Legendary R&B singer-songwriter Bobby Caldwell dies at 71

Muhamet Hadzibrahimi

Bobby Caldwell, the infamously smooth R&B singer and songwriter known for the hits “What You Won’t Do For Love,” “My Flame” and “Open Your Eyes,” died on March 15. He was 71.

Caldwell was influenced heavily by titanic artists like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Nat King Cole. At 17 years old, they inspired him to pursue a music career where he would form a rock band in the hopes of breaking into the music industry. The band was short-lived and would eventually guide Caldwell’s transition to a solo artist.

The Manhattan-born singer would make rounds in Miami nightclubs covering songs by Jimi Hendrix in the pursuit of a record deal. His dream became a reality when the rhythm and blues record label, TK Records , signed him to a recording contract. He would later go on to release his first project, the widely celebrated self-titled studio album, in 1978 — reissued on CD as the better known “What You Won’t Do for Love.”

Caldwell’s first album would prove to be his most successful with hit songs “What You Won’t Do For Love,” “My Flame” and “Down For The Third Time.” The album went Platinum twicein the United States and once in Japan.

His fame would only rise further upwards in the form of sampling.

The hip-hop genre has long embraced the practice of sampling — taking small audio bits from old records to create a repetitive melody for rappers to perform on. Caldwell’s soothing vocals were no exception. Artists like Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Common and Chance the Rapper created songs of their own through Bobby’s original compositions.

Caldwell’s impact on hip-hop was apparent on the song “The Light” by Common.

It sampled “Open Your Eyes” and led to Common’s first Grammy nomination.

Chance the Rapper reflected on the authenticity of Caldwell’s personality in a commemorative Instagram post.

“This never happens,” the post read. “I’ve never received a message from an artist thanking me for sampling their record. This is a record that hasn’t even come out, and the legend himself replied.”

Caldwell’s respect for those who came before and after him can be traced back to his early days touring with Nat King Cole’s daughter Nathalie Cole.

Before he decided to tour with Cole, fans were not aware of what Bobby looked like. TK Records was a record label known for its rhythm and blues performers, who were predominantly African American. The label executives intentionally designed the famous artwork of Caldwell’s debut album so he would be shown only as a silhouette.

The label hid Caldwell’s identity so well that he would go on to win Best Black Artist of the Year in 1979. This was not the first time the music industry disguised an artist’s identity for fear of losing listeners. In 1965, Volt Records put a white woman on the cover of Otis Redding’s album “Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul.”

“Caldwell was the closing chapter in a generation in which record execs wanted to hide faces on album covers so perhaps maybe their artist could have a chance,” Questlove, lead drummer of the Roots, said on Instagram.

Caldwell was well known for the passion he brought tointerviews, live performances and recorded songs.

“Bobby passed away here at home,” his wife Mary Caldwell said.

“I held him tight in my arms as he left us. I am forever heartbroken. Thanks to all of you for your many prayers over the years.”

Caldwell was battling the harmful side effects of fluoroquinolone toxicity that his wife attributed to an antibiotic he was prescribed in 2017.

Gone, but not forgotten, Caldwell’s listeners all around the world can find solace in his music that, whenever played, will serve as a reminder of the legend’s legacy long after his death.