Frank Micelotta/Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP
Bobby Caldwell, an R&B singer-songwriter, had his big hit in 1978 with What you wouldn’t do for love A voice and a musical style adored by generations of fellow artists has passed away, according to what his wife announced on Wednesday.
He died in her arms at their home in Great Meadows, New Jersey, on Tuesday, Mary Caldwell told The Associated Press, 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 what was then called the Hot Selling Soul Singles chart. It became a long-running and career standard for Caldwell, who also wrote the song.
The song has been 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 have been sampled by hip hop artists including The Notorious B.I.G., Common, Lil Nas X, and Chance the Rapper.
Stories abound, many shared on social media after his death, of listeners’ amazement to learn Caldwell was white rather than black.
Caldwell only appeared in silhouette on the self-titled single album featuring “What You Won’t Do for Love”.
“Caldwell was the closing chapter in a generation where record executives wanted to obscure faces on album covers so maybe their artist would stand a chance.” Questlove said on Instagram.
“Thank you for your vote and gift #BobbyCaldwell,” Questlove wrote.
Chance the Rapper shared a screenshot on Instagram From a direct message exchange between him and Caldwell last year when he asked to use his music.
“I would be honored if you sampled my song,” Caldwell wrote.
“You are an inspiration to me and so many others,” Chance told him. He said in the post that he had never been thanked for sampling a song before and had never felt so broken by the death of a longtime stranger.
Born in New York and raised in Miami, Caldwell was the son of two singers who hosted the TV musical variety show, Dinner Time. He was a multi-instrumentalist, began performing professionally at the age of 17, and got his break playing guitar in Little Richard’s band in the early 1970s. In the mid-1970s, Caldwell played in various bar bands in Los Angeles before getting a solo record deal.
Caldwell wouldn’t have had nearly as much success as What You Won’t Do for Love, but he did release several respected albums, including 1980’s Cat in The Hat — on which he was prominently featured on the cover wearing a fedora jacket — and 1982’s “Carry On”, as 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 2000 Grammy-nominated single “The Light”.
In the 1990s, Caldwell turned to recording and performing American standards, including songs made famous by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, which he had loved in his youth.
In addition to Mary, his wife of 19 years, Caldwell is survived by two daughters, Lorraine and Tessa, and a daughter, Katie.
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