Bobby Caldwell, a soulful R&B singer and songwriter who had a huge hit in 1978 with “What You Wanna Do for Love” and whose voice and musical style were loved by generations of his fellow artists, has died Yes, his wife said on Wednesday.
Mary Caldwell told The Associated Press that he died in her arms on Tuesday at his home in Great Meadows, New Jersey, after a long illness. He was 71 years old.
The smooth soul jam “What You Won’t Do for Love” went to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 6 on the Hot Selling Soul Singles chart. It became a long-term standard and career-defining hit for Caldwell, who also wrote the song.
The song was covered by artists including Boyz II Men and Michael Bolton, and was sampled by Tupac Shakur on his posthumously released song “Do for Love”.
Other Caldwell songs were sampled by hip-hop artists including The Notorious B.I.G., Common, Lil Nas X and Chance the Rapper.
Stories abound, many of them shared on social media after his death, with listeners surprised to learn that Caldwell was white and not black.
Caldwell only appeared in silhouette on her self-titled debut solo album, on which “What You Would Do for Love” appears.
Questlove said on Instagram, “Caldwell was the closing chapter in a generation in which record execs wanted to hide faces on album covers so maybe their artist could get a chance.”
“Thank you #BobbyCaldwell for your voice and gift,” Questlove wrote.
Chance the Rapper shared on Instagram a screenshot of a direct message exchange with Caldwell last year when he asked her to use his music.
Caldwell wrote, “I would be honored if you would sample my song.”
Chance told him, “You are an inspiration to me and many other people.” He said in the post that he had never been thanked for a song sample before and “haven’t felt this broken over the passing of a stranger in a long time.”
Born in New York and raised in Miami, Caldwell was the son of singers who hosted a music variety TV show called “Suppertime”. A multi-instrumentalist, he began performing professionally at the age of 17, and got his break in the early 1970s playing guitar in Little Richard’s band. In the mid-70s, Caldwell played in various bar bands in Los Angeles before landing a solo record deal.
Caldwell would never have a hit that even came close to “What You Want to Do for Love,” but he released several respected albums, including 1980’s “Cat in the Hat”—on which he appeared on the cover wearing a fedora. appeared prominently. – and 1982’s “Carry On”, on which he was his own producer and played all the instruments.
His song “Open Your Eyes” from “Cat in the Hat” was covered by John Legend and sampled by Common on his Grammy-nominated 2000 single “The Light”.
In the 1990s, Caldwell shifted to recording and performing American standards, including popular songs by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, whom he had enjoyed in his youth.
In addition to his wife of 19 years, Mary, Caldwell is survived by daughters Lauren and Tessa and stepdaughter Katie.
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