In Memoriam: Musicians We Lost In 2016 | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

In Memoriam: Musicians We Lost In 2016

The past year was devastating for many music fans with the passing of icons like Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen and George Michael.

Jim DeRogatis of WBEZ’s Sound Opinions and Ayana Contreras of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul joined Morning Shift to reflect on the many musicians – household names and lesser-known figures alike – who died this year.

Below is an incomplete list of some of those musicians.


Bluesman Barrelhouse Chuck (Marc Cooper/Flickr)

December

George Michael, 53: English megastar of the 1980s and 1990s who launched his career as half of pop duo Wham. Sold 100 million records. Most-played artist on British radio between 1983-2003. First Caucasian musician to top Billboard R&B charts.

Barrelhouse Chuck (Charles Goering), 58: The Chicago blues piano player learned from masters like Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Little Brother Montgomery and Detroit Junior.

Greg Lake, 69: Guitarist and bassist of Emerson Lake & Palmer. He was the second member of the band to pass away this year.

Joe Ligon, 80: Gospel singer for the Mighty Clouds Of Joy, one of the most successful gospel groups of all time. The group reached beyond the church and hit the top of the R&B charts in the 1970s.

Bob Krasnow, 81: Former chairman of Elektra Records who signed Prince, Metallica and The Cars.


Leonard Cohen in April 2009 during a performance at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello).

November

Johnny P, 44: Chicago singer known for lending his vocals to big hip-hop records like Scarface, 2Pac’s “Smile” and Twista’s “Po Pimp.”

Billy Miller, 62: Worked to champion music that would have gone unnoticed. Credited with bringing back forgotten and unsung heroes like The Sonics, Link Wray and Hasil Adkins.

Craig Gill, 44: Drummer for English alternative rock band Inspiral Carpets. Part of the “Madchester” scene in the late 1980s.

Sharon Jones, 60: Soul and funk singer who released her first album at age 40. Seen as the spearhead of the revival of classic soul and funk sound.

Leonard Cohen, 82: Canadian singer, songwriter and poet well known for his 1984 hit "Hallelujah." 

Sean McKeough, 42:  Co-founder of Riot Fest and owner of Cobra Lounge in Chicago. Started the All Rise Brewing Company, a name taken from legendary Chicago punk band Naked Raygun

Colonel Abrams, 67: R&B singer with several hits in the 1980s, including “Trapped,” “How Soon We Forget” and “I'm Not Gonna Let.”

Mose Allison, 89: Jazz and blues pianist, songwriter and singer. Was an influence on Pete Townsend, Leon Russell, Bonnie Raitt, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and others.

Leon Russell, 74: Singer, songwriter and pianist on more than 30 albums and 400 songs. Produced and played with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan to Tina Turner to Elton John.

Al Caiola, 96: Guitarist for Bonanza and Magnificent Seven. Played guitar on several hits.

Bob Cranshaw, 83: Jazz bassist who played on several Blue Note albums, including Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Grant Green’s Idle Moments. Sole session bassist for Sesame Street and The Electric Company.


Joan Marie Johnson, a founding member of The Dixie Cups, performing in May 2008 during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Dave Martin).

October

Pete Burns, 57: Lead singer of Dead Or Alive, performers of “You Spin Me Round.”

Curly Putman, 85: Wrote “Green Green Grass of Home,” which was covered by everyone from Porter Wagoner to The Grateful Dead.

Joan Marie Johnson, 72: Founder of the trio The Dixie Cups, whose “Chapel of Love” unseated The Beatles “Love Me Do” as the number one record in June 1964.

Phil Chess, 95: Along with his brother Leonard, founded Chess Records.


Prince Buster performing at the Cardiff Festival in Cardiff, U.K. in August 2008. (Yerpo/Wikimedia Commons).

September

Shawty Lo (Carlos Walker), 42: Hip-hop artist from Atlanta and founder of group 4DL and 4DL records. Well known around the southern hip-hop scene.

Clifford Curry, 79: R&B hitmaker known as “King of the Beach Music” because of the sound’s popularity along southeastern coast of the United States.

Prince Buster, 78: Jamaican singer, songwriter and producer. Worked for Clement “Coxsone” Dodd running sound systems in Kingston. Recorded prolifically through the 1960s and paved the way for future ska, rocksteady and eventually reggae artists.

Buckwheat Zydeco (Stanley Dural Jr.), 68: Global ambassador for the Louisiana-based genre Zydeco. Performed with Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Paul Simon and others.

Chris Stone, 81: Founder of The Record Plant. Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland was the first album recorded there. Also Hotel California and Rumours.

Lewis Merenstein, 81: Produced Van Morrison’s albums Moondance and Astral Weeks.


Pete Fountain tosses beads to a reveler on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day, Tuesday, March 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky).

August

Lou Pearlman, 62: The man who created N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Was serving a 25-year sentence for running a ponzi scheme.

James Woolley, 49: Keyboardist who played on Nine Inch Nails biggest album, “The Downward Spiral.”

Rudy Van Gelder, 91: Recording engineer who recorded just about every major jazz artist of the 20th century. Perfected an intimate, live sound.

Pete Fountain, 86: Jazz clarinetist from New Orleans known for his Dixieland jazz and friendly rivalry with trumpeter Al Hirt.

Toots Thielemans, 94: Harmonica virtuoso. First played with Benny Goodman. Massive amounts of studio work, including duets with Stevie Wonder and work with Quincy Jones.


After a long time as a ghost singer, Marni Nixon is seen as well as heard in the New York City Center revival of My Fair Lady as she performs the role of Eliza Doolittle in June 1964. (AP Photo/File).

July

Alan Vega (Boruch Alan Bermowitz), 78: Musician and visual artist. Worked with electronic proto-punk duo Suicide.

Sandy Pearlman, 72: Music producer, manager, professor, poet, songwriter. Founded, produced  and wrote lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult. Has been described as the Hunter Thompson of Rock.

Leslie Witt, 62: Weekend jock at Chicago’s WXRT for nearly 40 years. Part of what made the station one of the best commercial stations in the country.

Marni Nixon, 86: A “ghost singer” who sang for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, Deborah Kerr in The King and I, and Natalie Wood in West Side Story.

Danny Smythe, 67: Drummer for The Box Tops.

Lewie Steinberg, 82: Original bassist for Booker T. & The MGs. Played on Green Onions.


A Pakistani painter puts final touches on a mural of slain Sufi singer Amjad Sabri in Karachi, Pakistan on June 28, 2016. Sabri, a well-known Pakistani Sufi singer, was shot dead in the port city of Karachi in an attack claimed by Islamic extremists. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil).

June

Bernie Worrell, 72: Legendary founding  keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic. Worked with the Talking Heads, second recipient of a Moog synth from Bob Moog.

Ralph Stanley, 89: Bluegrass legend. Half of the Stanley Brothers and leader of The Clinch Mountain Boys. Claw-hammer style banjo with high harmonies.

Wayne Jackson, 74: Trumpeter with Mar Keys, the house band for Stax records.

Prince Be (Attrell Cordes), 46: Half of the hip-hop act P.M. Dawn. Had big hits with smooth hip-hop in early 1990s.

Amjad Sabri, 40: Pakistani singer of Sufi qawwali devotional music. Killed by the Taliban.

Chips Moman, 79: Songwriter and record producer who worked at Stax before founding American Sound Studios in Memphis. Recorded and produced music for Elvis Presley, including In The Ghetto and Suspicious Minds. Also recorded and produced Bobby Womack, Carla Thomas, Willy Nelson and Tammy Wynette.

Mack Rice,  82: Singer/songwriter who performed with The Falcons in Detroit. Had an original hit with Mustang Sally and wrote “Respect Yourself” for Mavis Staples. Also wrote songs for Ike and Tina Turner, Albert Collins, Rufus Thomas, Shirley Brown, and others.

Scottie Moore, 84: First guitarist for Elvis Presley and present at birth of rock ‘n roll. Once called “The Guitarist That Changed The World.”

May

Candye Kane, 54: Singer/songwriter of jazz and blues in the style of classics like Big Maybelle and Big Mama Thornton, but also swing and rockabilly. Shared the stage with everyone from Black Flag to Los Lobos to Lone Justice.


Merle Haggard poses for a photo at his ranch at Palo Cedro, Calif. in October 2007. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli).

April

Prince Rogers Nelson (Prince), 57: Musical innovator whose 1983 hits "Little Red Corvette" and "1999" set the stage for Purple Rain, the 1984 album featuring classics "Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry." 

Merle Haggard, 79: Country music’s real outlaw, a poet of the common man. Followed up his jingoistic Okie From Muskogee with an amazing song about interracial love, Irma Jackson. Elvis Costello and the Mekons covered him.

Pete Zorn, 66: Long-time multi-instrumentalist with Richard Thompson, among others.

Billy Paul, 82: Soul singer of “Me and Mrs. Jones.” Associated with the Philadelphia sound. Questlove of The Roots equated Paul to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, calling Paul "one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution '60s civil rights music.”

Lonnie Mack, 74: Guitarist and one of the first “guitar heroes.” Helped usher in a blues-rock sound. Influenced Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and others.


Malik Isaac Taylor aka Phife Dawg, of A Tribe Called Quest, poses for a portrait at Sirius XM studios in New York in November 2015 (Photo by Brian Ach/Invision/AP).

March

Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor), 45: Founding member of A Tribe Called Quest. Associated with the Native Tongues movement (De La Soul, Jungle Brothers) and nicknamed “The 5 Foot Assassin.” A major influence on Kanye West, Jill Scott, The Roots, Common and others.

Frank Sinatra Jr., 72: Lived in the shadow of his father, Frank Sinatra, but a good singer in his own right.

Keith Emerson, 71: Emerson Lake & Palmer keyboardist and one of the key members of the progressive-rock movement. Wrote and arranged much of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s music.

Louis Meyers, 60: Co-founder of South By Southwest, the annual music and media conference and festival in Austin, Texas. Sold his stake in 1994 after being “sick of being the most hated man in Austin.”

George Martin, 90: Produced the Beatles. "George Martin made us what we were in the studio," John Lennon said in 1971. "He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians."

Nana Vasconcelos, 71: Brazilian percussionist and vocalist known for his work with Pat Metheny and Don Cherry, Talking Heads, Arto Lindsay, Laurie Anderson, and others. DownBeat critics poll named him best percussionist winner seven years in a row during the 1980s.


Maurice White, of Earth, Wind, & Fire, performs at a 'Grammy Jam' event held at The Wiltern LG in Los Angeles, Calif. on Dec. 11, 2004. (AP Photo/Phil McCarten).

February

Vanity, 57: Canadian singer and Prince protege.

Maurice White, 74: Producer, arranger, bandleader. Founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire, which sold over 90 million albums, most of them produced by White. Worked with everyone from Weather Report to Barbra Streisand. Originally a drummer with Ramsey Lewis.

Paul Gordon, 52: Keyboardist who worked with B-52’s, Prince, Chaka Khan, and others. Composed music for TV and film.


British rock singer, David Bowie, poses beside his Rolls Royce in May 1973. (AP Photo/File)

January

Paul Kantner, 74: Jefferson Airplane co-founder. One of the key members of the San Francisco psychedelic scene in the 1960s.

Glenn Frey, 67: Founding member of The Eagles. Sang leads on some of Eagles biggest hits, including “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Lyin’ Eyes.” Had top 40 hits as a solo act in 1980s.

David Bowie, 69: Iconic solo artist for more than five decades.

Otis Clay, 73: Chicago soul singer. Started in gospel and in Blues Hall of Fame.

Mic Gillette, 65: Horn player with Tower of Power, which propelled albums by Santana, Elton John, Little Feat, and Rod Stewart.


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