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American Soul Singer Luther Vandross Dies

Multi-Grammy Award-winning R&B singer, songwriter and producer Luther Vandross died Friday, July 1 in Edison, New Jersey. He was 54-years-old. Although no cause of death was immediately annouced, Vandross suffered a severe stroke in April 2003. Vandross struggled with obesity, gaining and losing weight many times over. He also suffered from diabetes and hypertension. Despite his health problems, Vandross was one of America's most popular performers, recording 15 albums, selling more than 25 million records worldwide, and garnering dozens of Top 10 singles. Luther Vandross made his mark as a romantic balladeer.

Luther Vandross was often called the "Here and Now" singer after one of his biggest hits "Here and Now." It was his most-requested song in concert, and continues to be a favorite at weddings.

Luther Vandross grew up in the Bronx section of New York City. He loved singing, but it was his songwriting that opened the door to show business. In 1972, he composed a tune for the Broadway musical "The Wiz," and two years later, he was hired by David Bowie to sing backup on Bowie's "Young Americans" album. Appearances on albums by Bette Midler and Roberta Flack led to his acclaimed solo debut in 1981, "Never Too Much." He once said originality was the key to longevity.

"The one thing I do appreciate and love about my career is that when I came along I was not the new Sam Cooke; I was not the new Otis Redding; I was not the new Teddy Pendergrass," Luther said. " I was Luther from day one. And when you put my record on you would immediately recognize that it was Luther that you were hearing. And I think that's very important to the life span of a career."

Luther Vandross had a career that most singers only dream about. Through the changing tastes of record buyers and the emergence of hip-hop and rap, fans continued to support his music. Luther believed a good melody could sustain anyone's career.

"There are people who still prefer some of the classic values of music, the music of chord changes and melody, of things that brought them along. And also, a lot of parents need an escape as well," he said.

Fans expressed their concern for Luther, who at times weighed more than 150 kilograms, and claimed to have lost at least 45 kilos 13 times. But it usually wasn't long before Luther appeared fit and trim again, confessing before millions on television or in concert some of his favorite dieting secrets. He said he was always at his best, mentally and physically, when his weight was under control.

"It's one of the bigger struggles a person can have, so I feel really glad that I sort of conquered it," Luther said.

A month after Luther Vandross suffered a stroke, his close friend, singer Aretha Franklin, led fans and guests in a candlelight vigil and prayer service in Detroit, Michigan. It was one of many such vigils that took place around the country.

Luther's last solo album "Dance With My Father" was released in 2003, shortly after the singer suffered his stroke. The following year, the album won multiple Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year honor for the title track.

An eighth and final career Grammy came in 2005 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo for the remake of "The Closer I Get To You", sung with Beyoncé Knowles of Destiny's Child.

A spokesperson at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey, said Vandross was surrounded by family friends and a medical team, adding "Luther was deeply touched by all the thoughts and wishes from his fans."