Robert Hunter Caldwell (August 15, 1951 – March 14, 2023) was an American singer, songwriter and musician. He released several albums spanning R&B, soul, jazz, and adult contemporary. He is known for his soulful and versatile vocals. Caldwell released the hit single and his signature song “What You Won’t Do for Love” from his double platinum debut album Bobby Caldwell in 1978. After several R&B and smooth jazz albums, Caldwell turned to singing standards from the Great American Songbook. He wrote many songs for other artists, including the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single “The Next Time I Fall” for Amy Grant and Peter Cetera. Caldwell’s music is frequently sampled by hip hop and R&B artists.
Bobby Caldwell was born in Manhattan, but grew up in Miami, Florida. His mother sold real estate and one of her clients was reggae singer Bob Marley; Caldwell and Marley became friends. Growing up in Miami exposed Caldwell to a variety of music such as Haitian, Latin, reggae and R&B. He grew up listening to the music of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. When he was 12, Caldwell started playing piano and guitar. He was drawn to rock and roll, jazz and rhythm and blues. At 17, he worked with his band in Las Vegas, then moved to Los Angeles. He was a member of a Miami band called Katmandu who wrote much of their material while also performing traditional standards. Caldwell played multiple instruments and sang.
Caldwell got his first career break as a rhythm guitarist for Little Richard in the early 1970s. Caldwell and his band eventually left Little Richard, and Caldwell went solo. By 1977, he had spent six years in Los Angeles playing in different bar bands and trying to get a record deal. Caldwell eventually signed with TK Records in Miami in 1978. After songs for his first album were recorded, executives told Caldwell they enjoyed the album, but thought it was lacking a hit. Caldwell returned to the studio for two days and wrote “What You Won’t Do for Love“. TK was mainly an R&B label popular among African American listeners. Executives at the label wanted to conceal the fact that Caldwell was white, so they kept his face off the album cover. When he toured with Natalie Cole to support the album, most of the audience was black and many were surprised that Caldwell was white.
“What You Won’t Do for Love” on Bobby Caldwell reached the top ten on the Billboard magazine Hot 100 (No. 9) R&B (No. 6), and Adult Contemporary (No. 10) charts. The song has been covered, remade and sampled many times. Caldwell remade it in 1998. It was covered by Go West, Phyllis Hyman, Roy Ayers, Michael Bolton, Intro, Boyz II Men and Snoh Aalegra and was sampled by Tupac Shakur for his hit “Do for Love“. It was covered by Elliott Yamin during the fifth season of American Idol in 2006. Caldwell’s track “My Flame” is sampled for “Sky’s the Limit” by The Notorious B.I.G. featuring R&B group 112.
Caldwell’s debut album was followed by Cat in the Hat (1980) and Carry On (1982). The track “Open Your Eyes” from Cat in the Hat was sampled by J Dilla on Common‘s “The Light” from his 2000 album “Like Water for Chocolate“. “Open Your Eyes” was also covered by artists John Legend and Dwele. For the album Carry On, Caldwell played all the instruments, was the producer and helped with arranging and mixing. In 2019, Lil Nas X was sued for $25 million for using the song “Carry On” (from the album of the same name) without permission in his own song of the same name from his 2018 mixtape Nasaratti, which at the time was available on YouTube, Spotify and SoundCloud. In 1983, Caldwell released August Moon only in Japan. It was released in the United States in the 1990s.
Singer Boz Scaggs advised Caldwell to write songs for other musicians after TK Records shut down. Caldwell wrote “The Next Time I Fall“, which became a hit for Amy Grant and Peter Cetera, and songs for Roy Ayers, Chicago, Natalie Cole, Neil Diamond, Roberta Flack, Al Jarreau and Boz Scaggs.
On Blue Condition (1996), Caldwell turned from R&B to recording big band arrangements of songs from the Great American Songbook, particularly those sung by Frank Sinatra. He also portrayed Sinatra in tributes to the Rat Pack in Las Vegas. He continued to sing standards on Come Rain or Come Shine (1999), The Consummate Bobby Caldwell (2010) and After Dark (2014). In 2015, he collaborated with record producer Jack Splash on the album Cool Uncle.
Caldwell wrote and performed songs for the movies Back to School (“Educated Girl”), Mac and Me (“Take Me, I’ll Follow You”), Salsa (“Puerto Rico”) and its sequel (“Every Teardrop”). He also recorded a song for the 1984 film Night of the Comet (“Never Give Up”). Due to what he has cited in interviews as a lower cost of use than the original recordings, his versions of big band standards have appeared in several films. Examples include Simone (2001) and Lake Boat (2002).
Aside from a minor role in 1988’s Salsa, Caldwell portrayed Frank Sinatra from October 1999 to January 2000 in the Las Vegas musical The Rat Pack Is Back.
Caldwell is popular in Japan, where he was nicknamed “Mister AOR”. In Japan, the acronym “AOR” (AOR short for “Adult Oriented Rock”) is used to describe the style commonly called Adult Contemporary in the United States. In 1992, he received the award for Best Foreign Artist at the 34th Japan Record Awards.
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|1980||Cat in the Hat||113||46||―||
|1989||Heart of Mine||―||―||―|
|1991||Stuck on You||―||65||5|
|1993||Where Is Love||―||―||13|
|1999||Come Rain or Shine||―||―||8|
|2005||Perfect Island Nights||―||―||2|
|2007||Live at the Blue Note Tokyo||―||―||―|
|2010||The Consummate Caldwell||―||―||―|
|2012||House of Cards||―||―||―|
|“—” denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.|
|1998||Timeline: The Anthology||No. 8 US Jazz Albums|
|2001||Time and Again: The Anthology Part 2|
|2020||The Time Has Come – Ultimate Anthology||Same songs as Anthology, Pt.1 + Anthology, Pt.2, different order.|
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1976||“The House is Rockin'”||—||—||—||—||Non-album single|
|1978||“What You Won’t Do for Love“||9||6||10||—||Bobby Caldwell|
|“Can’t Say Goodbye”||103||36||—||—|
|“Down for the Third Time”||—||—||—||—|
|1980||“Coming Down from Love”||42||28||—||—||Cat in the Hat|
|“All of My Love”||77||67||—||—|
|1984||“Don’t Quit”||—||—||—||53||Non-album single from Body by Jake soundtrack|
|1987||“What You Won’t Do for Love” (reissue)||—||—||—||—||Bobby Caldwell|
|1988||“Take Me, I’ll Follow You“||—||—||—||—||Mac and Me soundtrack|
|1991||“Real Thing”||—||—||41||—||Heart of Mine|
|“Janet”||—||88||—||—||Stuck on You|
|1996||“I Give In”||125||53||—||—||Soul Survivor|
|2015||“Miami Nights”||—||—||—||—||Cool Uncle|
|“—” denotes single did not chart or was not released|
- ^ Bobby Caldwell, ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’ Singer Dead at 71
- ^ Jump up to:a b Appleford, Steve (October 6, 1991). “Writing Hits Not Enough for Singer Caldwell”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
- ^ Jump up to:a b Ankeny, Jason. “Bobby Caldwell”. AllMusic. Retrieved July 12, 2017.
- ^ Jump up to:a b Gordon, Ed (May 19, 2005). “Bobby Caldwell: ‘Perfect Island Nights'”. NPR.org. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c “Singer/Songwriter Bobby Caldwell”. PBS. Archived from the original on June 23, 2015.
- ^ Appleford, Steve (October 6, 1991). “Writing Hits Not Enough for Singer Caldwell”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c Stuffco, Jered. “The White Lie That Broke Bobby Caldwell on Black Radio”. Red Bull Academy. Retrieved April 29, 2022.
- ^ “What You Won’t Do For Love Chart History”. Billboard. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- ^ “Tawiah Covers Bobby Caldwell’s “Open Your Eyes””. okayplayer.com.
- ^ Wynn, Ron. “Carry On”. AllMusic. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
- ^ Cullins, Ashley (July 25, 2019). “Lil Nas X, Sony Music Hit With $25M Lawsuit Over “Carry On” Sample”. Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
- ^ Jump up to:a b Leight, Elias (November 18, 2015). “Cool Uncle: Inside 2015’s Smartest Retro-Soul Revival”. Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 10, 2017.
- ^ Kohlhaase, Bill (August 2, 1999). “Caldwell Goes Back a Bit and Does It Frank’s Way”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- ^ Rizik, Chris (December 9, 2014). “Bobby Caldwell – After Dark (2014) (Review)”. SoulTracks. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- ^ “Bobby Caldwell Chart History”. Billboard. Archived from the original on November 17, 2021. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- ^ Jump up to:a b c d e “Bobby Caldwell – Awards”. AllMusic. Archived from the original on January 29, 2013. Retrieved July 31, 2022.
- ^ “Discography”. Bobby Caldwell. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- ^ “Bobby Caldwell | Album Discography”. AllMusic. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
- BobbyCaldwell.com (Official site)
- Complete discography and lyrics
- Bobby Caldwell discography at Discogs