ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes





“Luther was about love,” Tamika said. “[He inspired] people

 to love each other, to be inspired by love.”



   Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Gayle King



CDs by Luther Vandross

Never Too Much  /  Forever, For Always, For Love   / Dance with My Father   / Live at Radio City Music  Hall / The Essential Luther Vandross

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Thousands Bid Farewell to Luther Vandross

By Jamie Walker


When I say goodbye, it’s never forever  . . .


because I believe in the power of love.


Luther Vandross


New York—Thousands of mourners, well-wishers, family members, celebrities, and fans gathered in Harlem’s Riverside Church on Friday, July 8, 2005 to pay final respects to Luther Vandross, 54, who died of  “stroke-related complications” at John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey on July 1.

Those in attendance at his deeply moving home-going service included, but were certainly not limited to: the Rev. Al Sharpton; Dionne Warwick; Patti LaBelle; Stevie Wonder; Alicia Keys; Jamie Foster from Sister 2 Sister magazine; Usher; Cissy Houston and her beautiful gospel choir; Stephanie Mills; jazz musician Nat Adderly, Jr.; Gayle King (Oprah Winfrey’s best-friend); Herb Boyd from The Black World Today; Fonzi Thorton; Maya Angelou; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; the Rev. Dr. Henrietta Carter; Brother Kojo; Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson; and countless others.

Born on April 20, 1951 in New York’s lower East Side, Luther Ronzoni Vandross was the youngest of four children. He developed early a love for music, singing, songwriting, and producing. In his 1982 interview with poet Kalamu ya Salaam, Luther reveals his early influences: “As a child, I always sang. I can remember Baby Washington records. And my sister Pat was in a group called ‘The Crests’ and they had a record out called ‘Sixteen Candles,’ and I was singing along with that.”

It was at William H. Taft High School in the Bronx, however, where the immensely talented teen began exploring his singing voice when he and fellow classmates (Robin Clark, Diane Sumler, Anthony Hinton, Carlos Alomar, and Fonzi Thornton) formed a singing group called “Shades of Jade.” The singing collective was so popular at Taft (and around the local community) that they were invited to join The Apollo Theater’s youth performance group, “Listen, My Brother.”

Singing with “Listen, My Brother” opened Luther up to a world of infinite possibilities. “Listen, My Brother” was asked to open for countless artists at The Apollo like Isaac Hayes and Sly and the Family Stone. They were also invited, in 1969 (during the height of the Civil Rights-Black Arts-Power movement) to appear on the very first season of “Sesame Street.” There, on one of the show’s very first episodes, one can easily spot Luther Vandross, a tall, shy teen whose silky voice captured youthful audience listeners as he danced, rocking back and forth, while snapping his fingers and singing a tune in harmony called “Everybody Loves Children.”

During his time spent at The Apollo, Luther became empowered watching all-girl groups like the Sweet Inspirations (led by Cissy Houston); the Shirelles; Diana Ross and the Supremes; Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells; and other artists like Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, who awakened within him a deep appreciation for love songs.

In his interview with Salaam, Luther explained: “It was those nights with the earphones listening to Aretha sing ‘Ain’t No Way’ and listening to Dionne Warwick sing ‘People’ and listening to Diana Ross sing ‘Reflections.’ It was those nights that just knocked me down. I emulated these people. But I didn’t just sit down and try to copy their stuff.”

Luther said that as a result of “having a lot of female singers as my idols,” he developed a “sensitivity level” that was “much different than a lot of other guys singing.”

His sensitivity remained while he was still a student at Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo. He dropped out of college, however, to pursue his love for music, and his first big break came when he was chosen to tour, arrange vocals, and sing backup for David Bowie.

Bowie allowed Luther, who is featured on his Young American’s album, to open for him while on tour several times. Bowie wasn’t the only artist for which Luther sang backup. His soulful voice can also be heard on disco hits like Chic’s “Le Freak,” as well as Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and “He’s the Greatest Dancer.”

Other singers for whom Luther sang backup or helped to arrange vocals include, but are certainly not limited to: Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, and Roberta Flack, who inspired him to pursue a solo career. Years later, he would also sing with Frank Sinatra, Mariah Carey, Beyonce Knowles, and countless other performers.

Still shy in his mid twenties, Luther was requested to sing ‘jingles’ for numerous commercials. The offers, which came from places like AT&T, NBC, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Revlon, and even Welch’s Grape Soda, allowed Luther to financially support himself while honing his singing talent. As author Craig Seymour reveals in his “deeply insightful” biography, Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross (HarperCollins 2004), “It was while singing jingles that [Luther] created what would become one of his trademark techniques. He was recording an ad for Geno’s pizza, singing the line ‘Geno’s—you’ll go for the food we’ve got / Geno’s—you’ll go for it sizzling hot.”

Luther, however, with his creative personality and soulful spirit, changed the line to: “Geno’s—you’ll go for it si-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-zzling hot.”

Everyone knew Luther’s voice then. Although he was frequently requested to sing backup for others, helping to arrange their vocals and further their careers, very few in the public knew his first or last name. Little knew, for instance, that it was Luther who wrote the catchy tune, “Everybody Rejoice,” for the all black musical on Broadway called “The Wiz.”

When he debuted with his first solo album, Never Too Much (Epic Records 1981), Luther was overjoyed. He worked so hard to maintain control over his own songs and it finally paid off. His first album, which included songs like “Never Too Much,” “Don’t You Know That,” and “A House is Not a Home” sold over 1 million copies.

Luther won his first Grammy for Best of Luther Vandross (Sony Records) in 1989. As one of the premiere R&B singers of his time, Luther would go on to sell over 25 million records, garner 8 Grammy’s, and countless BET, Soul Train, NAACP Image, and American Music Awards. 

“I have always loved Luther Vandross,” said Ann Witherspoon, a Luther fan who traveled all the way from the Bronx in the pouring rain with her twenty-something daughter, Tamika, to bid Luther a final farewell. “I love his heart, his spirit, and his music.”

Her daughter, Tamika, agreed. Like many of my generation, she, too, grew up listening to her mother play countless Luther Vandross albums that were moving, catchy, and deeply entertaining. Her favorite songs include “Stop to Love” and “Dance With My Father,” a song Luther recorded for Clive Davis’s “J Records” in 2004, which is featured on Luther’s Dance With My Father album that received 4 Grammy awards and sold over 3 million copies worldwide.

“Luther was about love,” Tamika said. “[He inspired] people to love each other, to be inspired by love. He wanted to be remembered as one of the premiere singers, and he definitely will be.”

Singer Patti LaBelle testified to this fact at the funeral. After Luther’s niece, Saveda Williams spoke fondly about her uncle from the podium, LaBelle walked in the front of the church and tried to hold back tears while reading a moving poem Luther’s mother, Mary Ida Vandross, wrote for her son called “You Kept Your Promise.” LaBelle, who was clad in a gorgeous “saffron-colored” dress that she had “especially made for Luther,” aroused a jubilant call and response from the audience when she concluded her sentiments by singing, “No Ways Tired.”

It was then that Cissy Houston humbly walked up to the stage. Clad in a beautiful black and white outfit, she slowly gestured for her amazing gospel choir, who were dressed in beautiful white garb, to begin singing. When Houston opened her mouth, the most beautiful, sacred, holy, and sweetest soprano sound came out. She sang, “Deep river . . . my home is over Jordan . . . deep river . . . lord . . . I want to cross over into campground.”

When Dionne Warwick got up to read the obituary, she, too, received a wondrous call and response from the audience, who cheered and celebrated each and every Luther Vandross achievement that she announced. Before she read the obituary, however, Warwick, who was a big influence on Luther as a teen, read a fax that she had received from singer Gladys Knight earlier that morning.

In the fax, Knight stated the Luther “knew the true meaning of ‘A House is Not a Home’” because he was so into his family, securely rooted in himself and in the faith that his mother taught him as a youth. Luther stayed on course throughout his music career, never having taken up cigarettes or fallen into drugs like so many other artists of his time. Because of the strong values he inherited from his mother and family, Knight claimed that Luther was able to make “a difference in this life, touching those who touched him.”

The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., Senior Minister of The Riverside Church, who delivered the opening prayer, and the Rev. Dr. Carl Flemister, who baptized Luther as a youth, couldn’t agree more.

Flemister said, “Luther reminded us to love,” and his music still “fills the air.”

It was then that jazz musician Nat Adderly, Jr. sat down behind his lone, shiny black piano to play a few of Luther’s most notable songs. Several members of the audience rocked quietly back and forth in the pews, remembering each musical note while singing along quietly in the background. 

Stevie Wonder brought the church to their feet when after being escorted to a microphone standing in the front lower right section of the church, he condemned the recent terrorist attacks on subway stations throughout London (“in the name of Allah”). Wonder sang a heartfelt, soul-stirring rendition of “Thank You, Lord” and “I Won’t Complain.”

Fonzi Thornton from “Shades of Jade” and Luther’s vocal contractor for more than 16 years, read a loving and quite humorous tribute in memory of Luther, his childhood friend. He recalled Luther’s classic story from his college days when he told roommates (and several other students at Western Michigan University) that Dionne Warwick, his idol as a child, was his sister. Thornton also recalled how Luther loved vacationing in Hawaii because the peaceful sound of the ocean always quietly lulled him to sleep.

“Luther was a visionary,” said Thornton, who brought “soul . . . and elegance . . .  to R&B  music.” Thornton concluded stating, “The super band in Heaven finally got their lead singer.”

Aretha Franklin, who most recently held a “prayer vigil” for Luther after his stroke in 2003, then walked up to the podium in her lime green suit and cute lime green hat that sat just above her beautiful brown eyes. Her deeply soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” was so moving that the choir continued to sing (and the band continued to play), picking up momentum and tempo, long after she returned to her seat in the audience. Still inspired by her song, the audience continued to stand, clapping, and waving their hands with praise as one man sitting on the stage was moved into a “spirited dance.” He was so moved by Franklin’s song that he danced in place and then danced circling Luther’s stunning gold casket while giving praises to the silky-voiced crooner who had given so much to the people.

Humming, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! There is power in His holy name . . . . The family that prays together sure will stay together,” Franklin, like so many who preceded her, aroused a resounding applause and standing ovation from the filled-to-capacity church congregation.

It was then that the Rev. Dr. Henrietta Carter delivered her powerful eulogy. After she finished, Nat Adderly, Jr. returned to play “The Power of Love” on his piano. Adderly invited everyone who sang on the program (as well as other members from the audience like Usher, Alicia Keys, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson) to join him behind his piano, as the entire church began to sing along with the chorus: “I believe in the power of love.”

It must be noted that all of Luther’s songs were about love. Luther knew that the power of love could knock us off our feet and frequently reminded us to love each other—absent of labels, lies, or restrictions. Whether he sang about ecstatic love (as in “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” wondrous love (as in “So Amazing”), the sweetness of love (as in “Never Too Much”), or a love that could make one bubble up with sheer joy and delight (as in the finger poppin’ tune “Til My Baby Comes Home”), Luther believed that it was important for everyone to “Love the One You’re With.” More importantly, he knew that true love was reciprocal and could last for an eternity, as expressed most profoundly in “For Always and Forever.”

Luther’s love ballads were especially touching and sentimental. Several became popular wedding songs, which reflected his deepest humanity and revealed his incredible “sensitivity.”

In “A House is Not a Home” and “Since I Lost My Baby,” one can hear Luther singing about the pain of love lost. However, they can also hear a deep yearning to finally feel “full” or completed by love, as in the song “Any Love.” In “Creepin,’” “Goin Out Of My Head,” and “They Say You Needed Me,” Luther sings about being haunted by past loves. However, in “Give Me the Reason” and “It’s Over Now,” he sings about absolutely refusing to suffer from unrequited love. 

 In “I Can Make It Better” and “If Only for One Night,” Luther sings about wanting to extend the deepest love to someone else. And in “Sometimes It’s Only Love,” he sings about the beauty of making love work, together. In “I Really Didn’t Mean It,” Luther reminds us not to take love for granted.

But it is in his “finger poppin’” tunes like “Nights in Harlem” and “Bad Boy/Havin’ a Party” that Luther expresses the powerful love of family, heritage, and community.

According to Rev. Forbes, Luther filled the world with “divine love . . . . Anybody who ever knew love, lost love, felt love, wanted or yearned or suffered for it . . . could identify with Luther’s music to the core.” They could identify with it because his song has always been our song, too.

Mary Ida Vandross (Luther’s mother) and her sister 

It was fitting, then, for Nat Adderly, Jr. to conclude Luther’s home-going service by playing “The Power of Love” on his wondrous piano. For all in attendance knew that Luther’s spirit had already ascended up high to dance with his Father in Heaven. Truly, the greatest love of all.

Source: / contact / Copyright 2005. Jamie Walker. All Rights Reserved.  posted 13 July 2005

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 2 October 2007 / update 13 January 2012




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