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Saturday, July 2, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Silky R&B balladeer Luther Vandross dies

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Grammy winner Luther Vandross, 54, whose deep, lush voice on such hits as "Here and Now" and "Any Love" sold more than 25 million albums while providing the romantic backdrop for millions of couples worldwide, died yesterday.

Mr. Vandross died at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, N.J., hospital spokesman Rob Cavanaugh said. He did not release the cause of death but said in a statement that Mr. Vandross "never really recovered from" a stroke two years ago.

Since the stroke in his Manhattan home on April 16, 2003, the R&B crooner stopped making public appearances but managed to continue his recording career. In 2004, he won four Grammys, including best song for the bittersweet "Dance With My Father."

Mr. Vandross, still in a wheelchair at the time, delivered a videotaped thank you. "Remember, when I say goodbye, it's never for long," he said. "Because" — he broke into his familiar hit — "I believe in the power of love."

Mr. Vandross also battled weight problems for years and had diabetes and hypertension.

He was the most-celebrated R&B balladeer of his generation. He made women swoon with his silky, forceful tenor, which he often revved up like a motor engine before reaching his beautiful crescendos.

Jeff O'Conner, Mr. Vandross' publicist, called his death "a huge loss in the R&B industry. He was a close friend of mine and right now it's shocking."

O'Conner said condolence calls were received yesterday from music luminaries such as Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.

Mr. Vandross was a four-time Grammy winner in the best-male R&B performance category, taking home the trophy in 1990 for the single "Here and Now," in 1991 for his album "Power of Love," in 1996 for the track "Your Secret Love" and a last time for "Dance With My Father."

The album, with its single of the same name, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts while Mr. Vandross remained hospitalized from his stroke. It was the first time a Vandross album had topped the charts in its first week of release.

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In 2005, he was nominated for a Soul Train Music Award for a duet with Beyoncé on "The Closer I Get To You."

Mr. Vandross' sound was so unusual few tried to copy it; even fewer could. "I'm proud of that; it's one of the things that I'm most proud of," he said in a 2001 interview. "I was never compared to anyone in terms of sound."

While many of his contemporaries and successors belted out tunes that were sexually charged and explicit, Mr. Vandross preferred soft pillow talk and songs that spoke to heartfelt emotions.

"I'm more into poetry and metaphor, and I would much rather imply something than to blatantly state it," he said. "You blatantly state stuff sometimes when you can't think of a poetic way to say it."

A career in music seemed predestined for the New York native; both parents were singers, and his sister Patricia was part of a 1950s group called the Crests.

But he happily toiled in the musical background for years before he would have his first hit. He wrote songs for projects as varied as a David Bowie album ("Fascination") and the Broadway musical "The Wiz" ("Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)"), and sang backup for acts such as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand.

Mr. Vandross credited singer Roberta Flack for prodding him to move into the spotlight.

Material from Gannett News Service was included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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