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2016: The year that music died

2016-12-18 20:01

Johannesburg - 2016 has been a tumultuous year, made more so by the seemingly endless list of beloved celebrities who died.

The music industry was hit particularly hard. The year had barely started when David Bowie died, shortly followed by Prince and a host of other great musicians.

Here are just some of the musicians we said goodbye to in 2016:

“I don’t know where I’m going from here,” Bowie once said, “but I promise it won’t be boring.”

The cultural icon and rock legend died of cancer at age 69 on 10 January. With more than 100 million records sold worldwide, the rock superstar passed away three days after the release on his 25th studio album after succumbing to an 18-month battle with cancer.

One of the most original and singular voices in rock and roll for nearly five decades, Bowie championed mystery, rebellion and curiosity in his music. Ever unpredictable, the mercurial artist and fashion icon wore many guises throughout his life. Beginning life as a dissident folk-rock spaceman, he would become an androgynous, orange-haired, glam-rock alien (Ziggy Stardust), a well-dressed, blue-eyed funk maestro (the Thin White Duke), a drug-loving art rocker (the Berlin albums), a new-wave hit-maker, a hard rocker, a techno enthusiast and a jazz impressionist. His flair for theatricality won him a legion of fans.

Greg Lake

The English guitarist and singer-songwriter from the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, died on 7 December of cancer. He was 69.

Lake’s official webpage also announced the death.

Gregory Stuart Lake was born 10 November 1947, in Dorset, England. Before joining with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer, Lake was a member of King Crimson, which he formed with Robert Fripp. Their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, which Lake co-produced, featured the celebrated song 21st Century Schizoid Man. King Crimson heavily influenced other famous bands including Genesis and Yes.

Leon Russell

The legendary rock musician and songwriter, died on 13 November at his home in suburban Nashville, Tennessee. He was 74.

Russell learned to play the piano at a young age growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also played the guitar. By the time he was 14, he was playing in the Tulsa nightclubs with his group the Starlighters. The legendary JJ Cale was also a member of that band.

Russell moved out to Los Angeles and became a popular session musician. He had the ability to play a variety of music including rock, blues, soul, country, and gospel. He played on albums by the Byrds, Glen Campbell, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys. He co-wrote the hit song Everybody Loves a Clown for Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1965.

Russell also had a long solo career. He released his first album in 1970, the self-titled Leon Russell. The album featured one of his best-known songs, A Song for You, which has been covered by Andy Williams and Elton John.

Leonard Cohen

The legendary Canadian-born singer-songwriter, died on 7 November. He was 82.

“It is with profound sorrow we report that legendary poet, songwriter, and artist Leonard Cohen has passed away. We have lost one of music’s most revered and prolific visionaries,” his label wrote on his Facebook page.

The writer and performer of classics including Hallelujah, Suzanne, and Everybody Knows, Cohen tackled subjects like religion, isolation, and love in his music as well as his poetry. His recording career began in the 1960s and was held in similar critical acclaim to fellow folk artist Bob Dylan.

He continued to record and perform into his 80s, releasing his final album, You Want It Darker, just three weeks before his death.

He recorded his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967. His well-crafted songs were soon covered by other famous artists like James Taylor and Judy Collins, though Cohen’s own early records didn’t gain more than a cult following. As a performer, Cohen’s unpolished voice was authentic and delivered his emotional lyrics in a way that resonated with audiences. Although he was not a frequent chart-topper, he became one of the most influential and respected artists among fellow musicians.

Hallelujah, first recorded in 1984 for his Various Positions album, is widely considered to be Cohen’s masterwork. It was a song he had agonised over before recording, working on it for years and writing about 80 verses that he eventually pared down to four. Many of the early draft verses included clear biblical references, but those were toned down and made more opaque for the largely secular final version.

Bernie Worrell

The founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, died on 24 June of stage 4 lung cancer. He was 72.

Worrell announced in January 2016 that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, as well as liver cancer, and was undergoing treatment. He discussed the fact that he had rejected chemotherapy and was using a naturopathic approach.

As the keyboardist with Parliament-Funkadelic, or P-Funk, Worrell helped influence musical genres from funk to disco to new wave to jazz. With bandmates including founder George Clinton and bassist Bootsy Collins, P-Funk became a musical collective with an ever-changing lineup, encompassing multiple side projects and solo recordings from its many members.

Christina Grimmie

The YouTube sensation who starred on season six of NBC’s The Voice, died on 11 June, hours after she was shot following a Friday night concert. She was 22.

Grimmie was signing autographs after the concert in Orlando, Florida, when a gunman approached her and opened fire. She was struck several times before her brother, Mark, tackled the gunman, who then shot himself to death.

Born 12 March, 1994, in Marlton, New Jersey, Grimmie began singing when she was 6. She later learned how to play the piano. She began posting videos on YouTube when she was 15. Her covers of songs by Miley Cyrus, Nelly, and other pop stars caught the attention of Selena Gomez and her managers, who signed the young singer. Grimmie soon began appearing at various Disney events.

Nick Menza

Former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza died at the age of 51 after collapsing on stage on 21 May.

Menza was playing a gig with his band OMH at the Baked Potato club in Los Angeles. He collapsed on stage while playing and died of an apparent heart attack.

Menza played with the thrash metal band Megadeth during what is called their “classic” period from 1989 until 1998. He played with the band on some of their most successful albums including Rust in Peace which was released in 1990.

Billy Paul

Billy Paul, a Grammy Award-winning R&B and jazz singer known best for his 1972 No. 1 hit song Me and Mrs Jones, died on 24 April. Paul was 81.

Paul died at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey.


Prince died on 21 April at age 57 at his Paisley Park home and studio in Minneapolis.

One of the most iconic musicians in music history, Prince’s extensive career grew out of the music scene of his native Minneapolis, where he lived his entire life.

His 1978 debut album For You and self-titled second LP, released in October 1979, kicked off an incredibly prolific run of albums that included 1999, Purple Rain, Around The World In A Day, Sign O The Times and Batman, among others, throughout the 1980s at a clip of nearly one per year, evolving with each release.

It was 1984’s Purple Rain – his first No 1 album on the Billboard 200 – released in conjunction with the film of the same name, that cemented him as one of the greatest artists of his generation, earning him two Grammys, and Oscar and a victory over Michael Jackson’s Thriller for Favorite Pop/Rock Album at the 1985 American Music Awards.

In total he would receive seven Grammy Awards from 32 nominations between 1984 and 2010. Along the way, he worked with several bands under a series of pseudonyms, including The Time, the New Power Generation and The Revolution, as both frontman and producer.

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard died on 6 April6 – his 79th birthday – but his songs live on. He serenaded listeners for decades, creating what came to be known as “outlaw country” as he moved from the lush Nashville Sound of mainstream country to a Bakersfield Sound full of twangy guitars and fiddles. He recorded 38 No. 1 hits and landed numerous accolades, from multiple Grammy awards to a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Maurice White

Maurice White was a shining star to the many fans who loved the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. He died on 4 February. Under White’s leadership, Earth, Wind & Fire mixed elements of funk, soul, jazz, rock and pop along with strong songwriting that brought the band worldwide fame. The group has sold over 90 million records.

Paul Kantner

The founding member of the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane and its successor, Jefferson Starship, died on 28 January at the age of 74.

Jefferson Airplane released their debut album in 1966 and quickly began developing a sound that would profoundly influence the psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s. Their second album and first success, 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow, is one of the great classics of psychedelia. It included the two songs most often associated with the band: White Rabbit and Somebody to Love. Kantner was a guitar player and vocalist with the group and also one of their songwriters.

Glenn Frey

The founding member and guitarist of the Eagles, died on 18 January at the age of 67.

Frey founded the Eagles along with Don Henley, Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon after the four musicians were assembled to play backup for a 1971 Linda Ronstadt show. It was just a year after that show when they recorded their debut album, Eagles (1972), a platinum seller that introduced the world to their California-tinged country rock. Of the debut album’s three big singles, Frey sang two: Take It Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling. Henley sang Witchy Woman, which he co-wrote with Leadon.

(Sources: Billboard, Rolling Stone,

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