Featured Image: Bobby Caldwell sings “Embrace the Night” from his 2015 album “Cool Uncle,” at Seattle’s Jazz Alley 2016. Tom Collins. Flickr.
By Contributing blogger Phil Lewis
Bobby Caldwell, the soulful R&B artist best known for his 1978 hit “What You Won’t Do for Love” and 1980 track “Open Your Eyes,” has died at 71.
The singer-songwriter died in his sleep Tuesday night following a battle with a long illness. His wife, Mary Caldwell, announced his death via his Twitter page.
“Bobby passed away here at home. 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. He had been ‘FLOXED,’ it took his health over the last six years and two months. Rest with God, my Love,” it read.
The term floxed is used to describe when someone suffers “mitochondrial damage and oxidative stress due to an adverse effect from a fluoroquinolone antibiotic,” according to Regenerative Medicine Los Angeles.
Upon seeing the news, his Black fans took to Twitter to express their condolences — and for some, their surprise at finding out the soulful crooner was white.
Caldwell’s wife said she is blown away by the outpouring of support. “He would just be so honored. He was kind of a shy guy, and he didn’t really put himself out there in terms of publicity and stuff like that. But the love he always got from the Black community, Black Entertainment Television, the Soul Train Awards,” Caldwell said, choking back tears. “He was always included. He was truly honored.”
For decades, fans have assumed Bobby was Black — even Mary, who married the singer in 2004.
“I had a visual image of the guys who sang that song, and it didn’t look like Bobby,” she said with a laugh. “But I realized it when I met him, which was, oh, years ago in Las Vegas, he was in this Rat Pack show, and he was playing Frank Sinatra. And I said that sounds familiar. I looked it up, and I’m like, wow. My visual was way off.”
She also mentioned a skit by the comedian KevOnStage created about Bobby, saying the late artist loved it. “There’s a fella, I think his nickname is KevOnStage, who did a bit, which was just hilarious. That was my favorite. Bobby loved it,” she said, laughing.
RIP BOBBY CALDWELL!!! pic.twitter.com/BqgI39ODoQ— Kevín (@KevOnStage) March 15, 2023
Caldwell himself spoke about the time he performed in front of a Cleveland crowd, many of whom were convinced they were getting ready to hear a Black artist.
“Everyone was coming to hear ‘soul brother’ Bobby Caldwell. I walked out on stage and you could hear a pin drop,” the singer told reporter Jered Stuffco in 2015. “Just a total hush came over the crowd. It was like, ‘What the fuck is this!?’”
“I stayed and delivered, after about ten minutes, I had them in my pocket. That was the night I became a man, I’ll tell ya.”
Caldwell’s music has spanned generations, having been covered and sampled by some of the greats. His 1978 ballad “What You Won’t Do for Love” was sampled by artists such as Tupac, Aaliyah, and more. Snoh Aalegra, Boyz II Men, Michael Bolton, and Phyllis Hyman have all covered the track, to name a few.
Several of his other songs made popular samples as well. Notorious B.I.G. sampled “My Flame” for his famous 1997 track “Sky’s the Limit,” while Common would later sample “Open Your Eyes” for his 2000 Grammy-nominated hit “The Light.” More recently, Lil Nas X sampled “Carry On” for his own named version of the track in 2018.
Mary said her husband loved all of it, explaining that he was delighted his music was able to resonate with so many people.
“That was always a big honor for him. The rap artists that included his samples to kind of bridge from the 1970s to rap, and be included … He was just amazed and honored,” she said.
“The biggest honor he could get is that people go listen to his music,” she explained. “He was always so flattered by the people who covered his song. Interviewers would say, ‘Do you get mad at somebody singing your song?’”
“And he would say, ‘Absolutely not. I’m honored that anybody liked any of my songs enough to sing them.“
Warmer Music Video/You Tube