The Story of... 'Dance with My Father' by Luther Vandross

28 April 2024, 19:41 | Updated: 28 April 2024, 19:44

Luther Vandross's Dance with My Father
Luther Vandross's Dance with My Father. Picture: Getty/Luther Vandross

By Tom Eames

Luther Vandross's classic ballad 'Dance With My Father' will forever be one of the greatest tearjerker songs of all time.

It's hard not to feel all emotional when the great man sings about his memories of Luther's late dad, and it has been covered and performed countless times ever since.

But did you know about the song's fascinating backstory and moving legacy? Find out all you need to know right here:

  1. Who wrote 'Dance with My Father'?

    Richard Marx co-wrote the song with Luther Vandross. Here he is with the Grammy he won for the song in 2004
    Richard Marx co-wrote the song with Luther Vandross. Here he is with the Grammy he won for the song in 2004. Picture: Getty

    Luther Vandross co-wrote this song with singer-songwriter Richard Marx, best known for his hits 'Hazard' and 'Right Here Waiting'.

    The song was written for his 13th album of the same name, released in 2003.

    One of the reasons Vandross asked Marx to help him was because Richard lost his dad in 1997 and could understand the feeling he was trying to convey.

  2. What is the song about?

    Luther Vandross in 1987
    Luther Vandross in 1987. Picture: Getty

    Vandross wrote 'Dance with My Father' with Marx, based on his personal experience. It is a tribute to his father, Luther Vandross, Sr, who died due to complications of diabetes, when Luther was seven.

    Luther's most poignant memory of his dad was him dancing in the house with his kids, which is where the concept of the song came from.

    I was amazed at how well Luther remembered his father, how we used to dance and sing in the house. I was so surprised that at 7 1/2 years of age, he could remember what a happy household we had.

    - Mary Ida, Luther's mother

    Richard Marx later opened up about writing the song with Luther, when talking on Smooth Radio's Famous Firsts podcast.

    After meeting backstage at the American Music Awards in the '90s, Marx and Vandross instantly hit it off.

    Soon, they were working together musically, with the 'Never Too Much' singer performing backing vocals for multiple Marx albums, and Richard writing songs for Luther's first and only Christmas album, This Is Christmas.

    It was years later, in 2003, when the talented duo worked on 'Dance With My Father' together, which resulted in them bagging a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

    Richard Marx interview: Singer recalls writing 'Dance with My Father' with friend Luther Vandross

    "I met Luther in the early ‘90s at an American Music Awards show backstage. I was a big fan of his, and he was really sweet to me. It was a little mutual admiration society backstage for a minute. And we exchanged phone numbers," Richard explained.

    "You know how sometimes you just hit it off with somebody immediately? You just feel like, 'Oh, this is a person I’m going to hang out with'? We started talking on the phone. We were both touring.

    "So we found ourselves calling each other at night after our shows, just to get to know each other, and hang out on the phone. And we just became pals. And then a few months later, we were both off the road, and he came to my house. We just developed a friendship over time.

    "We didn’t work together that much in the first couple of years. He sang background vocals on a couple of my records, which was amazing. He offered to do that, so I took him up on that. He sang on 'Keep Coming Back' and some other tracks.

    "But then a year or two later, he asked me to write a song with him. He did a Christmas album – his first and only Christmas album. So we wrote the single from that. It was called 'Every Year, Every Christmas'. And it was so easy to write songs together because I wrote music, and he wrote lyrics. He was capable of writing it all, as I am. But it was just an easy fit."

    Speaking about writing the song, he said: "And then in 2003, he rang me up one day. He said: 'I’ve got an idea for a song, and only you can write it for me. And it’s called ‘Dance with My Father’.' All he had was the title.

    He told me kind of what he wanted it to be about. I went off and wrote some music, and sent it to him. He loved it. He had so many lyrics. My original melody was not a lot of notes. There were longer notes. To hear Luther’s voice hold a note was just heaven.

    - Richard Marx, Smooth's Famous Firsts

    "So he said, 'Look, I’ve got to just break these verses up a little bit, because I’ve got a lot to say. There’s too many words.'

    "And so he changed the verse melody a little bit, but it was, again, effortless. And he went into the studio and recorded it 10 days before he had the stroke that ultimately took him from us. It was the last song he ever recorded, and I think the last song he ever wrote.

    "Luther really felt like 'Dance with My Father' would be a hit. But more importantly, he said, 'This is the most important song of my life. This is my 'Piano Man'. This is my signature song. This is what I’m going to sing for the rest of my life. This is how I’m going to be associated'.”

  3. Luther suffered a stroke the year it came out

    At the time of 'Dance with My Father''s release on May 30, 2003, Vandross had been hospitalised after suffering from a stroke.

    This timely release of the song gained further attention from critics and the public.

    He passed away two years later.

  4. Beyoncé and many others appeared in the video

    Luther Vandross - Dance With My Father

    The video features several musicians, singers, actors and sports stars, as well as childhood photos of Vandross.

    Beyoncé appears alongside her father, Matthew. She had collaborated with Luther in the remake of the 1978 song 'The Closer I Get To You'.

    Other celebrities in the video include Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Babyface, Ashanti, Patti LaBelle, Brandy, Quincy Jones, Wyclef Jean and Shaquille O'Neal.

  5. How did it perform in the charts?

    Luther Vandross considered it his "career song".

    Although it only reached number 38 in the US and 21 in the UK, it won many plaudits, including two Grammy Awards.

    After Joe McElderry sang the song on The X Factor in 2009, it re-entered the UK top 40.

  6. Celine Dion performed it in tribute at the Grammys

    Celine Dion - Dance With My Father

    At the 2004 Grammys, when the song won two awards, Celine Dion performed a live version of the song, and Marx accompanied her on the piano.

    After the performance, Vandross accepted the awards in a videotaped speech.