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Dallasvoice.com

Throughout his lengthy career, the immensely talented (and occasionally immense) R&B; singer Luther Vandross has continually dodged questions about his sexual orientation. Widely presumed to be homosexual, he has never publicly confirmed — or denied — these inquiries, saying his private life is nobody’s business.

Those looking for an explicit, definitive answer in the just- published “Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross” (HarperCollins, 368 pp.) Craig Seymour’s biography, will come away disappointed. While it may not tell all, this book is a solidly written and juicy examination of the life and career of a musical giant.

Had Mr. Vandross died from the massive stroke he suffered in 2003, “Luther” might tell a different tale.

Particularly intriguing are excerpts from a 1998 interview that Mr. Seymour, a District native and former reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, conducted with Mr. Vandross. After several circuitous attempts to broach the singer’s sexuality, Mr. Vandross tells his interviewer, “You’re trying to zero in on something that you are never ever gonna get ? Look at you, just circling the airport. You ain’t never gonna land.”

In any case, the star’s elusive sexuality makes up only a fraction of this biography, which competently chronicles his struggle for success and recognition. A chance meeting with David Bowie helped launch Mr. Vandross, and he also worked with Bette Midler during her Continental Bath days. He eventually recorded his own albums, earned a lot of money singing ad jingles, and produced a successful comeback for his idol, Aretha Franklin.

The tome also covers the tragedies in Mr. Vandross’ life, particularly the pain of losing his father and several siblings to diabetes, and the difficulties he has endured since his stroke.

Still, Mr. Seymour doesn’t shy away from controversies, such as Mr. Vandross’ disastrous 1993 tour with the R&B; group En Vogue (his behavior caused the three singers to dub him “Lucifer”); his blowout with Miss Franklin (she stormed out during a recording session when he snapped “Well, I’m the person who produced your first gold record in years”); and the unpleasantness caused by his relentless perfectionism (his longtime drummer Yogi Horton killed himself after an especially tense set of shows), leaving one with the impression that he indeed lives up to his “crooning land mine” reputation.

“There’s nothing wrong with seeking excellence in a field, and to the extent that Luther’s continued yearning has pushed him artistically, then it’s been a good thing,” Mr. Seymour says. “However, to the extent that it sometimes kept him from enjoying all he already accomplished, it’s been a shame.”

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.