The Letter V is dominated by one man. For some people of a certain age, the absolute don of soul music, Luther Vandross.
Back in the sixties, they had Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
In the seventies, they had Marvin Gaye and Al Green.
But, for many that grew up in the eighties, Luther was the man!
By the time he launched his solo career in 1981, everybody knew him and was in love with his voice. Tracks like ‘Searching’ and ‘The Glow Of Love’ by Change, and ‘Hot Butterfly’ by Gregg Diamond’s Bionic Boogie still get played regularly on Mi-Soul, so Luther was always going to have a successful solo career.
But what Luther did with his career was very special. With music changing all around him (hip hop, swing, house, R&B) Luther did what Luther does best: he sang great soul songs!
And he wasn’t overly concerned about only singing songs he had written (often the best way for a singer to make money), he took some of the greatest songs ever recorded and made them his own: Dionne Warwick’s ‘A House Is Not A Home’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Creepin’’, Brenda Russell’s ‘If Only For One Night’, The Carpenters’ ‘Superstar’, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Until You Come Back To Me’ and Dionne Warwick’s ‘So Amazing’ amongst many others.
I recently did the All-Time Top 10 Luther Vandross on my show, compiled from listeners’ votes. A majority of the ten songs were mid-to-down-tempo. I was not surprised. All of Luther’s music is of the highest quality but, when it comes to ballads, he really comes into his own.
Having come from a theatrical background, he has that innate sense of theatre; he knows the power of stillness and silence. When Luther stops singing on his tracks, you are on the edge of your seat, as if you’re watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
What is it that causes people to love Luther’s music so passionately? Well, if great soul music tells great stories and conveys deep emotions, then you can feel the elation, the joy, the sadness and the longing in all of Luther’s songs. When he sings ‘The Night I Fell In Love’, you are transported to that very night, and you can feel the excitement and exhilaration of that moment.
Luther may be lost to us but I don’t think any of the Mi-Soul DJs have any intention of letting his memory fade!