Bobby Caldwellthe singer behind the R&B classic “What You Won’t Do for Love,” has died, his wife, Mary Caldwell, wrote in Twitter. He had been ill for years due to floxing, a disease stemming from the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics, according to the tweet. Caldwell is 71 years old.
Caldwell broke out with “What You Won’t Do for Love” in 1978, after years of playing bars and recording demos to no avail in Los Angeles. Miami label TK Records, then riding the tail end of the disco boom, saw the fedora-clad crooner’s jazz-styled pop potential, and gave him free rein in the studio to record his debut album. The finished, self-titled record—with the late addition of “What You Won’t Do for Love”—was a hit, and the label’s fears about marketing a white soul singer proved baseless.
After TK’s bankruptcy in 1981, Caldwell continued to write and record pop hits, including songs for Chicago and his former labelmate Boz Scaggs. His cultural footprint grew in the following decades, as hip-hop producers latched onto his smooth, sample-friendly spin on soul and jazz. The Notorious BIG samples “My Flame” for “Sky’s the Limit” from the Life After Death, J Dilla ditched “Open Your Eyes” for Common’s “The Light,” and Aaliyah and 2Pac are among the legions of artists who have recorded songs that sample “What You Won’t Do for Love.” The song was also covered by Boys, Jessie Wareand many more.
In 2015, Caldwell returned with the Cool Uncle along with the producer Jack Splashand partnered with Ware on the duo’s debut album. Upon news of his death, Ware called him “one of the best.” Writing on Instagram, he said, “What a loss. Sampha and I covered ‘What You Won’t Do for Love’ and I was lucky enough to be invited to sing on his last record. I never met him, but I feel very honored to have been on a track with him. I will wear ‘Open Your Eyes’ today and remember the legend.