Few male singers in the history of contemporary pop music have been as influential as Luther Vandross and a decade and a half after his death, his music is still celebrated by those who grew up listening to his voice while a whole new generation of music lovers is embracing the legend.
Timeless romantic ballads like “Any Love” “Your Secret Love” “Never Too Much” “Here and Now” and “The Night I Feel In Love” have a special impact and connection to a huge fan base around the world.
For more than two decades from the beginning of the 1980s to his death in 2005, ‘the King of Love’ dominated radio and clubs with his sweet confection of romantic songs and smooth R & B tunes. It is no wonder that 10 of the very best Kenyan singers and performers have come together to reimagine the music of Luther in their own styles.
“An Evening Remembering Luther” is hosted by singer and actress June Gachui and features a star-studded line of singers from across different generations.
The concert will be the first show to take place at the newly renovated Braeburn Theatre in Lavington on August 30 and is the first of a two-part of a Tribute Series that honours musical legends. “The venue has been spruced up and we are really thrilled to be given the first opportunity to bring our show to this stage,” says Gachui.
The previous concerts in the Tribute series have honoured the music of Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin.
“We do two such shows every year, one honouring a fallen legend and the other saluting a living legend, including African stars” explains Gachui.
The vocalists have been selected based on their vocal prowess and stage presence because this is homage to a singer who was known for his ability to use his voice as an instrument.
There are established singers like Dan “Chizi” Aceda, Pete Odera, Benjamin Webi along with exciting new talents like singer and guitarist Ciano Maimba, Noel Nderitu and Ayrosh.
The latter has interpreted one of Luther’s songs into the Kikuyu language and given it a “Mugithi” spin as one of the attractions of the concert.
There are three outstanding young female singers for the show, Lisa Oduor-Noah, Christine Nkonge and Janice Wanjiru. “We have selected the female singers for the duets that Luther recorded with female stars like Mariah Carey and Beyoncé,” says Gachui.
Webi says he is particularly excited to be celebrating ‘one of the greatest vocalists of the century and is thrilled to have an opportunity to perform his Luther favourites, “The Power of Love” “Never Let Me Go” and “The Closer I Get To You” as a duet with Lisa.
“Luther’s music has an infusion of passion and excellence that is peerless and what’s more its music I grew up listening to and so it is intertwined with nostalgia,” says Webi.
The singers will be accompanied by the Remembering Luther Band consists notable musicians like drummer Richard Wandati, bassist Sedar Malaki and Newman Oduor on guitar and music director/keyboardist George Nyoro.
“The show will be great fun with the audience participating because the performers want to know where you were when you first heard some of these songs and sing long to their performance,” says Gachui.
What made Luther Vandross such a dominant force in music? He established himself as a major force as a background singer and arranger to artists like Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Patti Labelle, Bette Midler, Donna Summer and David Bowie.
Luther’s amazing quality was that he did not rely on gimmicks or vocal tricks, but rather an intense and sensitive expression. The sensitivity grew from listening to female singers like many of those for whom he ended up singing background vocals. His success transcended the R & B genre into pop with sales of over 40 million solo records worldwide, eight Grammy Awards.
Luther’s style spread to vocalists across the world are influenced by his unique gifts and the millions of fans right across the world who still listen and buy the wide collection of music that he recorded during a prolific career.
Next weekend’s celebration of his life and music by different generations of Kenyan singers is a testament to Luther’s enduring legacy.