Bobby Caldwell, the 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 several years due to floxing, an ailment that stems from the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics, according to the tweet. Caldwell was 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 at the tail end of the disco boom, saw potential in the fedora-clad singer’s jazzy pop and gave him free rein in the studio to record his debut album. The full self-titled record, with the belated addition of “What You Won’t Do for Love,” was a hit, and the label’s concerns about marketing a white soul singer proved unfounded.
After TK went bankrupt in 1981, Caldwell continued to write and record pop hits, including songs for Chicago and former labelmate Boz Scaggs. Her cultural footprint grew in the decades that followed, as hip-hop producers latched onto her smooth spin on soul and jazz. The Notorious BIG sampled “My Flame” for “Sky’s the Limit” by Life after death, J Dilla sang “Open Your Eyes” to Common’s “The Light,” and Aaliyah and 2Pac were among the legions of artists who recorded songs that sampled “What You Won’t Do for Love.” The song was also covered by Junior Boys, Jessie Ware and many more.
In 2015, Caldwell returned with Cool Uncle alongside producer Jack Splash and collaborated 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 asked to sing on their latest record. I’ve never met him, but I’m very honored to have been on a track with him. Today I will sing ‘Open Your Eyes’ and remember the legend”.