Music Loses Two Giants: Vandross and Benson

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Two pop music greats died this past week. We remember singer Luther Vandross, known for his top 10 hit "Here and Now" and Obie Benson, one of the original members of the Four Tops, who helped define the Motown sound.


Popular music lost two great performers this past week. Friday, one of the founders of The Four Tops, Obie Benson, died in Detroit. He was 69 years old. Also Friday, eight-time Grammy Award winner Luther Vandross died in New Jersey, two years after suffering a debilitating stroke. Vandross was 54 years old.

Long before he became well known, Luther Vandross enjoyed a successful music career. He first made a living writing songs and later singing backup for such pop stars such as David Bowie, Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand. Vandross' first solo song, "Never Too Much," came in 1981, placing him at the top of the R&B charts. A steady climb followed, and in 1989, he scored his first top 10 hit with "Here and Now."

(Soundbite from "Here and Now")

Mr. LUTHER VANDROSS: (Singing) Here and now I promise to love faithfully.

Backup Singers: Faithfully.

Mr. VANDROSS: (Singing) You're all I need here and now.

HANSEN: R&B songwriter and singer Luther Vandross died Friday at the age of 54.

Obie Benson was in high school in Detroit in 1954 when he joined with fellow students Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir and Lawrence Payton to call themselves The Four Tops. They struggled for years until a gig on "The Tonight Show" in 1963. A contract with Motown Records soon followed and with it a succession of hits that helped define the Motown sound. "Baby, I Need Your Loving," "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and their first big number one hit, "I Can't Help Myself."

(Soundbite from "I Can't Help Myself")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) Ooh, sugar pie, honey bunch, you know that I love you. I can't help myself. I love you and nobody else.

HANSEN: The Four Tops still perform as a group but with some new performers. Lawrence Payton died in 1997. Levi Stubbs left The Tops in 2000. Duke Fakir remains as the lone original member of the group still performing with the death Friday of the fourth original member, Obie Benson, at the age of 69.

(Soundbite from "I Can't Help Myself")

THE FOUR TOPS: (Singing) ...I come a-running to you. I can't tear you away from my brain and there's nothing that I can do. Ooh. Can't help myself. No, I can't help myself. Oh, sugar pie, honey bunch, weaker than a man should be. I can't help myself. I'm a fool in love, you see. I want to tell you I don't love you, tell you about the...

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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