Alicia Keys, Ruben Studdard, Mya Remember Luther Vandross

R&B icon died Friday of complications from a 2003 stroke.

When Luther Vandross died Friday afternoon, R&B lost an icon, and the artists he influenced were quick to express their loss and respect.

Vandross had established himself as one of the most soulful and captivating voices in music, up there with the likes of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. In his heyday, he was the man who had women screaming “Luuvffa!” and had the guys reaching for his album when they were trying to romance their dates. Love songs like “If Only for One Night,” “Never Too Much,” “Stop to Love” and “A House Is Not a Home” may very well have played a role in the reason some of us are here today.

The man was loved and respected by his peers. Even if you don’t count acts like Kanye West, Janet Jackson or the Young Gunz, who have all sampled his music (and occasionally name-checked him; see Kanye’s “Slow Jamz”), just ask any R&B singer and they’ll tell you Vandross was a major influence on their lives and careers.

“I’m gonna try to give a hand to Luther Vandross one more time,” John Legend said onstage Friday night at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, just hours after hearing of Vandross’ death (see “R&B Singer Luther Vandross Dead At 54″ ). “All us people making slow jams now, we was inspired by the slow jams Luther Vandross was making.”

Backstage at the festival, the man who has drawn the most comparisons to Vandross over the past few years — Ruben Studdard — echoed Legend’s praise.

  Luther Vandross: A Look Back

“I’m still sad right now,” Studdard said. “Luther was a big influence on me. I’m blessed to be able to have seen him do his thing and have him influence me musically. I love him. He has been and continues to be a great inspiration to me. He will be truly missed.”

Also performing at the Essence Music Festival were Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys, who both spoke of Vandross onstage, with Franklin addressing the loss before performing “Precious Memories” and Keys dedicating “If I Ain’t Got You.”

“I can’t believe it, I’m so sad,” Keys said backstage. “There’s something in the back of your mind that wishes someone was playing a big prank on you. That’s how I felt when I found out. I couldn’t even believe it. I’m happy to say I can call him my friend. I think he’s such a wonderful man that’s left behind such a beautiful legacy. That’s something that will truly inspire generations to come. We will absolutely miss him. We pray for his family, that they heal, and … My goodness, this is so sad.”

“He was one of the greatest voices that ever sang a song,” Patti LaBelle said. “He was one of the sweetest men I have ever known. And he was one of the best friends I have ever had. I’m so happy that his legacy will live on forever. … Luther was one of a kind and will never be forgotten. I miss him more than words could ever say.”

“I’ve studied Luther for such a long time because he was the epitome of perfect tone,” offered Mint Condition lead singer Stokley Williams. “He will be greatly missed, but he has left an indelible stamp on music for the world to continue to enjoy.”

“Luther was my idol,” Jaheim said. “I can’t believe he’s gone. The first songs I ever learned were Luther’s, and I got my deal singing three of his hits. Luther Vandross is music to me. There will never be another voice like his. I hope that now he’ll get a chance to ‘dance with his father’ again.”

Daron of 112 said the first song he ever performed in a talent show was the Vandross/ Gregory Hines duet “There’s Nothing Better Than Love.” He and the rest of 112 released a statement Friday saying, “Truly the music industry along with the rest of the world has lost an icon — one of the greatest voices of our time. He was an inspiration to 112 and he’ll never know the extent of how much his music influenced our lives. Rather than mourn his death, we celebrate his life and the gift of song that he gave us. We love you and we’ll miss you, Luther.”

“It’s definitely a tremendous loss,” said R&B crooner Joe. “Luther was one of the greatest singers. Being a male singer myself, I took inspiration from Luther. His beautiful tone and his full, round tenor have always inspired me.”

“I love Luther and his music,” said Mya, who worked with Vandross on Michael Jackson’s all-star “What More Can I Give” benefit single (see “Michael Jackson’s 9/11 Single Hits Radio One Year Late” ). “It was a real pleasure to work with him. It is a very sad loss.”