A gay magazine has revealed that the artist, who died last summer, was secretly homosexual and was extremely careful not to let the public know.

One friend, writer Bruce Vilanch, told the magazine that he was aware of the star’s sexuality from the beginning of his career, he said: “”He was way ‘in’ (the closet). He said to me, ‘No one knows I’m in the life.’”

He added, “He had very few sexual contacts.”

Mr Vilanch said he knew of at least one gay romance between the singer and another man.

Another associate, gay journalist Michael Musto claimed the platinum album maker was desperate to find a boyfriend before he passed away, he said: “A famously open gay singer/songwriter (told me) Luther was dying to have a boyfriend. It was an inside show business open secret.”

Fans of the Grammy award winner have expressed disapproval at efforts to out Vandross less than a year after his death, but Michael Roberson, director of gay group People of Colour in Crisis, praised the magazine article, he said: “Clearly, a lot of black gay performers feel they can’t come out, yet it would be important, particularly to black gay young people, to see black gay role models.”

Vandross, whose hits included Dance With My Father and Here and Now, died in July 2005 after never fully recovering from an earlier stroke.