12 Holiday Songs…is part of a series. To read them in order: Day One: Sara Bareilles’ Love Is Christmas
Luther Vandross was the Mel Torme of R&B. His was an exquisite voice of silken velvet, with incredibly rich tone and elegant, conversational phrasing that communicated tremendous warmth and emotion. His style was smooth and laid back—always a paragon of vocal restraint and poise—he simply never oversang. His excellence is thrown into even sharper relief by the artistic void left by his tragic passing in 2005. He was only 54. When I hear one of his classic recordings today, I am frequently moved to tears because of his almost unbearable sensitivity and the tragic circumstances of his untimely early death. I feel grateful that he left such an impressive body of work that hopefully, young people will continue to discover and enjoy for perpetuity.
Vandross’ Christmas album was originally released in 1995 and subsequently repackaged two more times by Sony. The song I knew best was “Every Year, Every Christmas,” which got significant airplay at the time and has been subsequently covered by Luther’s close friend Patti LaBelle (as a teenager Luther started a Patti LaBelle fan club). But somehow I never heard “Please Come Home For Christmas,” or perhaps I heard it and for whatever reason, it didn’t register completely. Regardless, I heard “Please Come Home For Christmas” as if for the first time a few weeks back and its impact was immediate and visceral, capturing as it does the very essence of what made Luther Vandross the preeminent R&B crooner of his era, and one of the all-time great vocal stylists. Listen for the teardrop in the joy as he caresses each phrase.