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Singer Fonzi Thornton Talks About Luther Vandross’ ‘Hidden Gems’

Fonzi Thornton has paid tribute to his late friend and collaborator, Luther Vandross, by helping to choose some special tracks for Luther’s Hidden Gems album, available everywhere April 17th. Friends and collaborators since their teenage years, Thornton helped produce the forthcoming album, which contains a treasure trove of cuts.

When you were both teenagers, you and Luther Vandross became friends. Can you talk a bit about those days and how you and he honed your talents over time?

I lived in the Johnson projects in East Harlem, New York and his sister Ann lived across the street from me. [Luther and I] were actually introduced by a girl in church who went to school with him. I knew him from the time we were both 14 years old.

Luther was a visionary, even when we were young. When I first met him, he had a vocal group called The Shades of Jade, a very funny name. It was a group he was developing. They would sing at amateur night at The Apollo just trying to get discovered. Luther was very advanced. He was always that same singer, that same interpreter. We [eventually] sang [together] in Shades of Jade, myself and two other singers.


Luther Vandross Rarities Uncovered On ‘Hidden Gems’


Original compositions plus covers of “The Impossible Dream,” “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” and “I (Who Have Nothing)” duet with Martha Wash

Available everywhere April 17, 2012, three days prior to Luther’s birthday

The overwhelming talent of the late Luther Vandross (1951-2005), eight-time Grammy Award®-winning singer extraordinaire, songwriter, producer, arranger, and soul music visionary, are the focus of HIDDEN GEMS. This new collection of 15 seldom-heard deep album tracks and movie soundtrack songs will arrive in stores on April 17, 2012, just three days prior to Luther’s birthday on April 20. The collection is released by Epic/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.

In the liner notes written by Luther’s life-long collaborator Fonzi Thornton, HIDDEN GEMS is described as “a deeper dig into the musical treasure trove of Luther Vandross, uncovering lesser known songs and performances that he endowed with the same passion and love as his well known repertoire.” The album was compiled and produced in association with Luther’s family, his niece Seveda Williams and cousin Brenda Shields, in order to present “an album compilation with a different theme his fans might enjoy, a collection which highlights Luther’s ideas of song selection and how they complement THAT VOICE.” HIDDEN GEMS will allow casual listeners to discover songs they never heard, and devoted fans the opportunity to re-live what they loved about Luther Vandross.

Luther has 15 RIAA platinum and multi-platinum albums to his credit in the U.S. and worldwide sales of more than 30 million records. In 2010, National Public Radio included Luther in its “50 Great Voices” series.

HIDDEN GEMS spans the full timeline of Luther’s major label recording career, from the 1970s to the new millennium. These range from a track from his Never Too Much solo album for Epic in 1981 (“You Stopped Loving Me”); to a pair of tracks from Dance With My Father, his final studio album in 2003 (which received four Grammy Awards), namely “Once Were Lovers,” with a harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder, and “Buy Me A Rose.” The latter was sung by Luther for Oprah Winfrey when she visited him for his final television performance.

Luther Vandross - Hidden Gems

The bulk of HIDDEN GEMS is devoted to Luther’s 15-year tenure at Epic Records from 1981 to 1996, which produced nearly a dozen original studio albums, six of which are represented here:

  • Never Too Much (1981, “You Stopped Loving Me”);
  • Forever, For Always, For Love (1982, “Once You Know How”);
  • Any Love (1988, “I Know You Want To”);
  • Power Of Love (1991, “I (Who Have Nothing),” a duet with Martha Wash from the Weather Girls, a remake of the 1963 Leiber & Stoller-penned classic by Ben E. King, that was made into a duet by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway in the ’70s);
  • Songs (1994, “The Impossible Dream,” the timeless standard from Broadway’s Man Of La Mancha);
  • Your Secret Love (1996, “Goin’ Out Of My Head,” with its swirling string arrangement by Nat Adderley, a remake of the 1964 pop hit by Little Anthony & the Imperials, written by Teddy Randazzo); and also:
  • One Night With You: The Best Of Love, Volume 2 (1997, “When You Call On Me (Baby That’s When I Come Runnin’),” written and produced by R. Kelly).

Two of the tracks on HIDDEN GEMS are songs that Luther recorded for original motion picture soundtracks, whose albums are long out-of-print:

  • “Heart Of A Hero” (from 1992’s Hero, starring Dustin Hoffman), and
  • “The Thrill I’m In” (from 1995’s Money Train, starring Wesley Snipes)

“Are You Using Me?” is an exciting dance floor track that Luther co-wrote with Thornton, ‘Little’ Louie Vega, and Kenny ‘Dope’ Gonzalez, which originally appeared on I Know, an album released by Luther on Virgin Records in 1998.

Luther’s self-titled debut album for Clive Davis’ J Records in 2001 was a #2 R&B and #6 pop success and is represented on HIDDEN GEMS by “I’d Rather” (composed by longtime collaborator Shep Crawford), and “Like I’m Invisible” (co-written with Thornton). From the Japanese version of I Know comes “You Really Started Something” (co-written with Denise Rich and Junior Vasquez).

Luther’s final studio album became a classic for every generation. Dance With My Father, released in 2003 on J Records, was honored with four Grammy Awards® spanning 2003 and 2004. They comprised Best R&B Album, Song Of the Year and Best R&B Song for its title tune “Dance With My Father,” and Best R&B Vocal by a Duo/Group for Luther’s duet with Beyoncé on ‘The Closer I Get to You,” (a cover of the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway classic). From Dance With My Father, HIDDEN GEMS reprises “Once Were Lovers” (co-written with Thornton).

“When he hit the world stage he wasn’t trying to be the next Sam Cooke, or Peabo Bryson or Frank Sinatra,” Thornton’s liner notes to HIDDEN GEMS conclude. “He was just brilliantly intuitive about what songs showcased the dynamics of his vocal ability and radiated soul in a way that has not been heard in R&B and pop music before or since. He didn’t have to sweat or shout or do splits – he opened his heart and left us beautiful Diamonds, Rubies and Emeralds of Music.”

HIDDEN GEMS by LUTHER VANDROSS (Epic/Legacy 88699 19682 9 2 2)
1. When You Call On Me (Baby That’s When I Come Runnin’) (I)
2. Once You Know How (B)
3. I Know You Want To (C)
4. Once Were Lovers (M)
5. You Stopped Loving Me (A)
6. The Impossible Dream (F)
7. Are You Using Me? (J)
8. Goin’ Out Of My Head (H)
9. The Thrill I’m In (G)
10. Heart Of A Hero (E)
11. Buy Me A Rose (M)
12. I (Who Have Nothing) (duet with Martha Wash) (D)
13. I’d Rather (K)
14. Like I’m Invisible (K)
15. You Really Started Something (L)

Album index:
(A) – from Never Too Much (Epic Records, released 1981)
(B) – from Forever, For Always, For Love (Epic, released 1982)
(C) – from Any Love (Epic, released 1988)
(D) – from Power Of Love (Epic, released 1991)
(E) – from Hero soundtrack (Sony Music, released 1992)
(F) – from Songs (Epic, released 1994)
(G) – from Money Train soundtrack (Sony Music, released 1995)
(H) – from Your Secret Love (Epic, released 1996)
(I) – from One Night With You: The Best Of Love, Volume 2 (Epic, released 1997)
(J) – from I Know (Virgin Records, released 1998)
(K) – from Luther Vandross (J Records, released 2001)
(L) – from Luther Vandross (Japanese Version, RCA Records, released 2001)
(M) – from Dance With My Father (J Records, released 2003)

Black Ensemble Theater To Present Musical Tribute To Luther Vandross

The Black Ensemble Theater is getting ready to start its 35th season in Chicago, and announced a lineup of shows including “Luther,” a musical tribute to Luther Vandross that will run from May 6th to June 24th in 2012. The show was written by Jasmine Coles and will be directed by the theater’s associate director, Daryl Brooks. For additional information, you can read more at the Chicago Sun-Times and visit

Luther Vandross Featured In ‘Colour Me English’ Essay

Author Caryl Phillips has included Luther Vandross in one of his essays collected for his new book, “Colour Me English.” The book deals with notions of identity and belonging, starting with Phillips growing up in England, moving on to his experiences in America, and his travels around the world. He considers the lives and work of figures including Luther, as well as Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Billie Holiday and others, and how their experiences are refracted through the prisms of writing, music and cinema.

The book is now available for purchase at retailers including

Exclusive Invitation To Stream Millions Of Songs For Free!

Fans of Luther Vandross, be the first in America to experience Spotify! Spotify is currently available in the U.S. by invitation only, but you are one of the lucky few to get access. All you need to do to create your free Spotify account is follow this VIP invitation link from Legacy Recordings.

SpotifyOnce you’ve created your free Spotify account, you can listen to your favorite artists and add them to your personal playlists. We hope you enjoy!

Spotify is the award-winning music platform that gives you on-demand access to over 15 million tracks in high-quality audio, wherever you go. Whether you’re searching for the hottest new releases or hits from the past, your favorite tracks are just a click away. If you’d like to learn more, come this way.

Remembering Luther Vandross

On this day in 2005, the world lost Luther Vandross at the age of 54. In remembrance, we’re looking back at Luther in 1981, when he made one of the greatest solo debuts in music history. Luther produced the album “Never Too Much,” which included his remarkable cover of “A House Is Not A Home,” along with other stellar songs like “Don’t You Know That.” You can watch Luther’s music video for “Never Too Much” below.

Luther Vandross ‘A House Is Not A Home’ Best Cover Version

New York’s The Village Voice has rated some of the best cover versions in music history, and guess who came in at #1? Columnist Michael Musto rated Luther Vandross’ rendition of “A House Is Not A Home” as the best cover performance, noting “Luther remade this wrenching Bacharach/David ballad into a three-act opera filled with dramatics, scat eruptions, and one very dramatic pause.”

You can read more of the complete list at

Happy Birthday Luther Vandross!

In celebration of what would have been Luther Vandross’ 60th birthday, we invite you to listen to the Songza Luther Vandross Radio station! Be sure to leave a comment to let us know your favorite Luther Vandross songs as well as any other songs or artists that you think were inspired by him, and we will add them to the playlist.

Also, you can go to the Luther Vandross Official Facebook page to leave a birthday message and share your Luther Vandross memories.

In honor of Luther’s birthday, “Luther Vandross: The Collection” is being featured at a special price of $29.98 $15.59 USD this week only at Pop Market.

Before his passing in 2005, Luther created a lifetime of musical memories for a generation of listeners. Most of us heard him first singing backup on David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” but it was his string of smash hits for Epic in the ’80s (and his Grammy-winning comeback for J in 2004) that brought him enduring fame. Here’s one of our favorite photos of the great one.

Luther Vandross