MORE ON LUTHER
When A & E interviewed me for Rupaul's show, they asked me if I could name another black male star who was out of the closet. I could not, and neither could anyone else. Patti Labelle was asked the same question and apparently said "yes, well there's--oops, he's not out." I wonder if she meant you know who. Part of me feels like the emphasis should remain on his incredible music, but if the rich and powerful amongst us don't stand up, who will? The ones with nothing to lose? But then again, if, as he suspected, his fans would turn against him should he "come out", the world would be denied the sounds of a terrific singer. Hell, even David Bowie called Luther in to coach him on the phrasing and sing back-up on one of Bowie's greatest tunes, YOUNG AMERICANS. As he got muzak-ier over the years with recordings like DANCE WITH MY FATHER, I lost interest--except for his underrated MAW collaboration ARE YOU USING ME? But early on Luther sang lead for brilliant disco acts like Greg Diamond, Chic and Change, whose GLOW OF LOVE has to be one of the most beauteous songs EVER written. Maybe he judged it right to not let his private life prevent him form making music of this caliber--I've certainly enjoyed hearing and playing it. But then again, maybe he could have come out and done a world of good once he was established, which was over 10 years ago. But if he wasn't a fag, why did he ever DANCE WITH HIS FATHER in the first place?
Power of Hate
I would have gladly gotten down on my knees and blown Luther Vandross if it would have given him the courage to finally publicly come out. I would have also gladly bitch-slapped the long line of backstabbing backstage R'n'B homophobes who feuded with Luther throughout his illustrious career.
Ultimately it was Luther - who died on July 1 at the age of 54 - who should have stood up and battled back like he did from his diabetes-related stroke in 2003.
Instead, like so many closeted rock stars and matinee idols before him, Luther abdicated the right to dictate his own obituary.
"The lifelong bachelor never had any children but doted on his nieces and nephews," the Associated Press cowardly reported. "The entertainer said his busy lifestyle made marriage difficult; besides, it wasn't what he wanted."
Correction: It wasn't what his fans wanted.
When author Craig Seymour asked Luther (or Loofah, as his fans called him) about the gay rumours in his 2004 biography Luther: The Life & Longing of Luther Vandross (HarperCollins), Vandross laughingly replied, "You're trying to zero in on something that you are never gonna get. Look at you, just circling the airport. You ain't never gonna land."
Move over, Ricky Martin.
"Vandross likely felt confessing his sexual preference would destroy his crossover ambitions," The Village Voice reported last week. "He was probably right. But those same crossover ambitions forced him into an exhausting two decades of spin control, warding off AIDS rumours, never able to bring preferred company onto red carpets."
So Vandross sought career advice from openly gay disco superstar Sylvester (who died of AIDS back in 1988), advice he obviously never applied. Sylvester's backup singer at the time was disco diva Martha Wash, who also sang the duet I Who Have Nothing with Vandross.
"You can go any place you want," Luther sang. "To fancy clubs and restaurants. But I can only watch you with my nose pressed up against the window pane."
After Luther suffered his stroke in 2003, Wash told me how distraught she was ("He's a loving and caring human being"), as did Patti LaBelle, who burst into tears on stage when she dedicated her July 3 performance at Montreal's Place des Arts to Vandross (Luther was VP of LaBelle's fan club back in the 1960s when he was a teenager).
LaBelle sang at Luther's star-studded NYC funeral last weekend, at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, after the funeral cortege wound its way from Harlem's Apollo Theater on 125th Street. The lineup also included Stevie Wonder; Aretha Franklin sang Amazing Grace.
Others in attendance were Oprah Winfrey, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ashford and Simpson, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack, Teddy Pendergrass, Usher and Alicia Keys.
Clearly everybody in the house knew Vandross was a big-ass faggot. But only Oprah, Roberta Flack and Patti LaBelle have publicly and loudly stood up for gay rights.
Like LaBelle told me herself about the gay men in her own life, "Bless them. They're my glam squad. They are all my children. They look to me as a mother, a sister or a real good girlfriend. Because I am strong and I fight for their rights. I fight when I see a gay person denied like I fight for my children."
But LaBelle couldn't save Luther. Only Luther could save Luther.
Many in the black community are now furious the gay press has finally officially outed Vandross. It's tawdry and mean, they gripe, and completely unnecessary.
Instead, they want Luther to take his secret to his grave, as if his sexuality meant nothing in life. They prefer to neuter soul music's King of Romance so that big mouths like me won't spoil their bump'n'grind soundtrack.
Well, on behalf of Luther Vandross, I say screw you.
I saw Luther just once, in the early 1990s when he headlined the Montreal Forum with En Vogue (with whom he famously feuded...).
"When we walk down the street, we don't care who we see or who we meet," he sang as every diva in the house stood up singing my favourite Luther song, Power of Love/Love Power.
"Don't need to run, don't need to hide," he sang, "Cause we've got something burning inside - we've got love power!"
Now, again, Luther has been denied in death the love power he was denied in life.