A Year Like No Other: The Musical Passings of 2016

By Mindy Wolfle

Not since 1970-1971, with the deaths of Jimi, Janis and Jim (the Lizard King), has the world of rock and roll suffered losses like those experienced in 2016. Those of us “raised on rock and roll” (thank you, Judy Collins) – and all others who have embraced rock music as the soundtrack of their lives – were left to mourn this year like no other. A brief recap includes these rock luminaries and others from the music world who left us (in chronological order):

David Bowie’s death from cancer on Jan.10th at the age of 68 came as a shock to fans and many close associates. Bowie – The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Major Tom – among other alter-egos, was one of the most influential modern musicians, right up to his last album, Lazarus, released just two days before he died…

Glenn Frey, co-founder and guitarist for the Eagles, lost his battle with rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia on Jan.18th at the age of 67. Along with Don Henley, Frey co-authored a string of the band’s hit singles, including “One of These Nights,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Take It to the Limit,” “Hotel California,” “New Kid in Town,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “The Long Run,” “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Heartache Tonight…”

Two veterans of the 1960s San Francisco rock scene, Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson, were founders of the seminal Jefferson Airplane. Kantner died on Jan. 28th, days after suffering a heart attack. Anderson, who preceded Grace Slick as lead vocalist, succumbed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 74 on the same day as Kantner…

Maurice White was a singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, arranger, bandleader and founder of Earth, Wind & Fire. White died on Feb. 3rd at age 74; he had suffered with Parkinson’s disease for more than 15 years. Hits for the band include “Shining Star,” “Sing a Song” and “Fantasy…”

Ninety year old Sir George Martin, the groundbreaking record producer most noted for his work with The Beatles, died at his home in England on Mar. 8th. Dubbed The Fifth Beatle, Martin, a gentleman of fine taste and technical acumen, was knighted in 1996. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. About The Beatles, the BBC reported that “He took them from their mop-top pop recordings of the early 1960s to the psychedelia of Sergeant Pepper…”

Keith Emerson was aptly called “the greatest, most technically accomplished keyboardist in rock history,” according to allmusic.com. He was revered for his work with ELP and as a solo artist. Sadly, the progressive rock legend died on Mar.10th at the age of 71, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Reports indicate he suffered ongoing pain and nerve issues in his arm for several years…

Frank Sinatra, Jr., son of an American legend, passed away unexpectedly on Mar.16th from cardiac arrest while with his “Sinatra Sings Sinatra” tour in Daytona Beach, Florida. The 72 year old was a musician in his own right, a singer and recording artist, as well as conductor and musical arranger who toured with his father in the late 1980s…

Merle Haggard, a leader in the Bakersfield country music scene, succumbed to pneumonia on Apr. 6, his 79th birthday. Married five times, Haggard served time in San Quentin Prison and was a member of the audience when Johnny Cash held his legendary 1959 performance there. Haggard had 38 number one singles in the 1960s, concluding the decade with his future signature song and most controversial recording, “Okie from Muskogee…”

Prince has been called a prodigy, a provocateur and a game-changer in popular music. His death on Apr. 21st at the Paisley Park compound outside Minneapolis has been attributed to an overdose of the opioid fentanyl. Prince, known for the radio and video-friendly classics “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain” and “Little Red Corvette,” among many others, was 57…

Born Stanley Dural, Jr. in 1947, he came to be known as Buckwheat Zydeco, also the name of his band. Dural, who died on Sept. 24th in Lafayette, Louisiana, became the most successful Zydeco act of record. Known for his jubilant performances and ever-present accordion, Buckwheat shared Louisiana culture with the world…

Gravel-voiced, with a cult following, Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen died in his sleep on Nov. 7th at age 82. Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which he first performed over 30 years ago, has been so revered that leonardcohenfiles.com currently lists 2,040 cover versions. Cohen’s “Suzanne” and “I’m Your Man” ooze with his well-known sensuality…

ELP and King Crimson fans worldwide mourned the Dec.7th passing of Greg Lake at the age of 69. Lake died of cancer. Emerson, Lake and Palmer topped the charts with such albums as Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery and Trilogy. Equally revered for his work on King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and In the Wake of Poseidon, Lake has been called the voice of progressive rock…

George Michael, who achieved fame as a teen heartthrob in the duo Wham!, had a solid solo career with several smashes including “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Everything She Wants,” “Careless Whisper” and “Freedom.” Outside of the recording studio he was known for his notorious sexual and drug exploits. Born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in England, Michael died unexpectedly on Christmas Day of what his manager said was heart failure. He was 53…

Worth far more than an honorable mention, others who recently passed on to musicians’ heaven include:

Australian-born music entrepreneur Robert Stigwood’s most recognizable achievements were managing the group Cream (Clapton, Bruce and Baker) and the Bee Gees, along with the theatrical productions Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. He died of a heart attack on Jan.6th at age 81…

Canadian-born Denise Matthews, closely associated with Prince, died at age 57 of kidney failure on Feb.15th. Prince renamed her Vanity, built a group called Vanity 6 and created a sexually explicit stage act as part of his touring revue

Dan Hicks, best known for his work with the Hot Licks, lost a courageous fight against throat and liver cancer at the age of 75 on Feb. 6th. Ironically, the group had a hit with “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette…”

New Orleans jazz and Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain passed away at the age of 86 on Aug. 6th. Fountain was synonymous with “Basin Street Blues.” Among his collaborations was the 1950s Dukes of Dixieland…and the beat goes on…

Photos: David Bowie performs at Tweeter Center outside Chicago in Tinley Park, IL by Adam Bielawski/own work/author Photobra/Creative Commons (CC); Maurice White – Chris Hakkens/CC; Prince – Nicolas Genin from Paris, France/CC; usage of photos does not constitute endorsement. Video: EMI Music/YouTube.

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