Atlanta Music Scene

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Year in review: 25 names in music who died in 2016

David Bowie kept his illness well concealed from fans. Photo: AP


Is it over yet?

This dreadful year, which has robbed us of so many, seems intent on stealing a few more icons in its final days (did you really have to take Carrie Fisher - and her mother - already, too?).

This just-end-already 2016 has made us paranoid to glance at Twitter or Facebook, afraid we’ll see #RIP and draw a deep breath as we wonder who died now?

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It’s enough to make you want to Bubble Wrap Betty White for the last couple of days of the year.

The music industry has been particularly shattered. In 20 years of writing about music, I’ve never had a reason to compile a list such as this, yet here we are, looking back one more time at all of the talent, all of the creativity, all of the art that was silenced in a mere 12 months.

Please, 2017, don’t make us hate you as much.

Natalie Cole — age 65. Though she technically died on Dec. 31, 2015, the country mourned its first musical loss of the year when news arrived Jan. 1 that the soul songbird had passed away from congestive heart failure.

David Bowie — Jan. 10, age 69. A bracing shock to fans who had no inkling that the chameleonic British legend was even ill. And, why would they, considering he released his final opus, “Blackstar,” only two days before he succumbed to cancer?

Glenn Frey — Jan. 18, age 67. The guitarist and founding member of the Eagles had battled intestinal issues for years. Fellow Eagles comrade Don Henley has since declared the band won’t continue without the voice of “Take It Easy.”

Paul Kantner — Jan. 28, age 74. As guitarist and co-founder of Jefferson Airplane, Kantner was synonymous with the San Francisco psychedelic rock sound of the ’60s. He died of multiple organ failure and septic shock.

Though Maurice White's illness kept him from touring for years, he was still the backbone of EWF. Photo: Tony Barnard/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Maurice White — Feb. 4, age 74. White was the captain of Earth, Wind & Fire, responsible not only for the band’s delectable marriage of funk and pop, but also for some of the most creative live shows of the era.

Joey Feek — March 4, age 40. She and husband Rory captivated the country world with their sweet songs and real romance. Feek battled cervical cancer for more than a year before receiving a terminal diagnosis in October 2015.

Keith Emerson — March 11, age 71. A founding member of prog rockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Emerson served as the band’s keyboardist. His death was ruled a suicide.

Phife Dawg — March 22, age 45. The “Five Foot Assassin,” born Malik Taylor, was, perhaps, the most memorable member of A Tribe Called Quest. In 2008, he received a kidney transplant. He died due to complications from diabetes.

Merle Haggard — April 6, age 79. The country music legend died on his birthday — and also a few weeks before a slated show with Willie Nelson at Chastain Park Amphitheatre. The California native always will be revered as an original “outlaw country” artist.

Prince — April 21, age 57. While the sudden death of one of modern music’s true geniuses stunned the world, fans in Atlanta were left particularly shaken, since the “Purple Rain” maestro had just played what turned out to be his final two concerts at the Fox Theatre only a week earlier.

Bluegrass master Ralph Stanley reached across generations with his sound.

Ralph Stanley — June 23, age 89. The bluegrass pioneer’s unique style of banjo playing earned him the nickname of the Doctor of Bluegrass. Stanley was introduced to a new generation of fans in 2000 with his a cappella dirge, “O Death,” from the Coen Brothers’ film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Leonard Cohen — Nov. 7, age 82. Cohen released 14 albums during his nearly 50-year career, but always will be associated with the visceral ballad “Hallelujah,” which has been covered by more than 300 artists. He released his final album, “You Want it Darker,” weeks before his death.

Leon Russell — Nov. 13, age 74. The snowy-maned singer with the distinctively nasal voice was best known for penning the oft-covered gems “A Song for You” and “This Masquerade.” He frequently played Atlanta in recent years, with his final performances here during the summer at City Winery.

Sharon Jones — Nov. 18, age 60. She might have possessed a common name, but there was nothing ordinary about this soul dynamo. With her band, the Dap-Kings, the Augusta-born Jones demonstrated what it meant to be a performer every time her toes touched the stage.

George Michael had been reclusive in recent years, but his death still shocked the world. AP Photo.

Greg Lake — Dec. 7, age 69. Eerily, Keith Emerson wasn’t the only member of the “Lucky Man” prog rockers to say goodbye this year. Singer-bassist Lake founded the band with Emerson and Carl Palmer.

George Michael — Dec. 25, age 53. A global superstar, first with Wham! and then as a solo artist, Michael was a defining act of the MTV era, thanks to his stubbly good looks and infectious soul-pop songs.

Other music-related names who died in 2016: George Martin, Afeni Shakur-Davis, Buckwheat Zydeco (Stanley Dural), Juan Gabriel, Bankroll Fresh, Frank Sinatra Jr., Rene Angelil, Vanity (Denise Matthews) and Shawty Lo .

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About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers the Atlanta Music Scene and entertainment news for print and online.

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