In R&B music, Luther Vandross ranked with Prince, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson as one of the most successful singer/songwriters and producers of the '80s. Amazingly, unlike those peers, for the most part he did not cross over to widespread pop appeal, a situation that finally began to change at the end of the '80s. Vandross had an elastic tenor that made him a natural for backup singing and commercial work in the early '70s, when he became a top session vocalist. In the second half of the '70s, he recorded under a variety of guises, cutting two albums for Cotillion under the name "Luther," recording with the session groups Roundtree and Change, and singing on hits by Chic.
In 1981, Vandross signed with Epic and released his debut album, Never Too Much, which topped the R&B charts and sold two million copies. The title track was also an R&B number one hit single and reached the pop Top 40. Vandross went on to produce albums for Aretha Franklin and other female singers, while maintaining his own career through the '80s. His albums Forever, for Always, for Love (1982), Busy Body (1983), The Night I Fell in Love (1985), Give Me the Reason (1986) and Any Love (1988) were all million-sellers that spawned major R&B hits, but Vandross' pop success was spotty until 1989, when Epic released The Best of Luther Vandross...The Best of Love, a greatest-hits album containing the new track "Here and Now," which became Vandross' first Top Ten pop hit. That proved his breakthrough, and Vandross' next album, Power of Love (1991), another million-seller, featured two pop hits, "Power of Love/Love Power" and "Don't Want to Be a Fool."
Vandross returned to the pop Top Ten in 1992 with "The Best Things in Life Are Free" from the movie Mo' Money, a duet with Janet Jackson. His next album, Never Let Me Go (1993), marked a slight falloff in sales, but Songs (1994), an all-covers album, restored his commercial standing, featuring a gold-selling pop Top Ten remake of "Endless Love," a duet with Mariah Carey. This Is Christmas (1996) and Your Secret Love (1997) were million-sellers. One Night With You: The Best of Love, Vol. 2 (1997) compiled Vandross' hits from 1991 to 1996. He returned in 1998 with I Know. Smooth Love followed two years later and a self-titled release on J Records appeared in spring 2001.