Bobby Caldwell, a blue-eyed soul singer whose soft touch camouflaged his idiosyncrasies, died Tuesday after a long illness. He was 71 years old.
His wife Mary Caldwell announced his death on Twitter.
“What You Won’t Do For Love,” Caldwell’s only Billboard Top 40 hit, is a defining soft rock single of the late 1970s, straddling a spot between smooth adult contemporary and sultry, easy-going R&B. . Although Caldwell spent time writing songs for adult contemporary artists (she co-wrote “The Next Time I Fall,” a hit duet for Peter Cetera and Amy Grant in 1986), she earned a bigger place in R&B than in music. pop; Early in his career, the white singer was often mistaken for Black due to his soulful phrasing and rhythms. Although it was rooted in the soul, fusion was Caldwell’s specialty. As his career progressed, he incorporated stronger elements of jazz, eventually becoming a fixture on contemporary jazz scenes.
While Caldwell maintained a career as a smooth jazz musician, younger generations discovered grooves and rhythms on his 1970s and early 1980s albums. Initially sampled by Aaliyah on “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” by 1994’s “What You Won’t Do for Love” became a seminal hip-hop sampler after Tupac Shakur interpolated it into 1997’s “Do for Love.” It wasn’t the only Caldwell track to provide source material for rappers: Common sampled “Open Your Eyes” in 2000, while Lil Nas X recently sampled “Carry On.”
Caldwell dabbled in various styles of jazz, including playing the great American songbook in the vein of Frank Sinatra. He continued in this vein until the late 2010s, when he put his career on hold to deal with the side effects of being “floxed,” a bad reaction to a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. The condition ultimately led to his death.
This story will be updated.