musicians who died in 2021

Musicians who died in 2021

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In addition to all the heartache last year wrought, the list of notable musicians and producers who died in 2021 is extensive, with a host of innovators, groundbreakers, and icons joining their departed brethren at the eternal post-gig party.

I did my best to make this a comprehensive tribute, but there are doubtless many musicians who were inadvertently overlooked. Please take a moment to share remembrances of anyone who didn’t make this list and share your thoughts in the comment section as we move past the trainwreck that was 2021 and look ahead to the new year.

charlie watts musicians who died in 2021Charlie Watts, 80
Drummer, Rolling Stones — died of undisclosed causes 8/24/21

Unless you’ve been in a coma since 1962, you know the Rolling Stones have had an outsized role in the arc of rock and roll and that Charlie Watts has drummed for them every step of the way. Watts doesn’t fit the mold of most other acclaimed drummers in rock, and while the word “jazz” is used to describe his playing style, I think it’s less direct than that. In fact, it’s difficult to describe what it is about Watts’ playing that sets him apart, but as a drummer who has sat in with bands playing Stones’ tunes, there’s an undeniable genius in picking Watts’ parts apart. His fills don’t fit where you expect them, the rhythm isn’t what everyone else would have played, and there’s a reason why Keith Richards gushes about Charlie while dishing on just about everyone else in his autobiography, Life. Watts’ drumming was an understated but integral part of the Stones’ — and therefore, rock and roll’s — trajectory, and his passing marks the end of an irreplaceable era. [Photo by Siebbi: Charlie Watts, CC BY 3.0.]

mary wilson  musicians who died in 2021Mary Wilson, 76
Founding member of The Supremes — died of hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease 2/28/21

Originally formed as The Primettes in Detroit, Mary Wilson — along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard —  signed to Motown Records in 1961 as The Supremes, ultimately becoming the most successful Motown act of the 1960s and the best-charting female group in history with 12 of their singles reaching number one on Billboard‘s Hot 100. After their first few singles failed to make waves, 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” hit number one, soon followed by “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again” — all of which hit number one. Wilson remained a Supreme until 1977 (Ballard and Ross has left before that), and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

don everly  musicians who died in 2021Don Everly, 84
Singer, guitarist, songwriter of groundbreaking duo The Everly Brothers — died of undisclosed causes 8/21/21

Brothers Don and Phil Everly were accomplished musicians before becoming The Everly Brothers, and they are regarded as one of the most successful and influential acts of the burgeoning rock and roll scene in the ’50s. Combining elements of rock, country, and pop, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Nick Lowe, and Dave Edmunds cite the duo as a major influence, fueled by a string of popular songs that started with the band’s first number one hit, 1957’s “Bye Bye Love.” Other notable songs include “Wake Up Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bird Dog,” “(‘Til) I Kissed You,” “When Will I Be Loved,” and “Cathy’s Clown.” The Everly Brothers were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

chick corea  musicians who died in 2021Chick Corea, 79
Jazz keyboardist — died of a rare form of cancer 2/9/21

Chick Corea’s music career began in the early ’60s, and he released his first album, Tones for Joan’s Bones, in 1968. He joined Miles Davis’ band in the late ’60s, playing electric piano on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. That set Corea up to explore the jazz-rock fusion that really defined his career, as he formed Return to Forever in 1972, recording seven albums with the ever-changing ensemble and performing in various configurations of the band until he passed in 2021. In that time, Corea recorded nearly 90 albums, racking up 23 Grammys along the way.

stephen sondheim  musicians who died in 2021Stephen Sondheim, 91
Composer-lyricist of American musicals — died of cardiovascular disease 11/26/21

Stephen Sondheim compiled a dizzying list of accomplishments, notably with American musicals, which began with his composing lyrics to 1957’s West Side Story and Gypsy in 1959. From there, Sondheim composed music and lyrics for a string of Broadway musicals, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Assassins. Sondheim’s work went beyond the musical, and in addition to having a theater named after him in New York, his career achievements include winning eight Tony Awards, an Oscar, eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by Barack Obama. [Photo by Poemsstories: Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.]

michael nesmith  musicians who died in 2021Michael Nesmith, 78
Guitarist, songwriter, producer with The Monkees — died of heart failure 12/10/21

The Monkees formed in 1965 as a TV sitcom show about a fictitious band. But Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones’ band soon took flight, and while they had little creative and musical input on the first two albums, 1967’s Headquarters saw Nesmith getting writing credit on seven tracks. Nesmith-penned Monkees classics include “Circle Sky,” “Listen to the Band,” and “The Girl I Knew Somewhere.” Nesmith played in bands after The Monkees, including First National Band, and worked in the music biz for years after, founding Pacific Arts in 1974, a multimedia production and distribution company which helped pioneer music videos. [Photo by NBC Television. The photo was also used to answer fan mail during the height of their popularity. The card had no copyright marks either. eBayfrontbackeBaycard front card back, Public Domain.]

dusty hill  musicians who died in 2021Dusty Hill, 72
Bassist for ZZ Top — died in his sleep, shortly after suffering a hip injury 7/28/21

ZZ Top formed in 1969, with Dusty Hill joining on bass and backing vocals in 1970. Together, the trio of Hill, Billy Gibbons, and Frank Beard released 14 studio albums between 1972 and 2012, and performed over 3,100 live concerts, including their World Wide Texas show, which lasted 18 months and went down in history as one of the craziest tours of the ’70s. The band’s signature long beards and dark shades played well with the advent of the music video, and the ’80s proved pivotal for the band, with songs like “Legs”, “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Rough Boy” making waves with their music videos. ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. [Photo by Ralph Arvesen, CC BY 2.0.]

barry harris  musicians who died in 2021Barry Harris, 91
Bebop pianist — died of complications from COVID-19 12/8/21

Barry Harris came up as a jazz pianist in the late 1940s and ’50s in Detroit, where a thriving scene helped him develop the bebop style indelibly associated with the master player and educator. His catalog includes well over 30 releases, spanning seven decades. Harris was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989.

pat martino musicians who died in 2021Pat Martino, 77
Jazz guitarist — died of chronic respiratory disorder 11/1/21

Pat Martino’s story is extraordinary, and unique. His professional debut as a jazz guitarist came shortly after being expelled from Catholic high school, joining singer Lloyd Price’s big band and saxophonist Willis Jackson’s combo in 1962. In the mid-’70s, after launching a career as a bandleader and having over a dozen albums released, Martino began experiencing frequent headaches and seizures, including one that came on while he was performing in 1976. An emergency operation to remove a brain tumor a year later left Martino with no memory. Martino literally had to relearn to play guitar, including listening to his own albums, from scratch. By the mid-’80s, he was performing again, and went on to release another 14 albums, beginning with 1987’s The Return.

phil spector musicians who died in 2021Phil Spector, 81
Music producer — died of complications from COVID-19 1/16/21

Phil Spector changed the role of the record producer, creating his “Wall of Sound” technique that famously made the recording studio, essentially, another member of the band. Born in the Bronx, Spector moved to Los Angeles as a teenager, founding the Teddy Bears and recording the ballad “To Know Him Is to Love Him” in 1958, which went on to sell over a million records. His work as a record producer is now legend, crafting hits with the Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers, as well as the Beatles, John Lennon, and George Harrison. After spending three decades in semi-retirement, Spector was sentenced to to 19 years to life in prison for the murder of the actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. He died in prison. [Photo by Kingkongphoto from Laurel Maryland, USA. Phil Spector, CC BY 2.0.]

ronnie wilson musicians who died in 2021Ronnie Wilson, 73
Multi-instrumentalist, co-founder of the Gap Band — died after suffering a stroke 11/2/21

Hailing from Tulsa, OK, Ronnie Wilson formed the Greenwood Archer Pine Street Band (named for the streets in the Black part of Tulsa attacked in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre) with his brothers Charlie and Robert, releasing their Gap Band debut, Magicians Holiday, in 1974. It was 1979’s self-titled album that started getting attention, and the band went on to record a string of hits over its 40-year career, including “Shake,” “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops Up Side Your Head),” “Early in the Morning,” “Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me),” and 1982’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.”

dee tee musicians who died in 2021Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas, 70
Saxophonist and a founding member of Kool & the Gang — died in his sleep 8/7/21

In 1964 in New Jersey, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas and six of his teen friends formed The Jazziacs, blending jazz, soul, and funk and rolling through several names and iterations before releasing the eponymous Kool & the Gang album in 1969. Dee Tee was known as the master of ceremonies at the band’s shows, and he also served as the group’s wardrobe stylist. Kool & the Gang has earned two Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards in a career that spanned over 50 years, including 2021’s release, Perfect Union. Notable tracks by the group include “Get Down on It,” “Ladies’ Night,” “Cherish,” “Jungle Boogie,” and “Celebration,” the ubiquitous wedding/birthday favorite that was inspired by the Quran. [Photo: sourced from the Kool & the Gang website.]

joey jordison musicians who died in 2021Joey Jordison, 46
Drummer and co-founder of Slipknot — died in his sleep 7/23/21

Joey Jordison helped found the Des Moines, Iowa alt-metal band Slipknot in 1995, with Roadrunner Records releasing the band’s eponymous debut in 1997. Through constant touring, exceptional musicianship, and a ghastly, Halloweenish persona, the band built a following, buoyed by a couple of appearance at the traveling Ozzfest music festival. Jordison appeared on the band’s first six releases, including the independent Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat., before leaving the band in 2013.

graeme edge musicians who died in 2021Graeme Edge, 80
Drummer and co-founder of the Moody Blues — died of metastatic cancer 11/11/21

In addition to drumming for the seminal English band, The Moody Blues, Graeme Edge wrote spoken-word poems that, along with the orchestral and progressive elements of the band, helped define them as true pioneers. Their most famous song, 1967’s “Nights In White Satin,” includes Graeme’s “Late Lament,” read by keyboardist Mike Pinder on the album version of the release. Other notable tracks for the band from the ’60-’70s include “Tuesday Afternoon,” “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band),” and “Ride My See-Saw,” and after a hiatus in the late seventies, the band scored a hit with 1986’s “Your Wildest Dreams.” The Moody Blues have sold more than 70 million albums and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. [Photo Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 (negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang, bestanddeelnummer 923-9509 — Nationaal Archief), CC0.]

stonewall jackson musicians who died in 2021Stonewall Jackson, 89
Singer, guitarist, songwriter — died of complications of vascular dementia 12/4/21

Born in 1932 in Tabor City, N.C, Stonewall Jackson (not a nickname, that’s his name at birth) was a honky-tonk singer steeped in “hard country,” a lean, shuffling brand of country music that features fiddle and steel guitar. Boasting more than 60 years as a member of the cast of the Grand Ole Opry — which includes a chapter in 2007 when he sued the organization for age discrimination — from 1958 to 1965, Jackson released 23 consecutive singles that reached the Country Top 40, and ultimately saw 44 of his songs make that list. Notable songs include “Don’t Be Angry,” “B.J. the D.J.,” “The Carpet on the Floor,” “Why I’m Walkin’,” “A Wound Time Can’t Erase,” and “I Washed My Hands In Muddy Water.”

BJ Thomas musicians who died in 2021B.J. Thomas, 78
Vocalist — died of complications of lung cancer 5/29/21

Billy Joe Thomas made his name singing pop and country songs in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. His best-known songs include “Hooked on a Feeling,” “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

bunny wailer musicians who died in 2021Bunny Wailer, 73
Singer-songwriter and percussionist — died of complications from a stroke 3/2/21

The last surviving original member of the Wailers — which emerged from The Teenagers, a vocal trio that included Bob Marley and Peter Tosh — Bunny Wailer served as the “spiritual mystic” and helped propel the band into the most influential in the ska/reggae genre. Wailer left the band in the mid-’70s, but continued to make music, launching his solo career with 1976’s Blackheart Man. [Photo by Peter Verwimp, own work, CC0.]

junior mance musicians who died in 2021Junior Mance, 92
Jazz pianist — died of a brain hemorrhage 1/17/21

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Julian Clifford Mance, Jr. (or Junior, to differentiate him from his father) got his first professional gig when he was 10. He played with Gene Ammons in the ’40s, Lester Young and Ammons-Sonny Stitt in ’50s, and released albums on his own, starting with 1959’s Junior.

sylvain sylvain musicians who died in 2021Sylvain Sylvain, 69
Guitarist, co-founder of New York Dolls — died of cancer 1/13/21

The New York Dolls didn’t last long, but the legendary proto-punk’s renown grew in the years after it collapsed. Syl Sylvain joined the band just after it had formed, and is credited with coming up with the name. He performed on the bands ’70s releases, New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon, as well as 2006’s “comeback,” One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. [Photo by Erika Harding, Public Domain.]

lee scratch perry musicians who died in 2021Lee “Scratch” Perry, 85
Reggae Innovator, record producer, and singer — died of undisclosed causes 8/29/21

Rainford Hugh Perry was a pioneer in the 1970s, developing dub music and mentoring artists like Bob Marley. He wrote and fronted his own bad, The Upsetters, and worked with luminaries including the Clash, Paul and Linda McCartney, the Beastie Boys, among many others. [Photo by, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.]

terence astro wilson musicians who died in 2021Terence “Astro” Wilson, 64
Founding member and toaster of UB40 —
died after a short illness 11/6/21

brian travers musicians who died in 2021Brian Travers, 62
Saxophonist, arranger, and lyricist for UB40 —
died of cancer 8/22/21

UB40 formed in December 1978 in Birmingham, England, with Terence “Astro” Wilson joining in February 1979. A percussionist and toaster (rapping, talking, or chanting, usually in a monotone melody), Perry joined Brian Travers and six other members and saw UB40 enjoy massive success, seeing more than 50 singles reach the UK Singles Chart and selling over 70 million records worldwide. Travers was part of the original lineup and was one of five members who stayed with the group from its inception to his passing in 2021.

robby steinhardt musicians who died in 2021Robby Steinhardt, 71
Violinist and singer for Kansas — died of complications of acute pancreatitis 7/17/21

With a uniquely middle-American take on progressive rock, Kansas rose to be one of the most popular bands in the US in the ’70s and ’80s. With classically-trained Robby Steinhardt on violin, the band carved a niche for itself with massive hits including “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.” Steinhardt was also co-lead singer and emceed during concerts. [Photo by Kirshner Records, from file: Kansas 1976.JPG, Public Domain.]

jim steinman musicians who died in 2021Jim Steinman, 73
Composer, lyricist, record producer, and playwright — died of kidney failure 9/19/21

Jim Steinman was notable for having a larger-than-life sensibility when it came to writing and producing music. The most notable example can be found on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album, that seamlessly threads elements of rock and music theater into a genre unto itself. Other notable works by Steinman include Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” and Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” [Photo by Justin (aka Jsteinfan), CC BY-SA 3.0.]

jimmie rodgers musicians who died in 2021Jimmie Rodgers, 87
Vocalist, guitarist, pianist —
died of kidney disease 1/18/21

kangol kid musicians who died in 2021Kangol Kid, 55
Hip hop producer, songwriter, member of hip hop group UTFO —
died of complications of colon cancer 12/18/21

wanda young musicians who died in 2021Wanda Young, 78
Singer in the all-female Motown group the Marvelettes —
died of complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 12/15/21

[Photo by Motown/Tamla Records-photographer-James Kriegsmann, New York – Billboard page 13, Public Domain.]

lonnie smith musicians who died in 2021Lonnie Smith, 79
Jazz organist —
died of pulmonary fibrosis 9/28/21

tom t hall musicians who died in 2021Tom T. Hall, 85
Songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, banjo, mandolin, piano, saxophone —
died of undisclosed causes 8/20/21

les mckeown musicians who died in 2021Les McKeown, 65
Singer, Bay City Rollers —
died of cardiac arrest 4/20/21

dmx musicians who died in 2021DMX, 50
Rapper —
died of cocaine-induced heart attack 4/9/21

hub hubbard musicians who died in 2021Leonard ‘Hub’ Hubbard, 62
Bassist, The Roots —
died of multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer) 12/16/21

joe simon musicians who died in 2021Joe Simon, 85
R&B singer —
died of undisclosed causes 12/13/21

keith allison musicians who died in 2021Keith Allison, 79
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, Paul Revere & the Raiders —
died of undisclosed causes 11/17/21

Photo: © 1978 Ed Thrasher

sonny osborne musicians who died in 2021Sonny Osborne, 84
Bluegrass banjoist —
died of a stroke 10/24/21

deon estus musicians who died in 2021Deon Estus, 65
Bassist, vocalist (Wham! & George Michael) —
died of undisclosed causes 10/11/21

bob moore musicians who died in 2021Bob Moore, 88
Bassist —
died of undisclosed causes 9/22/21

[Photo by Bill Forshee/CMHOF. Original publication: MusicRowImmediate. Source, Fair use.]

srah dash musicians who died in 2021Sarah Dash, 76
Vocalist —
died of undisclosed causes 9/20/21

[Photo by Vannessajg, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.]

rob bushy musicians who died in 2021Ron Bushy, 79
Drummer, Iron Butterfly —
died of esophageal cancer 8/29/21

[Photo by Onemore, wn work, CC BY 3.0.]

kenny malone musicians who died in 2021Kenny Malone, 83
Drummer —
died of COVID-19 8/26/21

shock g musicians who died in 2021Shock G, 57
Rapper, Digital Underground —
died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, methamphetamine, and alcohol 6/10/21

mike mitchell musicians who died in 2021Mike Mitchell, 77
Guitarist, The Kingsmen —
died of undisclosed causes 4/16/21

morris bb dickerson musicians who died in 2021Morris ‘B.B.’ Dickerson, 71
Bassist, vocalist, founding member of War —
died of undisclosed causes 4/2/21

Photo: Gino Rossi

jim weatherly musicians who died in 2021Jim Weatherly, 77
Singer, songwriter —
died of natural causes 2/3/21

ed bruce musicians who died in 2021Ed Bruce, 81
Country singer-songwriter, guitarist —
died of natural causes 1/8/21

gerry marsden musicians who died in 2021Gerry Marsden, 78
Singer, songwriter, guitarist, Gerry and the Pacemakers —
died after being diagnosed with a blood infection in his heart 1/3/21

[Photo by Paul Schumach, Metropolitan Photo Service, New Yo

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About Andre Calilhanna

Andre Calilhanna is a drummer, vocalist, writer, editor, and all around music fan. He's also a golf "enthusiast," pianist-in-progress, and a below-average guitarist (thanks for asking). Contact him at

24 thoughts on “Musicians who died in 2021

  1. I have index cards I write the death dates and group memberships on. Today my sources are not available anymore, so your listings are very helpful for me. Thank-you and even your commentators who may contribute. I have many memories of these artists in my record collections from 40’s to the 80’s.

  2. You left out Gary Scruggs, eldest son of Earl Scruggs. I was friend with the Scruggs family and had spoken to Gary merely days before he passed December 1st. Grammy winning singer and songwriter, member of Earl Scruggs Revue, and bassist for Waylon Jennings, he deserves to be recognized.

  3. 2 friends of mine passed:
    Iconic producer / mixer Brian Tankersley 63 covid related February 2021
    Fritz McIntyre keys, vocals & songwriter with Simply Red 62 covid related August 2021

    1. Thanks for sharing and adding their names to the post. Sometimes it’s easy to forget all of these famous folks have family and friends for whom this loss is personal. That is always front of mind for me as I pore over the hundred-plus people included in this tribute.

    1. From Wikipedia: David Longdon was a British multi-instrumentalist and singer, best known as the lead vocalist and co-songwriter of the progressive rock band Big Big Train. (Died 11/20/21 following an accident).

    1. From Wikipedia: Don Heffington was an American drummer, percussionist, and songwriter. He was a founding member of the Los Angeles alternative country band Lone Justice… and a member of the bluegrass band Watkins Family Hour, recorded three solo albums, and was a session and touring musician. (Died March 24, 2021 of complications from leukemia.)

      On a personal note, I saw Lone Justice open for U2 in ’80s at The Capital Center. I went out and bought their album the next day. They were awesome.

  4. So many people passing away from cancer in today’s world. It used to be lists like this had a ton of heart related deaths. But today, the cancer deaths outweigh everything. I have lost numerous loves ones to cancer. As so many millions of us have. F*** cancer as the saying goes. We truly need to find a cure to this terrible disease….

    Moody Blues “Knights In White Satin” is one of my top 10 songs of all time. What an extraordinary piece! And it was way before my time. But I can appreciate exceptional music from any genre!

    I hope one day my music is well enough known, that when my time comes, I will make one of these lists. Last year I nearly checked out before achieving all of my goals in music. We are all gonna be gone one of these days. I feel really blessed to have survived last year. And to have more time to be part of this life.

  5. We lost Melvin Van Peebles & Greg Tate as well.
    Both perhaps better known for their other work, but also accomplished musicians.

  6. This list is horrific as well as 2020! A very high percentage of these deaths were unnecessary which is just a shame, because they were due to taking an experimental shot!
    And what about all the legendary producers, engineers and staff who helped all these musicians and celebrities shine and become popular? Their names should be in this list as well because without the producers, engineers and staff who helped all these musicians become popular, they would never have been known.

    1. Agreed, but there’s no way to get everyone on here that deserves a mention. There are producers on here, and I have a list of some other folks, photographers and more, who I’ll add. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      1. Tommy DeBarge – bassist, songwriter from the Motown group Switch and later DeBarge died Oct 22.

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