Lex Neon on Luther Vandross

Lex remembers a special student and their love of Luther Vandross, who was born April 20. Happy birthday, Luther!

So Eddie, one of the older, quieter students in my classroom, comes in out of breath one day in 1994 and asks, “Have you ever heard of Luther Vandross?” I told him I had, and he requested that I play his cassette copy of Vandross’s 1981 release Never Too Much while he and the other kids studied. I gave him the go-ahead, and the sound of that music instantly took me back to family life during the early 80s; me, Mom and sis.

Luther Vandross was the male soul voice of my generation. The 60s can claim Otis Redding, and the 70s? In my opinion, it was Stevie Wonder. In the 80s, Luther’s voice began popping up on my mom’s “new soul” station with “Never Too Much.” Ultimately, his debut album of the same name made its way into my mom’s collection, and it was played to death!

Being heavily ensconced with Black Sabbath and Simon and Garfunkel, Luther was “the music in the background” to which my mom and sis listened. One day, I heard my mom playing a song from Luther’s album; it was a cover of a Burt Bacharach and Hal David song called “A House Is Not A Home.” The singing and arranging was so smooth and soulful, I just melted. I cried after the first time I heard it, and it’s still one of the most beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard. It also jump-started my latent love of real “soulful” music.

I told Eddie that I remembered seeing Luther’s name in association with David Bowie a few years earlier prior to Never Too Much. Luther’s voice is part of the soulful vocal background on Bowie’s Young Americans album from 1975. Luther also has a writing credit on that album as the co-writer of “Fascination.” He also did background vocals for Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Chic, and Barbra Streisand. The man definitely got around musically.

In the classroom, everybody is studying in silence except for Eddie, who is telling me about his new girlfriend Veronica and his sister, “the pest.” When the tape hit “A House Is Not A Home,” Eddie quickly cut his end of our dialogue and said, “Give me a few minutes. This is my song.” We both sat back in silence and listened to Luther’s voice fill the classroom, and we sat in silence. About midway through the song, Eddie’s eyes started filling up with tears.

I asked him what was wrong. Eddie, who had just turned 15, said, “What else is there to say? That’s the power of Luther.”

Happy birthday Luther. Thanks for the satin vocals and great songs.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

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~ by Poppermost on September 6, 2008.

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