When I returned home early Saturday morning, I was both saddenned & shocked by the premature death of R&B legend Luther Vandross. Just 54, Vandross battled diabetes, hypertension & weight problems through the latter stages of his adult life. Two short years ago, the world was stunned after he suffered a massive stroke, leaving him comatose & wheelchair bound. I found out about his death while watching the tale end of the BET Awards '05 show, which I taped last nught.
BET offered a tribute - Journeys In Black - chronciling his incredible musical career, which spanned four decades, through interviews, music videos & soundbites. During the poignant special, I was surprised to find out he was in a local group of Harlem singers who performed at the Apollo Theater when he was just 15 years old. At the time, he met longtime friends, musical director Nat Adderley, Jr., backup singers Lisa Fischer & Fonzi Thornton. In fact, Luther & Fonzi performed on the very first Sesame Street television show in October of 1969.
Luther established a lucrative career singing commercial jingles. He recorded memorable tunes for five years, which allowed him to save enough money to move his mother out of the Lower East Side projects in New York City they were raised in. His father, a brilliant singer in his own right, transitioned when Luther was eight. His last big hit, "Dance With My Father", a moving tribute to their relationship, won a Grammy award for best male vocalist in 2004, his fourth such award.
While a freshman student at Western Michigan University, Luther met one of his idols, Dionne Warwick, backstage at a local concert. He would go on to record a few of her songs, chief among them, "A House Is Not A Home", which still stands today as the landmark ballad of the last half century. Later, Luther would meet Warwick's niece, Whitney Houston, an aspiring model at the time. He wrote her a note which said, "you are going to be one of the world's greatest singers one day." She humbly kept the note...
Questions about Luther's sexuality abound to this day. He never married, has no children, nor was publicly linked to any females. In an industry dominated by hyper-masculine, hyper-sexual vocalists (D'Angelo, Joe, Maxwell, Usher), the pressure to conform to heterosexist standards is problematic for men who experience same sex desire. Luther's sensual, soothing & soulful voice has made many a woman lose her mind, yet the idea he might be singing romantically to another man is one some folks are clearly uncomfortable w/, given our society's moral milieu & religous rigidity.
Another rumor permeated the music industry when the singer lost well over 100 pounds in a relatively short time. Some folks assumed he had AIDS, given the current medical hysteria, as well as his model thin frame. Many people believed his so-called homosexualitu was connected to his medical problems, given he'd lost & gain weight a few times. Still, Luther categorically denied the rumors.
His voice is timeless. I will honor Luther Vandross this weekend by playing his songs in my home.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.