How David Bowie's Young Americans album was influenced by Luther Vandross

7 March 2024, 16:50

David Bowie in 1975 and Luther Vandross in 1987
David Bowie and Luther Vandross, who worked on his Young Americans album. Picture: Ellen Graham/Getty Images, David Corio/Redferns/Getty

By Jenny Mensah

David Bowie's Young Americans turns 49 this year, but did you know it featured another music legend?

David Bowie's Young Americans album is 49 years old.

The record - which was released on 7th March 1975 through RCA and included the hit of the same name - witnessed the rock star usher in a new era as he took on blue-eyed soul.

He didn't do it alone, however, and alongside producer Toni Visconti, the album featured host of musicians and backing singers who helped give the record an authentic soulful sound.

Once such contributor was a then-unknown singer Luther Vandross, who lent his velvety vocals to the studio effort.

Find out how the two legends came to meet and the part Luther Vandross played in Bowie's blue-eyed soul era below.

READ MORE: What did David Bowie play at his last gig?

Luther Vandross in 1980
Luther Vandross in 1980. Picture: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How did David Bowie help Luther Vandross get one of his first breaks?

In the 70s, Luther Vandross sung backing vocals for the likes of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway in 1972 and also worked on Delores Hall's Hall-Mark album in 1973, but most notably he worked on David Bowie's Young Americans album.

Bowie, who had previously released Diamond Dogs in 1974, was the master of changing his iconic style and sound, but it was important for the Thin White Duke to surround himself with genuine R&B and soul musicians who he got so much inspiration from.

As detailed on, Vandross was invited by an old school friend and workshop colleague, Carlos Alomar, to join him in the studio for the recording of Young Americans. While recording the album at Sigma Studios in Philadelphia, Bowie overheard Vandross singing and invited him to join the backing vocalists on the album.

It wasn't just his voice that's on the record, however, as Vandross shares a songwriting credit on the album after Bowie partly re-wrote Vandross' track Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me) as Fascination.

David Bowie - Fascination [HQ]

That wasn't where the story ended, though. Vandross also toured with Bowie on the latter part of his The Year Of The Diamond Dogs Tour, which became known as the Philly Dogs/Soul Tour, staying on until the end on 1st December 1974.

If that wasn't enough exposure for a young Vandross, he also joined the icon in promoting and performing the Young Americans album and performing its title track on stage as well as television.

In fact, you can see Vandross performing it below with Bowie and his band on The Dick Cavett Show.

David Bowie - Young Americans (Live Dick Cavett Show 1974)

Despite releasing his debut album, Luther, in 1976 - where you can hear his Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me) track - the icon came back to sing backing vocals one more time with Bowie on the Labyrinth soundtrack for the song Underground. Amazingly, Chaka Khan was also on the record.


Though it was clear Vandross had a huge talent, he never forgot how Bowie helped him give his career the kick start it needed.

Speaking in an interview Vandross was asked if Bowie helped him in the beginning. He replied: "No, David Bowie started [my career]. Flat out. Absolutely.

"I had never been out of New York city before Bowie took me on the road with him. I was still living with my mother before Bowie took me out on the road with him."

But Bowie can't get all the credit. The Endless Love singer also credited Roberta Flack for enabling him to think he could even have a solo career in the first place after she overhead him singing solo rather than backing her up.

He recalled: "She said, 'you're getting too comfortable singing ooh and aah on a stage. I want you to get your own career'. and she introduced me to people".

Watch the throwback clip here.

There's no doubt that working with Vandross and other R&B artists continued to influence not only Bowie's music, but his values.

The now iconic clip of Bowie being interviewed by MTV in 1983 sees him advocate for black artists and grill the interviewer on why black musicians' videos weren't getting shown on the new music channel.

Remind yourself of the clip below:

David Bowie Criticizes MTV for Not Playing Videos by Black Artists | MTV News

Luther Vandross and both David Bowie may have left us too soon, passing away in 2005 and 2016 respectively, but their indelible impact on music can never be understated, which makes their historical connection all the more pleasing.