Baker, Vandross: The Billing, No Cooing

Luther Vandross and Anita Baker--who played four recent sold-out shows at the Sports Arena--both specialize in classy, romantic ballads. But you can be sure of one thing: They're not singing these love songs to each other.

The two stars, who are nearing the end of a three-month U.S. tour, have been clashing virtually since the start of the tour on Sept. 28, according to insiders in both camps. The dispute centers on billing: The tour contracts list Vandross and Baker as co-headliners, but Vandross pointedly referred to Baker as his "opening act" onstage at the Sports Arena--something he has reportedly done on other tour stops as well.

Those are fighting words to Baker and her manager, Sherwin Bash. "Nobody would say that Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr. are the opening acts for Frank Sinatra (on their current tour)," Bash said. "The contracts clearly state that they are co-headliners, co-stars sharing everything--advertising, billing, facilities, dressing rooms.

"We agreed that Luther would close every show and Anita was happy to agree to that because she had never worked big arenas. But in every other sense, they are co-headliners."

Shep Gordon, who manages Vandross, responded: "I don't consider her an opening act. (But) she is on before him. You know who goes on first, who goes on second. That's exactly the way the show is. That's what it is."

Though the managers--both respected industry veterans--expressed admiration for each other, it's clear that the bickering between the two camps has gotten petty. "We've had some silly conversations about 'that's my bathroom' and 'that's my flashlight,"' Bash acknowledged.

The irony: The tour has been an enormous box-office success and has helped both artists break into the Top 10 on Billboard's pop album chart for the first time. Baker's "Giving You the Best That I Got" is No. 2, and Vandross' "Any Love" is No. 12, after reaching No. 9 a few weeks ago.

Despite the friction, Bash said, "it's a wonderful show. We're playing to wonderful crowds every night. The fact that the two of them are not thrilled with one another is almost beside the point. They've got their new records out there, they've got their audience, so they don't have each other--big deal."

Gordon noted: "I think we've all been involved in tours where people don't get along and then the tour comes to an end and that's it." But he also struck a positive note: "We're having a wonderful time, it's a fabulous tour and we're glad to have Anita aboard."

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