Bobby Caldwell, a blue-eyed soul singer whose smooth touch camouflaged his idiosyncrasies, died on Tuesday following a long illness. He was 71.
His wife Mary Caldwell announced his death on Twitter.
“What You Won’t Do For Love,” Caldwell’s lone Billboard Top 40 hit, is a defining single of late-1970s soft rock, occupying a place between mellow adult contemporary and sultry quiet storm R&B. Although Caldwell spent time writing songs for adult contemporary artists — he co-wrote “The Next Time I Fall,” a hit duet for Peter Cetera and Amy Grant in 1986 — he carved out a larger place in R&B than pop; early in his career, the white singer was often mistaken for Black due to his soulful phrasing and grooves. Although he was grounded in soul, fusion was Caldwell’s specialty. As his career progressed, he threaded in stronger elements of jazz, eventually becoming a fixture in contemporary jazz settings.
As Caldwell maintained a career as a smooth jazz musician, younger generations discovered rhythms and grooves lying in his albums from the 1970s and early 1980s. Initially sampled by Aaliyah on 1994’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” “What You Won’t Do for Love” turned into a foundational sample in hip-hop after Tupac Shakur interpolated it on 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 jazz styles, including interpreting 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 eventually led to his death.
This story will be updated.