2015 ended with a number of iconic artists dying, and there were many others who passed throughout the year. This list is nowhere near comprehensive – but includes 26 musicians who died in 2015.
The names link to the All Music bios for the artists (in most cases), and there are links to videos in the body text as well.
Natalie Cole, 65
American singer, songwriter, and performer – died 12/31/15 of congestive heart failure
Natalie Cole, daughter of jazz and pop legend Nat King Cole, released her first album, Inseparable in 1975 and kept recording through 2013, with the release En Español earning three Latin Grammy Award nominations. She won a total of nine Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Vocal Performance for “This Will Be” in 1976, Album of the Year for Unforgettable: With Love in 1992, and Best Traditional Vocal Pop Album for Still Unforgettable in 2009.
Lemmy Kilmister, 70
Founder and frontman of Motörhead – died 12/28/15 of an “aggressive form of” cancer
The son of a vicar, Ian Fraiser Kilmister began playing rock & roll in 1964 when he joined two local Blackpool, England R&B bands. In 1971, he joined as the bassist for the heavy prog rock band Hawkwind. Lemmy was kicked out of Hawkwind in the spring of 1975, after which he formed Motörhead. Motörhead’s loud and fast heavy metal was groundbreaking, merging heavy biker rock with the speed of punk, effectively laying the groundwork for speed and thrash metal.
Stevie Wright, 68
Singer, solo and with The Easybeats – died 12/27 of pnuemonia
In 1964, Stevie Wright joined the Easybeats in and had several Australian hits, including the worldwide smash “Friday on My Mind,” before the band broke up in 1969. Though formed in Australia, the Easybeats featured players from various countries, including Wright, who was born in England. When the band broke up in 1969, Wright performed in a variety of acts and productions before going solo and scoring hits with songs including “Guitar Band” and “Evie.”
Scott Weiland, 48
Singer, Stone Temple Pilots, Velvet Revolver, The Wildabouts – died 12/3/15 of a drug overdose
Born in 1967 in Santa Cruz, CA, Scott Weiland spent 15 years in Ohio before heading back west and forming the band Mighty Joe Young with guitarist Robert DeLeo in 1987, which was later renamed Stone Temple Pilots. Famously addicted to heroin for the better part of his career, Weiland’s dependancy followed him everywhere, through his years as a solo artist, while he was with Velvet Revolver, and with his last act, The Wildabouts.
Cynthia Robinson, 61
Trumpeter and vocalist in Sly and the Family Stone – died 11/23/15 of cancer
One of the first female trumpeters in a major American band – and the first in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Cynthia Robinson was best known for playing and singing in Sly and the Family Stone, and she’s featured prominently in “Dance To The Music.” Robinson continued playing with Sly Stone after the band fell apart in 1975, and played in the funk band Graham Central Station with Family Stone bandmate Larry Graham starting in 1974.
Allen Toussaint, 77
Producer, songwriter, arranger, session pianist, solo artist – died 11/10/15 of a heart attack
Allen Toussaint‘s career touches seven decades, beginning as a songwriter and performer in the late ’50s and as a producer in the ’60s. Toussaint’s compositions have ended up as instrumentals for the likes of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, as new wave hits (Devo’s “Working In A Coal Mine“), and country singles (The Oak Ridge Boys’ “Freedom For The Stallion”). He’s hugely influential as a producer in New Orleans, working with a long list of acts, including the Meters and Dr. John.
Cory Wells, 73
Singer, Three Dog Night – died 10/20/15 from an infection caused by Multiple myeloma
In 1968, singers Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells formed Three Dog Night. Between 1969-1975, the band scored 21 hit singles – including 11 Top Tens – and 12 consecutive gold albums. Hits included “One,” “Mama Told Me (Not To Come),” and “Joy To The World.” After the band broke up, Wells tried to launch a solo career with limited success, then continued to perform with Three Dog Night, including with 2012’s release with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Phil Woods, 83
American jazz bebop alto saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer – died 9/29/15 of emphysema
Phil Woods started playing alto saxophone at the age of 12, and by the mid-’50s had established himself as a definitive voice in jazz. A master of bebop, he got major exposure when Quincy Jones invited him to tour with Dizzy Gillespie. Woods also worked with Charlie Barnet, Jimmy Raney, George Wallington, Buddy Rich, David Sanborn, and Benny Goodman, though he primarily fronted his own ensembles. He’s also featured on Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.”
Gary Richrath, 65
Guitarist REO Speedwagon – died 9/13/15 from complications due to alcoholism
Gary Richrath joined REO Speedwagon in advance of the release of the band’s debut album, and became one of the principal writers and the band’s spark – in addition to being an underrated arena rock guitarist. Richrath’s compositions include “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” “Flying Turkey Trot,” and “Take It On the Run.” He was with the band from 1970-1989, releasing a solo effort in 1992 titled Only The Strong Survive.
Lynn Anderson, 67
Country singer – died 7/30/15 of a heart attack
Born in North Dakota, Lynn Anderson‘s mother was a professional songwriter and helped pave the way for her music career. She was a weekly feature on “The Lawrence Welk Show” in the late ’60s before moving to Nashville and signing with Columbia Records in 1970. She already had hits with “Ride, Ride, Ride,” “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away),” and “That’s a No No,” but scored her signature song, “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden” just after singing to Columbia.
Chris Squire, 66
Bassist and co-founder of Yes – died 6/27/15 of leukemia
Christopher Russell Edward Squire was born in Wembley, England, and created a new perception of bass as a lead instrument. A co-founder of Yes, he remained with the band through its various incarnations and personnel changes from the late ’60s through the band’s later output during the ’80s and into this decade. His solo albums also propelled Squire into unchartered territory, with 1975’5 Fish Out Of Water garnering critical acclaim.
James Horner, 61
Film Composer – died 6/22/15 in a plane crash
Born in Los Angeles and a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London, James Horner‘s ambition was to be a classical composer. After frustration with an inability to get an orchestra to perform his work, he experienced how quickly his compositions were performed for his first film score and was hooked. He composed nearly 100 soundtracks, including Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Titanic, the most profitable soundtrack recording in history.
Ornette Coleman, 85
Avant-garde jazz saxophonist – died 6/11/15 of a heart attack
Picking up an alto sax at the age of 14, Ornette Coleman never conformed to expectations as a player or bandleader. Originally inspired by Charlie Parker, he moved from Texas to Los Angeles in the early ’50s, attended the Lenox School of Jazz in 1959, and had a stay at the Five Spot in New York, where Coleman drew audiences who debated whether he was a genius or imposter. He was a prolific and controversial force in jazz up until his death. (Watch video.)
Louis Johnson, 60
Bassist for The Brothers Johnson and session musician – died 5/21/15
Bassist Louis Johnson formed the Johnson Three Plus One with his brothers Tommy and George and their cousin Alex. Louis and George later backed Booby Womack and the Supremes before joining Billy Preston’s band in the early ’70s. They hooked up with Quincy Jones, who produced their first four albums, cranking out hits that included “I’ll Be Good to You,” “Strawberry Letter 23,” and “Stomp!” Louis also played on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and Thriller albums.
B.B. King, 89
Legendary blues guitarist – died 5/14/15 from congestive heart failure and diabetes
B.B. King was the unquestionable king of the blues, and one of the most influential guitarists of all time. Between 1950-85, he had 74 songs hit the Biliboard R&B chart, and scored a crossover hit with “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1970. He continued to play prolifically late into his life – averaging 300 performances a year – and performed with a varied cast of musicians of all styles and genres, including U2 and Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Lowell Fulson, and Koko Taylor.
Lesley Gore, 68
Singer and pianist – died 2/16/15 of lung cancer
Lesley Gore hit number one with “It’s My Party” in 1963, her first recorded single, produced by Quincy Jones. The most commercially successful solo singer of the girl group sound of the early ’60s, other hits included “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” “She’s a Fool,” “You Don’t Own Me,” “That’s the Way Boys Are,” and “Maybe I Know.” The hits dried up in the mid-’60s, but she returned to recording in 2005, releasing Ever Since, which garnered critical acclaim.
Tim Drummond, 74
Bassist (Neil Young, Bob Dylan, James Brown, CSN and more) – died 1/10/15 (unknown causes)
The list of acts Tim Drummond played with is an extraordinary who’s who of country, soul, and rock. From his early days playing with Conway Twitty, he later joined James Brown’s band before moving to Nashville to work with artists including Ronnie Mislap, Doug Kershaw, and Charlie Daniels. After meeting Neil Young and playing on Harvest, Drummond worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder, Crosby, Stills And Nash, the Beach Boys, John Mayall, and Don Henley.
More notable musician who died in 2015:
Sam Andrew, 73
Guitarist of Big Brother and the Holding Company – died 2/12/15 of complications from open heart surgery
Big Brother and the Holding Company is the band that launched the career of Janis Joplin.
Bob Burns, 64
Drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd – died 4/3/15 in a car accident
Played on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first four albums.
Jack Ely, 71
Singer and co-founder of The Kingsmen – died 4/28/15 of unknown causes
Sang on the enduring classic “Louie Louie,” but left the band before the song was released.
Andy Fraser, 62
Bassist and founding member of Free – died 3/16/15 after suffering from cancer and AIDS
Classic rock band that recorded “All Right Now.”
Jimmy Greenspoon, 67
Keyboardist for Three Dog Night – died 3/11/15 of melanoma
Also played and recorded with many artists, including Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, America, The Beach Boys, and Beck.
Ben E. King, 76
Soul and R&B vocalist and songwriter – died 4/30/15 of coronary problems
Sang lead with the Drifters on “There Goes My Baby” and “This Magic Moment.”
A.J. Pero, 55
Drummer for Twisted Sister and Adrenaline Mob – died 3/20/15 of heart disease
Twisted Sister are the famed rockers who penned “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Mike Porcaro, 59
Bassist for Toto – died 3/15/15 of ALS
Joined his brothers Jeff and Steve in Toto just after Toto IV.
Percy Sledge, 74
R&B, soul, gospel, and traditional pop singer – died 4/14/15
Best known for his song “When A Man Loves A Woman.”
I know there are many I missed … add your favorites to the list in the comments below.
Images sourced from Shutterstock (editorial use only) or from album cover art.
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