Blue-eyed soul singer beloved by hip-hop beat makers and Black audiences dies after years of illness.
Bobby Caldwell, the oft-sampled, blue-eyed soul singer behind the late-’70s hit “What You Won’t Do for Love,” has died at 71.
“Bobby died at home,” Caldwell’s wife Mary tweeted. “I clutched him in my arms as he walked away from us. I’ll be heartbroken for the rest of my life. Thank you for all of your prayers over the years.”
While no cause of death was given, Caldwell had suffered health problems for the preceding six years, which Mary attributed to an unfavorable reaction to a fluoroquinolone antibiotic.
Caldwell is best known for his 1978 hit “What You Don’t Do for Love,” a soul single that rose to No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 due in part to its cross-demographic appeal; early in his career, Caldwell’s label TK Records obscured the fact that he was a white singer (including silhouetting him on his album cover), allowing the single to rise on R&B-dominant radio stations.
Yet, when Caldwell began making public appearances in support of the song, the single’s financial success among Black audiences did not suffer.
“What You Don’t Do for Love” was later covered by Boyz II Men, Natalie Cole & Peabo Bryson, Michael Bolton, and Jessie Ware, while Tupac Shakur sampled it for his posthumous hit “Do for Love.”
Indeed, much of Caldwell’s current success stems from his repertoire being a go-to for hip-hop producers: J Dilla sampled his “Open Your Eyes” for Common’s 2000 single “The Light,” and Kendrick Lamar sampled the same song for his “R.O.T.C.” Caldwell’s “My Flame” was sampled by A$AP Rocky and Lil Nas X, with the latter facing a $25 million lawsuit from Caldwell for the internet-only tune.
While Caldwell’s solo success with “What You Don’t Do for Love” was limited, he did write the smash “The Next Time I Fall in Love” for Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, a Grammy-nominated song that reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1986.
Caldwell exposed himself to younger audiences in 2015 as Cool Uncle, a partnership with Caldwell’s admirer and decades-younger producer Jack Splash. “I thought, man, that’s kind of strange,” Caldwell said at the time to Rolling Stone. “Because he’s twenty years my junior. ‘Why don’t you give him a ring,’ my wife suggested. We talked over the phone and hit it off.”
Splash also hoped Cool Uncle would inspire younger listeners to “go back through [Caldwell’s] repertoire to the first two albums.”
“There are some real jewels on there,” the producer added.