Music

Luther Vandross: From his life and death to biggest songs – why a Google Doodle is marking the singer today


Today’s Google Doodle celebrates American singer Luther Vandross, on what would have been his 70th birthday.

The Doodle, created by Atlanta-based artist Sam Bass, is animated, and set to his hit song “Never Too Much” – the title track from his 1981 debut solo album.

Vandross was born on his day in New York in 1951. He was inspired by the likes of Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick to start writing his own songs as a teenager, and would perform them after school at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre’s amateur nights.

His first taste of fame was as a member of the theatre workshop group Listen My Brother, who appeared on a number of episodes of Sesame Street between 1969 and 1970.

Music career

Vandross started life as a back-up vocalist, recording with the likes of Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer, Chic and David Bowie.

He was also part of a quintet called Luther, who only found mild success.

It was not until the ’80s that he started to make it big, first with the group Change, and then by going solo. ‘Never Too Much’ the single reached number one in the R&B charts, while Never Too Much, the album, was the first of 14 studio albums that went either platinum or multi-platinum.

Known by many as the “Velvet Voice”, some of his other hit singles include “Here and Now”, “Any Love”, “Power of Love/Love Power”, “I Can Make it Better” and “For You to Love”.

Vandross won his first Grammy award for “Best Male R&B Vocal Performance” in 1991. He won his second the following year, when “Power of Love/Love Power” also took home the award for “Best R&B Song”.

By the end of his career he had amassed eight, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a Super Bowl half-time show in 1997 and eight Billboard top 10 albums. 

Death and tributes

Vandross died on 1 July 2005 from a heart attack, at the age of just 54.

Two years earlier he had suffered a severe stroke at his home in New York, and was in a coma for two months.

Whitney Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, sung at his funeral.

In September 2005 the album So Amazing: An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross was released. It is a collection of some of his songs performed by various artists, including Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige, Usher, Beyoncé, Donna Summer, Alicia Keys, Elton John, Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin and more.

In 2010, NPR included Vandross as one of its 50 greatest voices in recorded history, saying he represents “the platinum standard for R&B song stylings”.

On the Google Doodle, his family released this statement: “It is a true reflection of Luther Vandross’ musical legacy around the world to be honoured by Google with an animated video Doodle that fittingly captures the joy Luther has brought the world.

“Luther made each of his songs about one simple, universal subject – love; an emotion and feeling common to the human experience no matter who you are, where you’re from or what you look like.”



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