‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ Hitmaker, Blue-Eyed Soul Man Bobby Caldwell Dies At 71

Caldwell’s other notable songs included ‘Can’t Say Goodbye,’ ‘My Flame,’ and ‘Coming Down From Love.’

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Bobby Caldwell - Photo: Ethan Miller/BET/Getty Images for BET
Bobby Caldwell - Photo: Ethan Miller/BET/Getty Images for BET

Bobby Caldwell, the blue-eyed soul artist who was forever synonymous with his enduring and influential debut hit “What You Won’t Do For Love,” has died at the age of 71.

The news was announced on Caldwell’s Twitter page by his wife Mary. “Bobby passed away here at home,” she wrote. “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 had been suffering poor health in recent years.

Born on August 15, 1951 in Manhattan, NY, Robert Hunter Caldwell was raised in Miami, where his musical education crossed many genres, taking in Latin, reggae, and other styles as well as pop, soul, and rock. His parents were both singers, and hosted one of TV’s first musical variety programs, Suppertime. Caldwell worked in a local group called Katmandu and played guitar in the early 1970s in Little Richard’s band, “an incredible experience for me because it was my first experience of show business at that level,” he told Blues & Soul. “We did TV shows – such as Glen Campbell’s special, Merv Griffin – and played Vegas and Tahoe for almost a year.”

A soulful signature

Caldwell then had some independent success, notably with the track “The House Is Rockin,” before signing in 1978 with the successful Miami-based R&B and disco label TK Records. They released Caldwell’s fine, self-titled album in 1978 and, early the next year, its standout track “What You Won’t Do For Love” emerged in both soul and pop markets, hitting the US Top 10 in both. With its sophisticated vocal performance and laid-back horns, it became his signature, and was repeatedly covered and sampled in later years, notably by Tupac Shakur on his 1998 release “Do for Love.”

Two further singles from Bobby Caldwell made the lower rungs of the R&B Top 40, “Can’t Say Goodbye” and “My Flame,” before he returned with 1980’s Cat In The Hat album, containing the Top 30 soul single “Coming Down From Love.” Another song from that set, “Open Your Eyes,” was sampled by Common on his 2000 hit “The Light.”

Caldwell later recorded on Polydor, Intima, and Sin-Drome, for whom he had his final soul chart appearance in 1996 with “I Give In.” Extensive touring led to an especially loyal fan following in Japan and throughout Asia, and he starred as Frank Sinatra in David Cassidy and Don Reo’s theatrical production The Rat Pack Is Back in Las Vegas. As a composer, his credits included Amy Grant and Peter Cetera’s Grammy-nominated 1986 duet “The Next Time I Fall.”

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