2016 will go down in history for many reasons, not the least of which is the toll it took on popular music. With icons like Prince, David Bowie, George Martin, and a host of others, we pay tribute and remember 25 musicians who died in 2016.
Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, actor – died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl 4/21/16
Born Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince’s influence on and contributions to popular music are impossible to quantify. An astonishing range artists list Prince as a major influence, including the many dozens who collaborated on songs and production, covered his material, were his proteges or projects, or recorded songs penned by Prince. From pop to R&B, folk to rock, Prince’s profound contribution dates back to his debut in 1978 when he released For You as a 19-year-old with a Warner Brothers record deal that gave him complete artistic control (though famously didn’t give him all the publishing rights to his material).
Prince was also exceptional for the range of talent he possessed. He was an inimitable singer, dancer, producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist – he played every instrument on his first five releases, including his first masterpieces, 1980’s Dirty Mind and 1982’s 1999, which sold 4 million copies and included the hits “1999” and “Little Red Corvette.” Of course, it was his sixth album, Purple Rain, that launched Prince into the stratosphere, adding “movie star” to his list of talents. While his acting career peaked with his screen debut, Prince’s musical explorations were just beginning.
After 13 million record sales for Purple Rain – the album that contained “Darling Nikki,” which prompted the creation of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) – Prince made a decidedly surprising choice to follow his muse rather than crank out pop records in the same vein,. His album sales and chart appearances remained frequent and predictable through the following decades (“Raspberry Beret” and “Kiss” were features of his next two releases), but he never matched the sales of Purple Rain. Critically, though, he continued to assert his influence and relevance with the albums Sign ‘O’ The Times, Diamonds and Pearls, and The Love Symbol Album.
A recurring criticism leveled at Prince relates to the inconsistency of his releases post 1990, though not many artists can match his volume of output as Prince cranked out virtually an album a year over the majority of his career, with him as the producer on every release. Not to mention that he has a storied vault of unreleased material left to continue his legacy after his death. And, perhaps even more influential than his albums was Prince’s prowess as a live performer, which he did up until his very last days. Apparently, this took its toll, as Prince’s physical performance style caused the need for hip replacement surgery in 2010, which began an opioid addiction that ultimately claimed his life.
David Bowie, 69
Singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist, actor – died of cancer 1/10/16
In a career spanning 51 years, David Bowie released 25 studio albums, sold 140 million albums, released 111 singles, and acted in TV and film, including The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Hunger, and Labyrinth. But perhaps more than for his work as a gifted musician, composer, actor, and producer, Bowie will be remembered as a master at redefining his music throughout his career and his creation of extraordinary stage personas, including the iconic Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke. He once admitted he developed these personalities to help him overcome his fear of performing, but they also informed the music and art he created as he shifted from glam rock to plastic soul to his Berlin trilogy with Brian Eno and then into mainstream pop/rock with albums like Let’s Dance in 1983.
In 1989, Bowie strayed off the solo artist path to record two albums with Tin Machine, a band he formed with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and Tony and Hunt Sales. After a four-year excursion with the band, Bowie returned to solo work with 1993’s Black Tie White Noise.
After the release of Reality in 2003, Bowie suffered a heart attack in the summer of 2004. He performed very sporadically after that, appearing on stage for the last time in 2006, and many thought his music career over until the surprise release of the song “Where Are We Now?” on his 66th birthday in 2013. That signaled the release of The Next Day, which found Bowie working with the same musicians and producer, his longtime associate Tony Visconti, as he had played with on Reality. On his 69th birthday, Bowie released Blackstar, another Visconti-produced album that proved to be Bowie’s swan song, as he died three days after its release.
Sir George Martin, 90
English record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer and musician – died of undisclosed causes 3/8/16
According to Paul McCartney, “If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle, it was George. From the day that he gave the Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know… He was like a second father to me.” Martin’s career spanned more than six decades of work in music, film, television and live performance, working with a wide range of artists and productions, though he is best known for his catalog with the Beatles. Martin helped the Beatles construct the most notable eight-year career in the history of popular music, during which the band continually pushed the boundaries of studio recordings.
Born in London in 1926, Martin was running a small band, George Martin and the Four Tune Tellers, at the age of 15. In 1947, he enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, studying piano and oboe, then joining EMI Records’ Parlophone label. His early successes included a hit record with actor Peter Ustinov in 1952, and he was asked to head the label in 1955.
In 1962, Martin was introduced to the Beatles, though he recalls being initially unimpressed with their music, thinking their songs “weak” and “uneven,” while admitting, “they were interesting and had something slightly different,” specifically noting the band’s personality and sense of humor. In his expansive career, Martin also worked with America (producing “Tin Man,” “Lonely People” and “Sister Golden Hair”), Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, UFO, Peter Sellers, Shirley Bassey, Ultravox, and Celine Dion, among others – and produced the best selling single of all time (since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking music sales in 1991), Elton John’s renovated “Candle in the Wind,” done in honor of Princess Diana in 1997. Martin also continued to work with Paul McCartney on solo projects, including “Live and Let Die” and the album Tug of War.
Martin’s production career slowed as he began to lose his hearing, and he became the vice-president of Deafness Research UK, a charity dedicated to hearing issues before officially retiring in 2009, when he was 83. He was knighted in 1996, serving as musical director for Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. He died peacefully at home, according to his family.
George Michael, 53
Singer, songwriter, producer – died of heart failure 12/25/16
Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, George Michael was the most-played pop star on English radio between 1984-2004 (according to Britain’s Radio Academy), sold over 100 million records worldwide, and flourished in the heyday of MTV. Beginning his musical career in a ska band called the Executive with schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley, the band was short-lived, but Michael and Ridgeley went on to form Wham!, which vaulted them into pop stardom in the UK and around the world with the duo’s 1983 debut, Fantastic. That album yielded hits and big sales, but the duo recognized they had signed an unfavorable record deal, and in extricating themselves from the deal, gave up future royalties on the album. It paid off, as Wham!’s next album, Make It Big, built on the debut’s success, reaching Number One in the UK and US, and selling 10 million copies worldwide. In 1985, Wham! was the first Western group to tour the People’s Republic of China.
In 1986, Wham!’s final album was released (Music From The Edge of Heaven in North America and Japan, and The Final elsewhere), but Michael was already fashioning a solo career, and in 1987 he released Faith, which doubled Wham!’s sales on the strength of “I Want Your Sex,” “Father Figure,” “Kissing a Fool,” and the title track, selling 20 million worldwide and showcasing Michael’s writing and producing talents as he penned all but one song (a co-write) and had creative control of the entire album.
Michael took a calculated step back from his sexy, pop-star image in his subsequent releases, stating in interviews that he wanted to avoid falling into the pitfalls of success and fame he saw other artists succumb to. After his 2004 release, Patience he announced he’d stop releasing albums, and would release content online, with proceeds going to charity.
Michael’s stardom made his personal life fair game, and his four arrests between 1998 and 2010 were open to public scrutiny. The first, famously connected to an incident with an undercover policeman in a men’s bathroom, ultimately led to his revealing his homosexuality (he had also claimed to be bisexual). He suffered bouts of depression, was arrested multiple times for drug possession, and suffered numerous serious health issues in the past decade. In 2011, he was treated in an intensive care unit in Vienna, Austria for pneumonia, leading to his cancelling dates on his Symphonica Tour. In 2013, he was hospitalized after a car accident in England. Rumors are circulating regarding his physical and mental states leading to his death, but details beyond heart failure have yet to emerge.
Leonard Cohen, 82
Author and singer/songwriter – died in his sleep 11/7/16
Born in Westmount, Canada in 1934, Leonard Cohen was six books into his writing career when he released his first album at the age of 33, 1967’s Songs of Leonard Cohen. He enjoyed critical success as a writer, issuing books of poetry and prose, and was once compared to James Joyce by The Boston Globe. His musical career began in earnest when Judy Collins included “Suzanne,” a song written by Cohen, on her 1966 release, In My Life. Cohen’s first release, Songs of Leonard Cohen, scored him an audience among the college folk crowd, and his long career included various extended tours (as in years-long) as well as extended periods of silence – he issued only one album between 1988 and 2001. It was 1985’s Various Positions that included his best-known composition, “Hallelujah,” but it wasn’t until Jeff Buckley recorded it in 1994 that the song received any real recognition. now it is a staple of a capella and has been covered by wildly disparate artists: Newsweek even ranked 60 cover versions of the song in an article in 2015, dismantling most of the renditions (including Cohen’s).
Cohen’s musical career was never your standard story, and includes theater productions (1973’s Sisters of Mercy) and an ill-fated collaboration with Phil Spector on 1977’s Death of a Ladies’ Man. Cohen’s music came back into popular consciousness in 2005, largely due to Cohen’s daughter Lorca suspecting his longtime manager, Kelley Lynch, of embezzling money. It turns out Lynch had stolen more than $5 million, which prompted Cohen to embark on an epic 387-show tour that spanned the world and five years. He released four studio and four live albums in the 12 years after that tour started, including 2016’s You Want It Darker, which was released less than a month before he died. Cohen’s commercial success, while perhaps modest by commercial pop standards, was dwarfed by his impact as a songwriter and performer, borne out by the hundreds of artists who list him as an influence and inspiration.
Merle Haggard, 79
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, fiddle player – died of complications from pneumonia 4/6/16
One of the most beloved and revered singers and songwriters in country music’s history, it’s a wonder that Merle Haggard even had a music career. His story leading up to his early success in Bakersfield, CA includes a string of robberies, incarceration, and malefaction that could have easily ended in a life in jail, or worse. But Haggard, who taught himself to play guitar at the age of 12, had a telent that kept catching the attention of country stars of the day, and he eventually cut his first record for Tally Records in 1963. From there, it was a steady rise in popularity, as he honed his songwriting craft and built an audience, breaking through as a country superstar in 1966, with three Top Ten hits: “Swinging Doors,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” and “The Fugitive.” The next year began a phenomenal streak of 37 Top Ten hits over the next decade, with 23 of those reaching number one, including a streak of four in in row: “Branded Man,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “The Legend of Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Mama Tried.”
In his storied career, Haggard racked up 19 awards from the Academy of Country Music, six Country Music Association Awards, and four Grammy Awards. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1994, though his recording career didn’t end until his final days, with his final song, “Kern River Blues,” being released a month after his death. In all, Haggard recorded more than 65 albums over a 53 year span, and his influence on the country music genre is nearly impossible to overstate. Haggard battled lung cancer in the last decade of his life, though he continued to perform live before dying on his birthday in his home in Palo Cedro, California.
Glenn Frey, 67
Guitarist, pianist, singer, co-founder of the Eagles – died of rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia 1/18/16
Born in Detriot, MI, Glenn Frey’s early musical life was influenced and aided by Bob Seger, who helped the young musician with his early efforts. Indeed in 1968, the 19-year-old Frey played acoustic guitar and sang on Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Later that year, Frey moved to Los Angeles, befriending drummer Don Henley, and ultimately formed the Eagles as he, Henley, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon played together backing Linda Ronstadt. In 1972, those four signed with David Geffen as he was forming Asylum Records. Eagles was released in June 1972, going gold on the strength “Take It Easy,” “Witchy Woman,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
The Eagles went on to be one of the biggest selling acts in music history, with Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) release in 1976 selling 25 million copies, followed by Hotel California, which topped 10 million in sales. The band stopped performing and writing between 1980-1994, but then reunited, releasing Hell Freezes Over and Long Road Out Of Eden between tours and appearances.
Frey also released six solo albums between 1982 and 2012 and did some acting work as well, including TV appearances on Miami Vice and a shot at his own show, which was canceled after its debut. But Frey will be remembered mostly for his enduring work with the Eagles, including “Hotel California,” “Take It Easy,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Heartache Tonight.”
Malik Taylor, AKA Phife Dawg, 45
Rapper, co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest – died of complications from diabetes 3/22/16
With its 1990 debut, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, A Tribe Called Quest and its Native Tongues contemporaries (De La Soul and Jungle Brothers) served a jazzed-up intelligent style of rap that provided an alternative to the harder-edged hardcore and gangsta rap that had grown to define the hip hop genre, at least in terms of notoriety and record sales. Phife Dawg, also known as Phife, The Five-Foot Assassin (he was 5′ 3″), and The Funky Diabetic (he was diagnosed with Diabetes mellitus type 2 in 1990), teamed up with high school classmate Q-Tip in 1985 and was later joined by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White before releasing their first album as A Tribe Called Quest on Jive Records. The group released five records before disbanding in 1998, with their sophomore effort, The Low End Theory, widely regarded as one of the best hip hop albums ever recorded. Born in Queens, NY, Phife received a kidney transplant from his wife in 2008, though by 2012, he needed another. He died in his home in Contra Costa County, CA.
Maurice White, 74
Singer, drummer, songwriter, producer, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire – died after battling Parkinson’s 2/4/16
A session drummer for legendary Chicago-based OKeh and Chess Records, Maurice White founded Earth, Wind & Fire in 1969. The band went on to have 46 charting R&B singles, 33 charting pop singles, win six Grammys Awards, earn four American Music Awards, and score over 50 gold and platinum albums. Incorporating a mystic spiritualism and an eclectic stage show that rivaled that of Parliament Funkadelic, White’s songwriting and arranging skills were the foundation upon which EWF built its temple. White continued to play, compose, and arrange with EWF until 1999, enduring a 13-year hiatus with the band between 1974-1987. In 2000, he announced he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, though he wrote, arranged, sang, produced, and played kalimba on 2003’s The Promise.
Greg Lake, 69
Bassist, guitarist, vocalist, co-founder of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer – died after a prolonged battle with cancer 12/7/16
Born and raised in Dorset, England, Greg Lake was grade-school friends with King Crimson co-founder Robert Fripp (they went to the same guitar teacher), and was a central figure in the band’s groundbreaking debut, In The Court If The Crimson King, released in 1969, playing bass and singing lead vocals. After the band’s first tour, it was clear that Ian McDonald (flute, keyboards, mellotron, reeds, vibraphone, vocals, woodwind) and Michael Giles (drums) weren’t suited for life on the road, prompting them to leave after the recording of Crimson’s second release. According to Lake, he didn’t feel comfortable carrying on as King Crimson without them, particularly as McDonald wrote a lot of the material. Coincidentally, as the first tour and the original King Crimson lineup was coming to an end, Lake met Keith Emerson (Crimson was sharing the bill with Emerson’s band, The Nice), and the two decided to form a band. After recruiting Carl Palmer, Emerson, Lake & Palmer released its eponymous debut in 1970, which charted an acoustic number, “Lucky Man,” which had been written by Lake many years before. ELP strung a series of progressive albums together that spanned a decade and saw the band stand as a critical and commercial powerhouse. After ELP’s break-up, Lake released a solo album featuring him on guitar and vocals, along with an assembly of talent that included guitar virtuoso Gary Moore, Clarence Clemmons, Steve Lukather, David Paich, and Jeff Porcaro. His latter career included solo tours, work with Emerson and Palmer (including a 2010 reunion show), 1987’s Emerson, Lake & Powell album and tour, and a stint as Asia’s bassist and lead vocalist in 1983-84.
Keith Emerson, 71
Keyboardist, composer, founder of Emerson, Lake & Palmer – died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound 3/10/16
Considered by many as the most technically proficient keyboard player in rock history, Keith Emerson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer introduced progressive rock to tens of millions of fans worldwide with a heavy dose of classical music built into its sound. The seeds of ELP were formed when Emerson’s band, the Nice, toured with Lake and King Crimson in the laste ’60s. ELP’s first five albums, released between 1970-1973, were critical and popular successes, culminating in the band’s most ambitious and satisfying release, Brain Salad Surgery. Following the break-up of ELP at the end of the ’70s, Emerson embarked on a solo career, then formed Emerson, Lake & Powell, who released an album in 1987. Emerson reunited with ELP in the early ’90s, releasing the album Black Moon, and then with the Nice for a tour in 2002. His last album, The Three Fates Project, was released in 2012. Emerson was suffering from nerve damage and pain in his right hand, as well as heart disease and depression, leading up to his suicide. His longtime partner, Mari Kawaguchi, said he had been very worried about an upcoming tour: “He didn’t want to let down his fans. He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous, and anxious.”
Paul Kantner, 74
Guitarist, vocalist in Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, K.B.C. Band and solo – died of multiple organ failure after suffering a heart attack 1/28/16
Paul Kantner was the first person vocalist Marty Balin recruited when he sought to put together a new band in the mid-’60s in the San Francisco Bay area. Jefferson Airplane went on to exemplify the hippie and psychedelic movement, while scoring five gold albums and being the only act to perform at Monterey, Woodstock, and Altamont. With the dissolution of the Airplane in 1972, Kantner released solo projects, including Sunfighter with Airplane band member and romantic partner Grace Slick, before forming Jefferson Starship, which went on to be one of the most successful arena rock bands of the ’70s and early ’80s. After a run that included multiple hit singles and albums, Kantner left the band (and sued for the naming rights) and formed the K.B.C. Band. In the ’90s and beyond, various iterations of Jefferson Airplane and Starship performed, with the latter releasing Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty in 2009.
Rick Parfitt, 68
Guitarist, singer, songwriter in Status Quo – died of a severe infection following shoulder surgery 12/24/16
Status Quo, while not charting a hit in the US since 1970, has a five-decade history as one of England’s most popular bands, charting singles and albums across the 50 years since its debut in 1967, with over 60 chart hits in the UK, the most of any rock band in history. Parfitt joined the band in its early days, before the 1968 debut, Picturesque Matchstickable Messages from the Status Quo, which yielded “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” a Top 10 in the UK that reached Number 12 in the US. That album and its follow-up featured a psychedelic musical inclination that the band abandoned in 1970 with the release of Ma Kelly’s Greasy Spoon. That album introduced the boogie rock formula that the Quo would explore for the following 46 years, with little variation from album to album. That predictability proved the group’s strong suit, earning them the opening slot for the Live Aid concert in 1985, where they played their hit, “Rockin’ All Over The World.” In 1997, Parfitt underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery, but continued performing and recording with Status Quo after his recovery. But his health problems forced him to leave the band in 2016, though Parfitt had plans to pen an autobiography and embark on a solo career before a fall caused him to get the operation on his shoulder which ultimately led to his death on Christmas Eve.
Lonnie Mack, 74
Rock and blues guitarist and vocalist – died of natural causes 4/21/16
Described as one of the first true rock guitar heroes, Lonnie Mack (born Lonnie McIntosh) was an innovator and massive influence on many blues guitarists, including Stevie Ray Vaughn. Mack, who started playing professionally in his early teens in the late ’50s, was of native American descent and was easily identified by his guitar of choice, the Gibson Flying V, which he chose because of its arrow-like design. Mack’s V was the seventh guitar off the Gibson production line, which he had specially fitted with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece. It’s Mack’s use of the Bigsby on his album The Wham of That Memphis Man and the signature track “Wham!” that gave the “whammy bar” its nickname. His recording career began with an out-of-the-blue hit with an instrumental version of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis,” but was hampered by record label miscues, which caused him to quit the business in the late ’70s. In 1985, Vaughn convinced Mack to move to Austin, TX and return to recording, orchestrating Strike Like Lightning, which signaled a brief but emphatic comeback for the guitar great. In 2001 he was inducted into the International Guitar Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2005.
‘Toots’ Thielemans, 94
Preeminent jazz harmonica player – died in his sleep 8/22/16
Born in Brussels, Belgium in 1922, Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, Baron Thielemans – known as “Toots” – learned to play accordion at the age of three and was known for his harmonica playing, guitar, and whistling skills. Toots’ first international breakthrough came with Benny Goodman’s Band during a European tour in 1949-1950. Immigrating to the USA in 1952, he became a member of Charlie Parker’s All Stars in Philadelphia and worked for six years with the George Shearing Quintet. Thielemans also played with Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones (who called him “one of the greatest musicians of our time”), Bill Evans, Jaco Pastorius, Natalie Cole, Pat Metheny, Paul Simon, and Billy Joel. You may have heard Thielemens’ harmonica playing and not even known it: for 40 years, his harmonica was the central melody of the TV theme song of Sesame Street. For years he was the perennial winner of DownBeat magazine’s poll for “Miscellaneous Instruments,” and he was designated a Jazz Master in 2009 by The National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor for a jazz musician in the US.
Hyman Paul Bley, 83
Jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader – died of natural causes 1/3/16
One of jazz music’s most inventive and original pianists, known for his contributions to the free jazz movement of the 1960s and his innovations and influence on trio playing, Canadian Paul Bley’s phrasing and harmony were the hallmark of a career based on non-conformity and creativity – for instance, performing with Moog synthesizers before an audience for the first time at Philharmonic Hall in New York City on December 26, 1969. Bley’s list of collaborators is impressive, including Chalie Parker, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, and Art Blakey. Bley began teaching at the New England Music Conservatory in the ’90s and continued to tour internationally and record up until 2014. Bley released nearly 100 recordings, and also published several books, including Stopping Time and Time Will Tell. In 2008, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
Mose Allison, 89
Jazz and blues pianist, singer, and songwriter – died of natural causes 11/15/16
Mose John Allison, Jr. became notable for playing a unique mix of blues and modern jazz early in his career. His first release, Back Country Suite, came in 1957, after he moved to New York. That album included “Young Man Blues,” which was later recorded in 1970 by The Who on Live At Leeds. While his career was inhibited, in part, by his affinity for different styles of music, he is recognized as being one of the finest blues songwriters of the 20th century. John Mayall, Georgie Fame, Leon Russell, and Bonnie Raitt have all recorded Allison’s songs, and The Pixies’ “Allison” is a tribute to Mose. His popularity increased in the ’80s, which prompted him to record more consistently in the ’90s, extending his influence. Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, the Yardbirds, the Rolling Stones, and Pete Townshend all list him as an influence and inspiration.
Pierre Boulez, 90
Composer and conductor – died of undisclosed causes 1/5/16
Pierre Boulez sits at the #4 position on the list of all-time Grammy winners with a total of 26 (he also won the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015). Best known for his performances of Béla Bartók, Alban Berg, Anton Bruckner, Claude Debussy, Gustav Mahler, Maurice Ravel, Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, and Anton Webern, he was the founder and director of the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) based in Paris. (Read More…)
Leon Russell, 74
Pianist, guitarist, trumpet player, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, session player – died in his sleep 11/13/16
Leon Russell’s list of collaborations and credits span decades, genres, and includes a list of artists that reads like a roster of popular music royalty of the past two centuries, including Joe Cocker, Jerry Lee Lewis, Phil Spector, Elton John, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike & Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, George Benson … the list is long. His 60-year career includes more than 30 of his own records being released – not to mention the countless albums and tracks he recorded and produced – and nearly 450 songs. Since the mid-’80s, Russell was sporadic with his musical endeavors, until Elton John coaxed him back into the limelight with the T-Bone Burnett-produced The Union, released in 2010. Strong reviews and sales of that album spurred a comeback, culminating with his release of Life Journey in 2014.
Nick Menza, 51
Drummer for Megadeth, Marty Friedman, OHM – died of heart failure 5/21/16
Though Nick Menza was best known for his drumming with Megadeth from 1989-1998, including recording on Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction, his roots stem from jazz, his father being a saxophonist who played with Buddy Rich, among others. Part of what is widely regarded as Megadeth’s most potent lineup, the “classic” era, Menza was, by his account, fired by bandleader Dave Mustaine over the phone while Menza was recovering from knee surgery, which had forced him to leave the Cryptic Writings tour. Menza played in various bands and projects after splitting with Megadeth, including Orphaned to Hatred and Mindstream. He collapsed onstage playing at a jazz club called The Baked Potato in Studio City, CA with his instrumental rock/jazz fusion band OHM, which included fellow former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. He died of a heart attack, and it was later revealed that he had hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Denise Katrina Matthews (AKA Vanity), 57
Singer, songwriter, dancer, actress and model – died of renal failure 2/15/16
Vanity (Denise Katrina Matthews) was the original lead vocalist for the Prince creation Vanity 6, and is featured on the act’s 1982 hit, “Nasty Girl.” Originally cast in the movie Purple Rain, she left Vanity 6 before the film to be replaced by Apollonia, and Vanity went on to release two solo albums and star as an actor in The Last Dragon, 52 Pick-Up, and Action Jackson. Linked romantically to Prince, Adam Ant, Billy Idol, and Nikki Sixx, Matthews’ recovery from an addiction to crack cocaine was ultimately the catalyst for her Christian conversion in 1994 – though the addiction contributed to the ultimate cause of her death, as her kidneys were damaged from her years of heavy drug use.
Dan Hicks, 74
Singer-songwriter – died of liver cancer 2/6/16
Emerging from the same San Francisco scene that spawned the Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Message Service, and the Grateful Dead, Dan Hicks’ acoustic centered folk/jazz/county blend earned him a cult following from his early releases with Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks in 1969 through his later releases into this decade. After a number of releases in the ’70s, Hicks didn’t record another album with The Hot Licks until 2000’s Beatin’ The Heat, which boasts appearances from Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bette Midler, and Brian Setzer. He released another five albums through 2010, including his Crazy For Christmas holiday album, which was his last studio issue.
Jimmy Bain, 67
Bassist with Rainbow, Dio, and Last In Line – died of lung cancer 1/24/16
Ronnie James Dio asked Jimmy Bain to join Rainbow just after the recording of the band’s debut, finding Bain touring with Rainbow and recording on its second studio release, 1976’s Rising, and the live On Stage. After being fired from the band, he played in various projects, including Kate Bush’s The Dreaming in 1982. He rejoined Dio for his solo debut, Holy Diver, co-writing a number of tracks, and played on Dio’s first four releases while founding Hear ‘n Aid, a foundation dedicated to help eliminate world hunger. Bain continued to perform and record until his death. He died in his cabin on Def Leppard’s “Hysteria on the High Seas” cruise the night before his group Last In Line was scheduled to play.
Dale Griffin, 67
Drummer for Mott The Hoople – died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease 1/17/16
Born from the band Silence, Mott The Hoople was formed when singer Ian Hunter joined Dale “Buffin” Griffin, Mick Ralphs (guitar), Verden Allen (organ), and Overend Pete Watts (bass). The band released its debut in 1969 and quickly developed an underground and critical following, but after their fourth album resulted in little mainstream success, the band was going to call it quits. Enter David Bowie, who convinced the band to stay together, producing the album All The Young Dudes, and cementing Mott The Hoople’s place in music history. Griffin played on all the band’s records, including Mott’s final studio release, 1976’s Pointing And Shouting, and kept busy with projects including work with Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. At the age of 58, Griffin was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, but he did join on encores for 2009’s Mott The Hoople 40th anniversary shows.
Holly Dunn, 59
Country singer/songwriter – died of ovarian cancer 11/15/16
A popular female country singer in the late ’80s, Holly Dunn worked as a demo singer and staff songwriter at CBS before moving to MTM in 1984, where she wrote material for several artists, including Louise Mandrell’s Top 10 “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet.” Dunn then recorded her own singe, “Daddy’s Hands,” followed by 1987’s Cornerstone, which began a strong of hit albums that took her into the ’90s. She retired from commercial music in 2003, citing changing times and an interest in painting, with a tally of 10 Top 20 Country hits in her career, and five albums that charted in Country’s Top 50.
Frank Sinatra, Jr., 72
Singer, songwriter, arranger – died of cardiac arrest 3/16/16
Despite his father’s discouraging him from pursuing music as a profession, Francis Wayne Sinatra shrugged off his father’s advice and spent over 50 years performing as a singer, fronting big bands in a similar style to the elder Sinatra. At the age of 19, Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped, and a ransom of $240,000 was paid for his release, an incident that continued to trail him through his career. Sinatra, Jr. worked as his father’s music director in the mid-’60s, conducting his orchestra in the late ’80s. Sinatra. Jr.’s singing career continued after his father’s death, through his final days with his Sinatra Sings Sinatra band, which included members of his father’s orchestra. Sinatra. Jr. died of a heart attack just before a scheduled performance.
Robert Stigwood, 81
Managed Cream and Eric Clapton, launched the career of the Bee Gees – died 1/4/16 (cause of death unknown)
Australian-born Robert Stigwood started out in the music industry by forming a management company in the ’50s and ’60s, but poor business decisions and a disastrous Chuck Berry tour he was promoting forced Stigwood to focus on management. Stigwood went on to be the manager of Cream, Eric Clapton, and the Bee Gees and producer of the films Saturday Night Fever and Grease, and his companies expanded into almost every entertainment field. The Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO) promoted artists such as Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Rick Davis (Bay City Rollers), and David Bowie. The RSO Records label recorded Clapton, Yvonne Elliman, and Player as well as soundtrack albums for The Empire Strikes Back and Fame.
Images sourced from Shutterstock (editorial use only) or from album cover art.
A musician, writer, and marketer, Andre Calilhanna manages and edits the Disc Makers and BookBaby Blogs. Follow Andre on Twitter @dre_cal. Email him at email@example.com.
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56 thoughts on “27 music icons and musicians who died in 2016”
Isao Tomita! (2nd May 16)
Yes, we lost so many great musicians in 2016. For some reason, one of the greatest musicians of all time didn’t make this list. Left-handed guitar legend Jackie King passed away on January 27, 2016 from a stroke and heart attack at 72. The son of a guitarist, he started playing professionally at age 13 in San Antonio, Texas and in a very short time he was a master of country, classical, and jazz. When he was around 15, his father, who knew Les Paul, took him to get a lesson with him. Les Paul listened to Jackie and told him “You sound good kid, just keep practicing.” Early in his career he played and recorded with Chet Baker. On the liner notes of Jackie’s first LP “Skylight”, Chet Baker wrote, “A vision of music made manifest. One of the greatest guitarists of all time comes forth on this solo album. I haven’t been that surprised by jazz in a long time.” When Howard Roberts first heard Jackie, he recruited him to be one of the first instructors at his Guitar Institute of Technology. That experience inspired him to open his own school in San Antonio, The Southwest Guitar Conservatory. Herb Ellis was one of the school’s board members and gave numerous clinics there along with Barney Kessel, Lenny Breau, Tal Farlow, and Pat Martino. In a 2009 interview at the Montreux Jazz Festival, John Schofield stated, “Jackie King is a Monster!” In another interview, the great alto saxophonist, Richie Cole had this to say, “Jackie’s one of the best guitar players I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played with the best.” One of Jackie’s best friends and biggest fans was Willie Nelson. Jackie toured with Willie for many years and he would always feature Jackie on a couple of jazz tunes, which the country audience absolutely ate up. Right before she passed away, Jackie was on jazz pianist Marian McPartland’s long running radio show and also was featured on the last album she made. She and Jackie recorded the only duo cut she ever made. During his long career he performed and recorded with: Ray Charles, Phil Woods, Richie Cole, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Bennett, Norah Jones, Sonny Stitt, and The Boston Pops. He made several guitar instruction books and videos for Mel Bay and Hot Licks. I could go on and on about Jackie but I’ll finish with this. Right before Les Paul passed away, Jackie got to sit in with him at the Iridium. After they finished the first tune, Les said, “you got another?” and that went on for a whole set. To see a picture of Jackie with Les at the Iridium and another with Willie and Ray along with more biographical info, visit: http://www.uiwjazz.com/jackie_bio.html or Jackie’s personal website: http://www.jackiekingmusic.com where you can see some videos of Jackie in action.
PATRICK J. MARCINKO JR. passed away JULY 8, 2016 – he is considered by many to be “The Musician’s Musician”. A native of North-East Pennsylvania, Patrick had already gained “touring musician” status before graduating from Olyphant high school; he was at age 12 a member of the “MUSICAL MINERS” , a Dixieland band comprised of early teenagers. Pat went on to attend the University of Miami, in Coral Gables, Florida and graduate with a degree in Music; All the while performing in clubs throughout Miami Beach and backing up such luminary performers as Tony Bennett, Larry Storch, Sammy Davis Jr., Trumpet great Louis Armstrong, and many more. Pat next moved to New York City where he continued his musical development, studying voice, and gained further credits in Russian studies from Fordham University. Upon moving back to NEPa, Pat finished an education degree by attending classes at then, Marywood College.
Pat next began teaching Music at Archbald High School and Russian at Keystone College. Eventually he landed the position of Band Director at Scranton-Central High School. In years to come he would move on to many more educative endeavors; teaching summer music camps, guest conducting for music festivals and more. Throughout these years Pat continued to Perform regularly with various musical groups and was always “first-call” percussionist whenever ANY major musical artists visited the area.
While Pat had always been one to write NEW arrangements or compositions for his various High school or college ensembles as well as choral arrangements for the choir of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Ukrainian Catholic Church, It wasn’t till he neared his retirement from teaching that he would tackle major compositions such as: 1985, Commemorative Liturgy for the celebration of 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine; 1988, Pascha (a full Oratorio based on the book of St. Luke); 2009, A Coal Miners Tale (a programmatic composition for Wind Ensemble with Percussion and Narrators);
2012, THE 20TH CENTURY, an overview (a modern composition for Orchestra and Choral with soloists).
To more easily facilitate the performance of his own works as well as those of other composers, Pat first founded(1984) “the EKUMEN CHORAL” an accapella vocal ensemble whose repertoire includes the works of many Eastern European Choral Masters such as Vedel, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff; later(2005) he formed the “UPPER VALLEY WINDS” an advanced wind ensemble so as to facilitate performances of his instrumental compositions as well as those of other composers. In July 0f 2014 Pat the Upper Valley Winds turned towards Jazz as Pat got to live out a lifelong dream of conducting the CUBAN FIRE SUITE composed by Johnny Richards, Pat continued on the “Jazz-Path” with his Big Band and continued performing the great music of one of his favorite band leaders Stan Kenton.
Gilli Symth, the good witch Yoni, co-founder of Gong (1 June 1933 – 22 August 2016) – without whom, there would be no space whisper.
Two of my favourites……Papa Wemba and Buckwheat Zydeco.
Roye Albrighton, singer and guitarist for the great prog-rock band Nektar also passed in 2016. I’m sure there are more left off this list. All will be greatly missed for their wonderful art and contributions to music of all stripes!
Well, a lot of musicians died in 2016, but two important ones left of this short list are Ralph Stanley, one of the fathers of bluegrass and a career spanning many decades. The other is Guy Clark who is considered to be one of the finest songwriters to have come out of Texas – a songwriter’s songwriter if you will and two of the most memorable musicians I’ve photographed in a long line of them. And even though she wasn’t a musical herself, we also lost Roz Larmin, the host of Folkscene on KPFK in Los Angeles for over forty years. For me it’s personal when people that I have had in front of my camera die, including others already mentioned – Keith Emerson and Maurice White.
Where is Chris Squire from Yes?
He died in 2015. https://blog.discmakers.com/2016/01/musicians-who-died-in-2015/
Could have mentioned Sharon Jones.
Alphonze Mouson, a drummer’s drummer who played with Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and so many more….
Perhaps not quite as ‘iconic’ as those mentioned above, but I think we should at least mention Alan Thicke here. I was shocked by the amount of music credits he has.
Among his many TV theme songs, did you know he wrote the original theme song for Wheel of Fortune?!! Rest in peace, Jason Seaver.
What about the king of ska, prince buster who died this year.
Very sad indeed. Too much going on in the world with opioids, which caused right around half of the ‘2016 celebrity list deaths.
I have fought 5 bouts of cancer in the past 7 years, I’m on all the “dangerous” medications, and a few of them have me wise about how much I take, and how far apart I take them. (Percocet and Dilaudid) both together. Yea, scary sometimes!
This is no joke, I mean I hurt damn bad everyday, but I certainly do not want to accidentally overdose, it’s truly very easy to forget that you’ve taken you’re medication, and end up doubling you’re dose, or from simply being in extreme pain, it can be easy to loose track of how many and how far apart you’ve taken them, especially when there’s more then one narcotic being taken regularly.
Writing down in a journal when you’ve taken your melds is a great idea. Js-
RIP all the Musicians; we never ever forget you because your music is keeping you alive in our heart!!!
But, I felt sad when I came to know that David Bowie is no more. I love all his music especially of 80s.
Great musician, singer and song writer. David; you are alive in my heart and always listen your songs on oldies radio app.
Thanks to all guys for whatever you have given to us.
Jimmy Bain was a cool cat and great bass player. I met him when he was touring with Billy Squier. He also played bass on some Doors studio stuff. He will be missed.
And Lemmy! Who was a good friend of Keith Emerson, the latter I regard as GOD (making Greg Lake the voice of GOD). So Nietzsche is truly right.
Lemmy is another who died in 2015.
And what’s all this about Nietzsche?
Probably referring to his statement: “God is dead”.
Paul Ray, singer who helped Stevie Ray get going in Austin, and “Austin’s greatest deejay” – http://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2016-01-22/playback-austin-loses-its-voice-paul-ray-1942-2016/
Kantner will be back!
so sad;may they all rest in peace
Dallas Taylor drummer for CSN&Y
He died a few years back.
I’d like to add Robert Paulson, AKA Cadalack Ron, an amazing and under-recognized hip hop artist. Died at the age of 34 on January 22 of unknown causes. And now there’s also Phife Dawg, member of A Tribe Called Quest, who died a week ago, March 22, at the age of 45 of complications related to diabetes.
I almost updated to include Phife Dawg (the post was written a week before he died) – he’ll be in the next edition. Thanks for the inclusion of Cadalak Ron.
Once again, no mention of Scott Weiland. Say what you want about him, but he was very talented. He deserves better than to be ignored by the media.
Weiland was featured on the 2015 version of this post (he died 12/3/15) – https://blog.discmakers.com/2016/01/musicians-who-died-in-2015/
He died in 2015
You forgot Gary Loizzo of the American Breed who wrote “Bend Me Shape Me” also an incredible sound engineer,
co-written with Larry Weiss.
Aren’t you forgetting Maestro Kurt Masur, German conductor (Gewandhaus-Leipzig/Germany, New York Philharmonic and many others) and Maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Austrian cellist and conductor (Concentus Musicus Wien), two of the greatest conductors and musical personalities of the second half of the XX century? I think they deserve to be mentioned and honored in your columns. Thank you.
Thank you – you’re right, too often I focus on the “popular” artists… though it’s also a case of there being too many great artists and achievers to mention them all. Keep adding your faves to the comments’ section. And add links to bios or obits, too!
Really? Natalie Cole died 12/31 and deserves an honorable mention at the very least..
See the 2015 version of the post: https://blog.discmakers.com/2016/01/musicians-who-died-in-2015/ for Natalie Cole.
That Was Last year (2015), but may she rest in peace. I really enjoyed her contribution to great music.
Where’s Malik Izaak Taylor aka Phife Dawg?! Tribe Called Quest represent.
I knew there’d be a number of shout outs for Phife Dawg. As mentioned before, this post went live before he died. He’ll be in the next one… unfortunately.
Forgot Natalie Cole and Signe Anderson of The Jefferson Airplane
Natalie Cole passed on 12/31/15, she was included in the 2015 version of this list (https://blog.discmakers.com/2016/01/musicians-who-died-in-2015/). I did omit Signe Anderson (and there were a couple of others). Here’s a write up (http://www.contracostatimes.com/breaking-news/ci_29667923/jefferson-airplanes-original-vocalist-signe-anderson-dies-same) – she died on Jan. 28th, same day as Paul Kantner. Same age, too.
It says musicians and musical icons – not “junkies who road in on their dead dad’s corpse to get their 2.6 minutes of fame.” Just sayin
I’m not Up on a lot of the 60’s,early 70’s Music history,I’m guessing it’s somewhere in that period You’re talking about… CAN You give a “HINT” to those of us that all share my Lack of Knowledge when it comes to the Period of ROCK Music I believe You are referring to the Individual riding on his Father’s coattails and Name to get his Fame Without Payin’ His Own DUES? Thanks Much!
Probably the one who’s name ends with “Jr.”
Figured I’d add in René Angélil who died on January 14, 2016 after a long battle with throat cancer. Best known as Celine Dion’s husband, music manager, and inspiration, he began his career as part of the Canadian pop rock group The Baronets in the 1960s and had a modest number of hits. I’m sure we all do hope her heart will go on…
Alan toussaint, isao tomita, and Dave Clark come to mind. 2016 was rough, but this covid year could be worse.