February 14, 2006 – Lynden David Hall was born May 7 1974. Brought up in Earlsfield, south London, as a 16-year-old Hall went, in its inaugural year, to the BRIT School for Performing Arts in Croydon, a music-industry college known for turning out such entertainers as Katie Melua. He was one of its more credible graduates. A couple of years after leaving, he was signed to Cooltempo Records by the veteran producer and DJ Trevor Nelson, who heard in the 21-year-old singer echoes of Al Green and D’Angelo – with a London accent and attitude. A precocious songwriter and performer, he had already nailed down a spiritual, intuitive style devoid of macho cliche.
For a time in the late 1990s, Lynden David Hall was British soul music’s boy most likely to. It was anticipated that he would achieve a good dollop of stardom, thus raising the profile of British R&B, always a cottage industry compared to the might of its American counterpart. His trajectory fell considerably short of predictions, but artists such as Craig David and the Brit-winning Lemar are indebted to him for creating a “conscious” alternative to the macho, status-obsessed American R&B, a musical form redefined in the era of post-disco soul and funk.
Although he never got higher in the charts than No 17, with the 1998 single Sexy Cinderella, and his brief recording career spanned just six singles and three albums, Hall was revered by peers and fans. A multi-instrumentalist who wrote and produced his own records, he was considered by British soul circles to be the homegrown equivalent of the influential D’Angelo, the American neo-soul vocalist who inspired him as a teenager.
Between October 1997 and the following autumn, he released four singles. Except for Sexy Cinderella, none sold especially well, but Cooltempo stuck by its protege, the management believing its faith would be vindicated by his first album, Medicine 4 My Pain, which appeared at the end of 1998. It was – critically, if not commercially. Pitted against the all-conquering pop of the Spice Girls and Fatboy Slim, the record did not even reach the Top 40, but it received all the acclaim Hall and his label could have hoped for. Ronnie Herel, a DJ on BBC1Extra, recently said: “He did for neo-soul in the UK what D’Angelo did in America. The first album was a landmark album for UK black music.”
Inevitably, he was also the object of much female attention, despite being the antithesis of the materialistic alpha male. Slightly built and poetic, he subverted soul’s macho stereotype, which brought out female fans’ protective instincts. After his death, one woman poignantly wrote on an internet messageboard: “If we had known [he was ill] and prayed for him, he maybe might have got better.”
Still only 24, Hall had become the R&B name to drop. He won a Mobo award for best newcomer in 1998, was nominated as best male artist at the 1999 Brit awards – against, among others, Fatboy Slim – and was the first British artist ever to win the best male category in the Blues & Soul magazine awards. He also came 17th in a poll of black British sex symbols. In 1999, he was the first UK performer ever voted “Best Male Artist”.
All he lacked were record sales, without which it became difficult to maintain a profile. An introspective second album, The Other Side, squeaked into the Top 40 in 2000, but the singles from it performed indifferently, and Hall was released from his deal. He began recording independently, and put out his third – and final – album, Between Jobs, in 2005.
The year before, however, he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A bone-marrow transplant is the only cure for this rare cancer, but donors must be of the same ethnic group, and Hall discovered that a shortage of black donors gave him a minuscule chance of finding a suitable match. A stemcell transplant in late 2004 failed to arrest the disease. Last November, his wife Nikki held a benefit concert at London’s Jazz Cafe, featuring Lynden’s friends Beverley Knight, Ms Dynamite and Shola Ama. At the end of the event, she phoned her husband in hospital and asked the crowd to say hello. The cheers raised the roof. Nikki survives him.
Lynden David Hall died February 14, 2006 at the age of 31. Lynden appeared in the film Love Actually in 2003, where he sang at the wedding of the characters played by Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor.