R.I.P.: A Tribute To Those We Lost In 2016

Prince
Prince

Through the early months of 2016, it sometimes seemed that every time you turned on your computer, looked at your social feeds or picked up a newspaper, another musician had died — including a few who had changed pop music forever. Their obituaries rightly reverberated around the world, as did more as the year progressed. But you may have missed the passing of other important music figures, including many whose contributions occurred behind the scenes or in less commercially ubiquitous genres. Here’s a tribute to 2016’s most notable and newsworthy losses.

JANUARY

Original Jefferson Airplane singer Signe Anderson, 74, who fronted the band on their debut album Take Off, and founding member Paul Kantner, also 74, both passed away on January 28. Anderson departed the band in 1966 before the group’s Surrealistic Pillow launched them to the top of the Billboard charts, while Kantner continued to record and perform with Jefferson Airplane until the group’s demise in 1972. He then went on to form Jefferson Starship.

Quebec pianist Paul Bley, 83, whose 50-plus year recording career dated to the bebop and early free jazz eras, and who in the 1960s helped introduce Moog and Arp synthesizers to jazz.

pierre-boulez
Pierre Boulez

Pierre Boulez, the influential French composer and conductor who championed the avant-garde, died at his home in Germany at the age of 90.

No other musician has been as successful in consistently challenging artistic boundaries as the chamelic and iconic David Bowie. Assuming roles that alternated between dance floor maestro, spaceman and the extraterrestrial channeller Ziggy Stardust, in a chilling twist of fate he released his final album, Blackstar, on January 9 — his birthday — and two days prior to succumbing to cancer at the age of 69.

Chicago-via-Mississippi soul singer Otis Clay, 73, a member of the Blues Hall of Fame who charted a number of R&B hits between 1967 and 1977, including “She’s About a Mover,” “That’s How It Is (When You’re in Love)” and others.

glenn-frey
Glenn Frey

Eagles co-founder and guitarist Glenn Frey, 67, co-wrote and sang on most of the band’s hits, including “Take It Easy,” “Tequila Sunrise” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” and later went on to have solo success in the ‘80s with such hits as “The Heat Is On.”

British rock drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin, 67, who anchored the great glam-rock band Mott the Hoople from their 1969 founding through the ‘70s, and who went on to produce bands such as Hanoi Rocks and the Cult.

Georgia soul singer, Clarence Reid, 76, who in the ‘70s wrote crossover pop hits for TK Records and whose pornographic parodies released under the name Blowfly paved the way for rap music.

Country singer/songwriter Red Simpson, 81, who wrote for Merle Haggard and Buck Owens and scored with his own truck driving songs in the mid ‘60s.

Australian executive and manager Robert Stigwood, 81, who guided the careers of Cream and the Bee Gees, and whose long list of theater and cinema productions includes Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease and Saturday Night Fever.

FEBRUARY

Hot Licks bandleader Dan Hicks, 74, whose albums first charted in the ‘70s crafted a career out of his tongue-in-cheek songs that included his unique hybrid of Western swing and old-timey country.

Country singer Sonny James, 87, who accumulated 21 Top 10 country albums from the mid ‘60s through the early ‘70s, scoring 26 No. 1 hits, including 16 in a row from 1967 to 1971.

Prince protégé Denise Matthews, 57, also known as Vanity, who as the lead singer of Vanity 6 had a No. 1 dance and top 10 R&B hit with “Nasty Girl” in 1982.

earth-wind-fire
Earth, Wind & Fire

Earth, Wind & Fire bandleader Maurice White, 74, who brought a deep strain of pop, jazz and cosmic mysticism to the group’s chart-topping albums from the mid ‘70s to early ‘80s.

MARCH

Actress and singer Patty Duke, 69, whose teenaged mid ‘60s TV “identical cousins” sitcom The Patty Duke Show coincided with her singing career and such hits as “Don’t Just Stand There” in 1965.

Music journalist and record executive Ben Edmonds, 65, who edited Creem magazine from 1971-1975, managed a post-Jim Morrison version of The Doors, and published a 2001 biography on Marvin Gaye.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer keyboardist Keith Emerson, 71, whose bombastic and classically inspired Moog synthesizer theatrics gave the band several Top 10 albums throughout the ‘70s.

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra cellist and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 86, who concentrated on early baroque music but whose repertoire ranged all the way to Gershwin.

The Beatles producer George Martin, 90, who first signed the band to Parlophone and laid the template for rock production and worked with artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Ultravox.

Music journalist John Morthland, 68, who did one of the first interviews with The Rolling Stones as a teenager in 1964, covered Altamont, Jimi Hendrix’s death and Kent State for Rolling Stone, and wrote books on country and Texas music.

British keyboardist Andy Newman, 73, who played with and provided the name of the Pete Townshend-assembled rock trio Thunderclap Newman, whose “Something in the Air” topped the U.K. pop chart for three weeks in 1969.

A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest founding member Malik Taylor, better known as Phife Dawg, 45. He contributed to the group’s forthcoming release, We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, and has been hailed as one of the group’s best efforts.

Brazilian percussionist and singer Naná Vasconcelos, 71, who recorded more than 20 albums from the 1970s through the 2010s and collaborated with artists ranging from Os Mutantes and Milton Nascimento to Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson.

APRIL

Argentine saxophonist Gato Barbieri, 83, whose sound over four-and-a-half decades spanned free jazz, Latin jazz, and pop jazz, who played on essential albums by artists such as Carla Bley and Charlie Haden, and who won a Grammy for his 1972 score for Last Tango in Paris.

Avant-garde artist Tony Conrad, 76, whose extended repetitive drones in ‘60s ensemble the Dream Syndicate laid the groundwork for the Velvet Underground, which featured his collaborators Lou Reed and John Cale and whose name he helped inspire.

Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard

Progenitor of the Bakersfield sound, Merle Haggard passed away on this 79th birthday. The singer/songwriter was incarcerated at Folsom Prison when he saw Johnny Cash’s infamous performance, which prompted him to pursue a music career. Haggard went on to score 38 No. 1 songs on the country charts.

K-Tel Records founder and Winnipeg marketing visionary Philip Kives, 87, whose countless compilations of radio hits helped define the ‘70s, as did household gizmos he pitched such as the Miracle Brush and Veg-O-Matic.

Negativland founder Richard Lyons, 57, who appeared as several different characters on the act’s records, amidst montages that aimed to subvert all sorts of sampled media and pop culture detritus, most famously Casey Kasem discussing a U2 song that led to a lawsuit.

Influential Indiana guitarist Lonnie Mack, 74, whose thunderously slamming instrumentals including the Top 5 1963 hit “Memphis” had a profound effect on modern blues-rock.

Billy Paul
Billy Paul

New Jersey soul singer Billy Paul, 81, best known for his pop/R&B chart-topping 1972 love-affair smash “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

The iconic postmodern pop icon Prince, 57, who infamously forged an entirely new sound with his blend of funk, R&B, pop and rock, all wrapped up in his distinctively flamboyant sexual style.

Congolese singer Papa Wemba, 66, who melded African, Caribbean and American sounds into rumba rock and soukous, reaching a Western audience on tour with Peter Gabriel in the ‘90s.

MAY

Music publicist Tony Barrow, 80, who helped the Beatles achieve worldwide fame from 1962, when they had just signed to Parlophone in the U.K., until 1967.

Guy Clark
Guy Clark

Guy Clark, 74, captivated audiences with songs rich in detail, unsentimental yet surprisingly tender. His recordings, much like the man himself, followed the slow, methodical, respectful gait of a man from Texas.

Thrash-metal drummer Nick Menza, 51, best known for his blistering work on four Megadeth albums between 1990 and 1997.

San Antonio singer Emilio Navaira, 53, the longtime Tejano star who crossed over to the country charts in 1995 with “It’s Not the End of the World.”

Singer Cauby Peixoto, 85, once dubbed “The Brazilian Elvis Presley,” whose flamboyant career spanned eight decades, from the 1940s to the 2010s, and who released well over 100 albums.

Tokyo-born keyboardist Isao Tomita, 84, whose space-age fusion of early electronic music with Stravinksy, Debussey, and Ravel anticipated both new age and techno music and led to seven U.S.-charting albums between 1974 and 1980.

JUNE

Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, 74, whose recordings of his boastful poetry in the mid ‘70s, particularly “I’m the Greatest,” helped inspire early rap music.

Irish guitarist Henry McCullough, 72, best known for his early ‘70s work with Paul McCartney’s Wings, for whom he played lead on songs such as “My Love” and “Live and Let Die.”

Rockabilly guitarist Scotty Moore, 84, whose playing on Elvis Presley’s mid- to late-‘50s records helped invent rock’n’roll, arguably introduced power chords to music, and inspired musicians such as Keith Richards and George Harrison.

P.M. Dawn
P.M. Dawn

New Jersey rapper Prince Be, 46, who gave hip-hop a mellow hippie makeover as P.M. Dawn’s frontman in the early ‘90s, following up the pop-chart-topping “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” with two more Top 10 hits.

Country pioneer Ralph Stanley, 89, whose Virginia Appalachian mountain music set the stage for bluegrass and whose career was revived in 2000 with O Brother Where Art Thou?.

Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, 72, whose Minimoog synthesizer experiments in Parliament-Funkadelic songs like “Flash Light” inspired early techno and G-Funk and who later became a member of Talking Heads.

JULY

Jack-of-all-trades Gary Paxton, 77, whose career stretched from producing early ’60s novelty smashes “Alley-Oop” (which he also sang) and “Monster Mash” to a gospel Grammy in 1977.

Electronic proto-punk rockabilly and junk sculptor Alan Vega, 78, whose work in the New York duo Suicide beginning in 1970 inspired industrial rock, no wave, techno, The Cars, and Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper.”

AUGUST

New Orleans jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, 86, who through the ‘60s charted with 13 albums — including a Top 10 in 1960 ­– while performing weekly on Lawrence Welk’s TV show.

Juan Gabriel
Juan Gabriel

Mexican mariachi-pop star Juan Gabriel, 66, one of Latin America’s most popular performers since the early ‘70s, who introduced florid fashion to his country’s music and whose 1984 album Recuerdos, Vol. II sold 8 million copies in Mexico — the most of any album ever.

Post-bop and fusion vibist and marimba player Bobby Hutcherson, 75, who recorded for Blue Note and other labels for more than half a century, appearing on albums by artists such as Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock and Abbey Lincoln, along with scores of his own records.

Boy band impresario Lou Pearlman, 62, who jump-started careers of ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys but whose own career succumbed to a Ponzi scheme scandal and imprisonment in 2008.

Belgian jazz harmonica player Toots Thielemans, 94, who recorded with artists from Benny Goodman to Billy Joel, and scored TV and movie themes  from Midnight Cowboy to Sesame Street.

Pioneering engineer Rudy Van Gelder, 91, whose technological innovations on countless LPs by John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and other artists retooled the sound of recorded jazz.

Folk artist Glenn Yarbrough, 86, whose frequently high-charting albums as lead singer of the Limeliters — including two that went top 10 in 1961­ — were wry highlights of the early ‘60s folk revival, and who went on to chart with 10 solo albums through the decade.

SEPTEMBER

Folk singer Oscar Brand, 96, who released close to 100 albums, wrote hundreds of songs, and hosted “Folksong Festival” on WNYC in New York for over 70 years — the longest anybody has hosted any single radio show, ever.

Kashif
Kashif

Techno-funk musician Kashif, 59, the B.T. Express alumnus who scored R&B hits through the ‘80s, helped introduce synthesizer and MIDI technology to the genre, recorded several Grammy-nominated instrumentals, and produced early hits by Whitney Houston and other artists.

Jamaican ska artist Prince Buster, 78, whose 1967 “Ten Commandments” was one of the earliest reggae singles to chart in the U.S., whose toasting helped pave the way for rap music, and whose songs were eventually revived by British bands such as Madness, The Specials and English Beat.

Atlanta rapper Shawty Lo, 40, born Carlos Rico Walker, who as a member of D4L scored a No. 1 pop single with “Laffy Taffy” in 2005, followed two years later by his solo hit “Dey Know.”

Country singer Jean Shepard, 82, one of the first women to join the Grand Ole Opry, whose tough ‘60s honky-tonk records helped inspire artists such as Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.

Accordionist and singer Buckwheat Zydeco, born Stanley Dural Jr., 68, a former funk musician who wound up serving as a worldwide ambassador for zydeco, ultimately introducing the Louisiana genre to fans of Robert Plant, U2, Willie Nelson, and the Boston Pops, among others.

OCTOBER

Malian singer and musician Issa Bagayogo, 54, whose socially conscious music electronically modernized the West African rhythms of a traditional string instrument known as kamele n’goni.

Pete Burns
Pete Burns

Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns, 57, the  flamboyant British New Romantic frontman who hit the U.S. Top 20 in the mid ‘80s with the hi-NRG dance hits “Brand New Lover” and “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” then revived his fame two decades later as a reality TV celebrity.

Record executive Phil Chess, 95, who along with his brother Leonard founded and ran Chess Records in Chicago, releasing records by artists such as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Ike Turner that served as a bridge between the hardest blues and early rock’n’roll.

British classical and baroque violinist and conductor Sir Neville Marriner, 92, whose 600-strong  body of recordings leading the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and other ensembles ranks among the most prolific of any conductor ever.

British R&B songwriter and musician Rod Temperton, 66, who followed up his ‘70s career with the disco band Heatwave (best known for “Boogie Nights”) by writing hits for artists such as Brothers Johnson, George Benson and, most notably, Michael Jackson ­­– including several on Off the Wall and Thriller.

North Dakota-born pop singer Bobby Vee, 73, who chalked up several Top 20 pop hits as an early ‘60s teen idol — notably “Take Good Care of My Baby,” No. 1 for three weeks in 1961 — then performed live for decades after; Bob Dylan was an early member of his touring band.

Novelty artist John “The Cool Ghoul” Zacherle, 98, the Philadelphia horror TV host whose Top 10 1958 hit “Dinner With Drac Part 1” preceded Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash” by four years; after a long career in radio, he appropriately passed away just four days before Halloween.

NOVEMBER

Detroit R&B belter Colonel Abrams, 67, whose dance-chart-topping, overdrive-tempoed, intensely deep-souled 1984 hit “Trapped” was a major inspiration for Chicago house music, and who went on place three more singles on the pinnacle of Billboard’s dance chart through 1987.  

Mississippi-born singer/songwriter/pianist Mose Allison, 89, whose deep roots in jazz and blues and knowing songs inspired tributes and covers by rock artists, particularly British ones, from The Who, The Kinks and Yardbirds to The Clash and Elvis Costello.   

Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, 82, the inimitable singer/songwriter with a subterranean baritone was also a man of letters (between 1963 and 1966 he published two novels and a collection of poems). In the late ‘60s, the Canadian writer found like-minded songwriters in the burgeoning New York City folk scene, one of them, fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, cast a spotlight on Cohen when she included the hit song “Suzanne” on her 1966 album, In My Life, introducing Cohen to a host of influential artists. In 1994, Jeff Buckley re-introduced the singer to a new audience with his brilliant cover of “Hallelujah”; it has been estimated “Hallelujah” has been covered by no less than 300 singers.

Soul revivalist Sharon Jones, 60, whose vintage stylings, seasoned by her youth in South Carolina, reached a young, tuned-in audience that spread outward from Brooklyn starting with her 2002 debut with the Dap-Kings.

Garage-rock obscurantist and revivalist Billy Miller, 62, a member of the Zantees and A-Bones who founded Kicks magazine and Norton Records with his wife, Miriam Linna of The Cramps, resurrecting interest in crazed but forgotten early rock ’n’ rollers such as Hasil Adkins.

Avant-garde composer, accordionist, author and theorist Pauline Oliveros, 84, whose mid ‘60s experiments in sampling, remixing and electronics as a founder and director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center were decades ahead of their time, and who continued to break new ground in environmental, meditative and improvised sound well into the 21st century.

Leon Russell
Leon Russell

Classic rock singer/songwriter and sessionman Leon Russell, 74, whose career stretched from early studio gigs with The Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Phil Spector and The Byrds, to his own American-roots-straddling ‘70s hits such as “Tight Rope,” and who wrote or co-wrote hits including The Carpenters’ “Superstar” and George Benson’s “This Masquerade.”  

DECEMBER

Progressive rock vocalist and bassist Greg Lake, 69, who expanded rock’s sonic frontiers as a member of King Crimson and the hugely successful Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and who in 1975 hit No. 2 on the U.K. chart with his solo single “I Believe in Father Christmas.”

Gospel singer Joe Ligon, 80, whose unexpectedly rough but ecstatic testifying helped the Los Angeles quartet Mighty Clouds of Joy cross over to R&B and even disco charts in the mid ‘70s.

George Michael
George Michael

British soul-pop superstar George Michael, 53, early ‘80s teenybop heartthrob with the duo Wham! And whose adult career took off with 1987’s worldwide mega-platinum Faith, which spent 12 weeks at the top of the U.S. charts and produced four No. 1 singles, carrying his initially squeaky-clean image to a more explicit realm with hits like “I Want Your Sex.” In 1984, he wrote and recorded “Last Christmas,” probably the most widely covered new holiday standard of the past several decades — all the more poignant now since he passed away on December 25.