Wednesday, May 9, 2012

CD Review: Luther Vandross “Hidden Gems”

Luther Vandross

Hidden Gems

You could say that Luther Vandross got his start in the music business by founding a Fan Club. That’s right, he was the founder of the first ever Patti LaBelle fan club. Actually, he learned the piano at the age of three and Vandross was in a high school group, Shades of Jade, that once played at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He was also a member of a theater workshop, "Listen My Brother" who released the singles "Only Love Can Make a Better World" and "Listen My Brother", and appeared on the second and fifth episodes of Sesame Street in November 1969. he went from there to write songs and sing backup for, among others, Roberta Flack, Delores Hall, Diana Ross, Gary Glitter, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Chic, and Barbra Streisand. He co-wrote "Fascination" for David Bowie's Young Americans, and went on to tour with him as a back-up vocalist in 1974. Vandross wrote "Everybody Rejoice" for the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz and appeared as a choir member in the movie.

Vandross was part of a singing quintet in the late '70s named Luther, consisting of Anthony Hinton and Diane Sumler, Theresa V. Reed, and Christine Wiltshire, signed to Cotillion Records. Although the singles "It's Good for the Soul", "Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)", and "The Second Time Around" were relatively successful, the two albums tanked and he bought back the rights to these albums after Cotillion dropped the group, preventing their later re-release. But, he continued to support himself as a session singer and wrote jingles for commercials. Luther sang lead vocals for a disco band called Greg Diamond's Bionic Boogie on the song titled "Hot Butterfly." Also in 1978, he appeared on Quincy Jones's Sounds...and Stuff Like That!!, most notably on the song "I'm Gonna Miss You In The Morning" along with Patti Austin. Luther also sang with the band Soirée, (along with Jocelyn Brown and Sharon Redd,) ,  the group Mascara , and Charme's 1979 album Let It In, most notably on a remake of Toto's hit single "Georgy Porgy".

“Never Too Much” Luther Vandross

Luther finally achieved “over night success” with the pop-dance act Change. Their 1980 hits, "The Glow of Love" (by Romani, Malavasi and Garfield) and "Searching" (by Malavasi), both featuring Vandross as lead singer. That led to a recording contract with Epic Records that same year but didn't stop him from doing some background vocals on the newly created act, The B. B. & Q. band in 1981. During that hectic year Vandross jump-started his second attempt at a solo career with his debut album,Never Too Much. In addition to the hit title track it contained a version of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song "A House Is Not a Home". The song "Never Too Much", written by himself, reached number-one on the R&B charts.

And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. The overwhelming talent of the late Luther Vandross (1951-2005), eight-time Grammy Award®-winning singer extraordinaire, songwriter, producer, arranger, and soul. On Hidden Gems ,  the focus is on 15 seldom-heard deep album tracks and movie soundtrack songs. It was released on April 17, three day's prior to Luther's birthday on April 20. Luther has 15 RIAA platinum and multi-platinum albums to his credit in the U.S. and worldwide sales of more than 30 million records. In 2010, National Public Radio included Luther in its "50 Great Voices" series.

“When You Call On Me” from the album “Hidden Gems”

 Hidden Gems spans the timeline of Luther's major label recording career from 1981 to the new millennium. These range from a track from his Never Too Much solo album for Epic in 1981 ("You Stopped Loving Me"); to a pair of tracks from Dance With My Father , his final studio album in 2003 (which received four Grammy Awards), namely "Once Were Lovers," with a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder, and "Buy Me A Rose." The latter was sung by Luther for Oprah Winfrey when she visited him for his final television performance. The bulk of HIDDEN GEMS is devoted to Luther's 15-year tenure at Epic Records from 1981 to 1996. Two of the tracks are songs that Luther recorded for original motion picture soundtracks, whose albums are long out-of-print: "Heart Of A Hero" (from 1992's Hero, starring Dustin Hoffman), and "The Thrill I'm In" (from 1995's Money Train, starring Wesley Snipes).

Vandross suffered from diabetes and hypertension, both of which ran in his family. On April 16, 2003, Vandross suffered a stroke at his home in Manhattan, New York. At the time of his stroke, he had just finished the final vocals for the album Dance With My Father . His collaborator on the album was pop star Richard Marx, whom Vandross had met in 1989 and has been friends with since. The two worked together on numerous projects over the years, with Vandross appearing on three of Marx's albums. Upon its release, it became the first and only Luther Vandross record to hit #1. It was also his biggest-selling studio album ever, selling nearly 3 million copies in the United States alone. The title track was also a hit, and won the 2004 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

"2004 Grammy’s Video Message”

He appeared briefly on videotape at the 2004 Grammy Awards to accept his Song of the Year Award, where he said, "When I say goodbye it's never for long because I believe in the power of love". Other than an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, he was never seen in public again.

The genius of his voice and talent as a song writer is legendary and, fittingly, Rolling Stone magazine ranks him among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.


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