions by nodding his head. Everyday there are longer stretches of time when he's alert."

Before last week, Vandross had been "minimally responsive" since first entering a New York hospital April 16th. Initially, he wasn't recovering as quickly as doctors hoped, and suffered a setback when he contracted pneumonia during the hospital stay, forcing doctors to insert a breathing tube in his throat.

Now, according to what Vandross' mother told his spokeswoman, the singer is able to engage in extended exchanges, mouthing the word "Ten," when asked what time he wanted a visit from his niece and responding to his name.

Vandross is due to release his new album, Dance With My Father, this coming Tuesday. The set features guest spots from Busta Rhymes and Queen Latifah, as well as Beyonce on a remake of the 1978 Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack duet "The Closer I Get to You," which also shows up on her upcoming album Dangerously in Love.

Doctors expect Vandross to spend at least another five or six weeks in intensive care, undergoing a course of physical, massage and neurological therapy. But for the long run, according to his spokeswoman, the prognosis is "positive."