2016: A Look Back At Deaths In Music


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In this mournful but important look back at a tragedy filled 2016, the Soundfly Team take a moment to remember and reflect on the all to numerous contributors to the music industry who passed away during the year and the legacy which they left behind.

Guest Post by the Soundfly Team on Flypaper

Well, it’s that time of the year again; when we get to look back and reflect on all the musical experiences we’ve had, both as listeners and as active performers and makers of music. I’m sure we can all agree that 2016 hasn’t been an easy year for music fans. While there have been some unforgettable moments, albums, and tracks (and music films) that have left us all speechless, so many of our favorite artists have sadly passed.

Let’s take a moment to remember those who have fallen.

Alan Thicke

(Born: March 1, 1947. Died: December 13, 2016)

Actor Alan Thicke is undoubtedly best known for the seven years he spent as Jason Seever, the dad on beloved ABC sitcom, Growing Pains. But interestingly, he moonlighted as a prolific composer, penning the theme songs for Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Wheel of Fortuneand many more. In real life, Thicke was the father to three children, including pop singer Robin Thicke.

Greg Lake

(Born: November 10, 1947. Died: December 7, 2016.)

Greg Lake was famous for having fronted two of the 20th century’s most influential progressive rock groups, King Crimson (co-founded with Robert Fripp) and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (co-founded with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer). He was a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, performing mostly on bass and guitar, as well as a singer and producer, but perhaps what he will be best remembered for were his explosive live performances with ELP. As for Lake’s solo career, his most adored single, “I Believe in Father Christmas” has become a popular Christmas song, yet it was actually written as a protest of the over-commercialization of the holiday.

Oakland Ghost Ship fire victims

(December 2, 2016)

One of the rooms at the Ghost Ship warehouse before the fire.

The massive fire that broke out this month at Oakland’s DIY artist community hub Ghost Ship, a converted warehouse space, left 36 people dead. The fire occurred during a party hosted by Los Angeles-based record label 100% Silk. You can read about some of the community members, musicians, DJs, filmmakers, artists, and organizers who perished in the incident here. The Ghost Ship tragedy has reinvigorated a long-ignored conversation between artists communities and government, fighting for public arts funding as a safety issue. Groups around the country are calling for local support against real estate market spikes that push creative communities into dangerous spaces, and developing stronger networks for resource sharing.

As a result, the Mayor of Oakland Libby Schaaf, has pledged $1.7 million to help create affordable, safe spaces for local artists and organizations. Yet this has also inspired police and city officials in various cities to begin evicting people from buildings with existing safety code violations.

If you’d like to donate to the fire relief fund for the victims, there are local events and charities all over the country, but here is an easy and direct fundraising project.

Pauline Oliveros

(Born: May 30, 1932. Died: November 25, 2016.)

Pauline Oliveros was a pioneer in electronic music and the composer who not only coined the term “deep listening,” but spent the better part of the last 30 years practicing it and sharing her methods with others.

In fact, we here at Soundfly were so inspired by Oliveros, we wrote about how she changed our perspective on listening at large. Oliveros was a pioneering member of the famed San Francisco Tape Music Center, an institution that provided a home for the avant-garde minimalism and early electronic compositions of Morton Subotnik, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and more.

Jean-Claude Risset

(Born: March 18, 1938. Died: November 21, 2016.)

Risset was a French composer and computer scientist who pioneered the field of computer-generated music and tape music. His compositions reshaped the way composers thought about scales and harmonics, and helped to create conversations around how music theory might change to reflect what is possible tonally through electronically-generated sound.

Sharon Jones

(Born: May 4, 1956. Died: November 18, 2016.)

Sharon Jones was the lead singer of the influential funk-soul band Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. She found success very late in her life, releasing her first record only at age 40! Now that’s commitment to your art!

Mose Allison

(Born: November 11, 1927. Died: November 15, 2016.)

Mose Allison was a jazz and blues pianist, singer, and composer. He influenced so many of the great popular artists of the 20th century and his songs are covered by artists from The Who and John Mayall, to Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell. Speaking of…

Leon Russell

(Born: April 2, 1942. Died: November 13, 2016.)

Leon Russell was a songwriter who wrote and performed music in basically every style known to man, and his legacy includes six gold albums. He played on records with The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Ike & Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, and more. Elton John claims Russell as a mentor and collaborator.

Leonard Cohen

(Born: September 21, 1934. Died: November 7, 2016.)

Leonard Cohen was a late-comer to music, having started his artistic career as a poet and novelist in the late 1950s and ’60s. He recorded his first album in 1967 at the age of 33 and stayed primarily in the folk scene early on. But his work would shape- shift dramatically across his lengthy career, making use of synthesizers, jazz and blues forms, political and social commentary, and influences from gospel to tango, and East Asian to Mediterranean music. And we haven’t even gotten to the elephant in the room: “Hallelujah” — Cohen’s most famous song, which he spent three years battling through before finally publishing it in 1984, has become one of the most performed songs in American history and is part of almost every musician’s repertoire.

Sir Neville Marriner

(Born: April 15, 1924. Died: October 2, 2016.)

Perhaps not a name you’re readily familiar with, Sir Neville Marriner is often considered one of the world’s greatest conductors. He was an English violinist turned conductor and founder of the Academy of St. Martins in the Fields, a Chamber ensemble based in London, famous for its extensive discography and one of the most recorded ensembles in the world (with over 500 sessions to it’s credit!).

Rudy Van Gelder

(Born: November 2, 1924. Died: August 25, 2016.)

If the pantheon of jazz was the solar system, Rudy Van Gelder’s role could be described as Jupiter — a massive figure influencing and altering the course of everything within lightyears, featuring tons of bright, soloing moons orbiting solely around him. Too much? You decide. As a recording, mixing, and mastering engineer, he recorded nearly every single hit jazz record of the 1950s and ’60s, and contributed to recordings well into the ’90s.

Bernie Worrell

(Born: April 19, 1944. Died: June 24, 2016.)

Bernie Worrell played keyboards in Parliament-Funkadelic and The Talking Heads, but released a healthy handful of solo albums, as well. Over the years, he sat in with Fela Kuti, Bootsy Collins, Mos Def, Les Claypool and even artist Julian Schnabel! He was so funky, he often took the spotlight away from George Clinton in Parliament and Funkadelic shows, and Worrell also had a penchant for vintage synths.


(Born: June 7, 1958. Died: April 21, 2016.)

Prince’s death earlier this year was a shock to music fans worldwide. His work has had a deep impact on every single staff member here at Soundfly. Not wanting to dwell on his health and painkiller addiction struggles, we wrote an homage to Prince highlighting our personal favorite songs of his throughout his career. Feel free to share your own personal faves!

Merle Haggard

(Born: April 6, 1937. Died: April 6, 2016.)

Haggard played the guitar and fiddle, and wrote gritty, honest, and sometimes politically charged Californiacountry music. He was a well-decorated songwriter, having been awarded tons of prizes and accolades throughout his career, but despite his loyal fanbase and universally loved catalog, Haggard struggled with both his finances and his health for many years. He toured and fought ’til the end!

Phife Dawg

(Born: November 20, 1970. Died: March 22, 2016.)

Malik Taylor (a.k.a. Phife Dawg) was a hip-hop artist and co-founder of A Tribe Called Quest alongside Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Phife’s innate rap style was pretty laid back, and is cited to have countered the overly-macho style of hip-hop that was popular in the late ’80s and ’90s. Together, this group, which began in a high school in Queens, became one of the most influential rap groups in the world.

Sir George Martin

(Born: January 3, 1926. Died: March 8, 2016.)

Sir George Martin was one of those producers who had the Midas touch. Known by many rock ‘n’ roll diehards as “the fifth Beatle,” Martin’s work as a recording engineer, producer, arranger, and composer helped to shape the entire early catalog of the Beatles. Martin did in fact do other things too! He composed film scores, including many James Bond films; produced Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”; and recorded artists like Celine Dion, Cheap Trick, America, John Williams, John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, and comedian Peter Sellers.

Joey Feek

(Born: September 9, 1975. Died: March 4, 2016.)

Joey Feek is by far the youngest person on this list. Her life and burgeoning career as a country pop music singer was sadly cut short due to cancer, but her influence on the country music scene as an independent singer-songwriter (and full-time mother to a daughter born with Down syndrome) cannot be ignored. Joey played in a duo with her husband Rory, writing heartfelt, inspiring music that offered glimpses into their family life and personal story.

Denise Matthews (a.k.a. Vanity)

(Born: January 4, 1959. Died: February 15, 2016.)

Denise Matthews (a.k.a. Vanity) was an actor, singer, dancer, model, and the front-woman of the trio Vanity 6. Vanity’s music, both in the group and solo, was a mix of R&B, funk, and dance music and was very sexually charged (she often performed in lingerie). She was romantically and creatively involved with Prince during his early years in Minneapolis, and her leaving the group (and his life) inspired Prince to create the follow-up, female-led band Apollonia 6, featured in the film Purple Rain. Matthews also apparently dated Adam Ant, Billy Idol, and Nikki Sixx. In fact, she was engaged to Sixx and often joked that she was destined to become “Vanity Six(x)” again!

Maurice White

(Born: December 19, 1941. Died: February 3, 2016.)

Maurice White was the pioneering voice that led the mighty Earth, Wind & Fire around the world and into millions of listeners’ hearts (and hips!). His early work as a session drummer for Chess Records in Chicago earned him insane recording sessions with the likes of The Impressions, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Sonny Stitt, and the Dells, as well as many others. But his work as a songwriter, arranger, producer, and executive bandleader of Earth, Wind & Fire is unparalleled. His dedication to the band was one of the major factors leading to their longstanding success and influence.

Paul Kantner

(Born: March 17, 1941. Died: January 28, 2016.)

Paul Kantner, not typically a household name, was a co-founder of psychedelic rock staples Jefferson Airplane, as well as their later era conception Jefferson Starship. He was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist and, through the band, was present during some of rock history’s most watershed moments, including Woodstock, Altamont, and the Monterey Pop Festival.

Glenn Frey

(Born: November 6, 1948. Died: January 18, 2016.)

Frey was the frontman for one of the most widely beloved and also widely despised rock bands ever, The Eagles. We know how people feel about The Eagles, and their signature country-tinged-soft-rock, but we don’t stand by the haters for a second. So that’s why when Glenn passed earlier this year, we took a stand and issued a statement on why everyone should care about The Eagles!

David Bowie

(Born: January 8, 1947. Died: January 10, 2016.)

What can we say about Bowie that hasn’t been said. The man was a genius, creatively blessed by the Gods, remaining consistently relevant and pushing boundaries in popular music for over five decades. He’ll be missed and his music, art, and film will be loved, forever.

Pierre Boulez

(Born: March 26, 1925. Died: January 5, 2016.)

Pierre Boulez was a French composer, conductor, and writer, as well as a founder of musical ensembles, institutions, and festivals. He was the Chief Conductor of the New York Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and guest conducted all over the world throughout his career, earning him a whopping 26 Grammy Awards! But he was also a huge supporter and catalyst of 20th century avant-garde music, composing, performing, and issuing electroacoustic and acousmatic works for soloists, orchestras, and electronics, and scientific sonic research through his organization IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique).

Paul Bley

(Born: November 10, 1932. Died: January 3, 2016.)

Paul Bley was a Canadian avant-garde jazz pianist (and synthesist) who recorded over 100 albums with tons of canonical musicians such as Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Art Blakey, Don Cherry, Gary Peacock, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, Dave Holland, and more. Yet he may perhaps be most known and remembered for his powerfully imagistic and often stark solo piano albums, which were almost entirely improvised.

Natalie Cole

(Born: February 6, 1950. Died: December 31, 2015.)

Natalie Cole died on New Years Eve last year. She was the daughter of the great crooner Nat King Cole. Natalie battled with heroine and cocaine addiction for much of her life, and was arrested and stopped performing for a number of years. Once she recovered, however, and after recording and releasing an album of duets with her father, she rose to fame again and went on to sell over 30 million albums in the latter years of her career. Her voice had that perfect combination of tenderness and resilient strength that resonated with audiences globally.

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