Several excellent musicians passed away in 2017, here we celebrate some of their lives and contributions to the world of music.
February 12, 2017: Al Jarreau
Alwin Lopez Jarreau (March 12, 1940 – February 12, 2017) was an American singer and musician who received a total of seven Grammy Awards and was nominated for over a dozen more.
Al Jarreau earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ripon College in Wisconsin in 1962, and a master’s in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa in 1964. Afterward he moved to San Francisco, where he worked as a rehabilitation counselor for people with disabilities. But in 1968, he made jazz his primary occupation.
In 1978, he won his first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for his album, Look to the Rainbow.
One of Jarreau’s most commercially successful albums is Breakin’ Away (1981), which includes the hit song “We’re in This Love Together”. He won the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for Breakin’ Away.
In 1984, his single “After All” reached 69 on the US Hot 100 chart and number 26 on the R&B chart. It was especially popular in the Philippines. His last big hit was the Grammy-nominated theme to the 1980s American television show Moonlighting, for which he wrote the lyrics.
He was also among the performers on the 1985 charity song “We Are the World”.
On February 12, 2017, Al Jarreau died of respiratory failure, at the age of 76, just two days after announcing his retirement, and one month before his 77th birthday.
March 10, 2017: Joni Sledge
Joan Elise Sledge, known as Joni Sledge, (September 13, 1956 – March 10, 2017) was an American singer–songwriter, actress and producer, best known as a founding member of the American family vocal group Sister Sledge.
Sister Sledge were best known for their hits “We Are Family” (1979) and “He’s the Greatest Dancer”, and enjoyed commercial success into the early 1980s with several Top 20 hit songs, including “My Guy” and “Frankie.” Their commercial success started to fade with sister Kathy’s departure in 1989 to start a solo career. The three remaining sisters continued to tour and record music, and Kathy occasionally reunited for shows.
Joni Sledge died from natural causes on March 10, 2017 at age 60.
March 18, 2017: Chuck Berry
Charles Edward Anderson Berry (October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017) was an American singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music.
Chuck was nicknamed the “Father of Rock and Roll”, and refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive with songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958). Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism, and developing a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship, Chuck Berry was a major influence on subsequent rock music.
Chuck Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986. He is included in several of Rolling Stone magazine’s “greatest of all time” lists; he was ranked fifth on its 2004 and 2011 lists of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll includes three of Berry’s: “Johnny B. Goode”, “Maybellene”, and “Rock and Roll Music”.
On March 18, 2017, police in St. Charles County, Missouri, were called to Berry’s house, near Wentzville, Missouri, where he was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead at the scene, aged 90, by his personal physician.
April 11, 2017: J Geils
John Warren Geils Jr. (February 20, 1946 – April 11, 2017), known professionally as J. Geils or Jay Geils, was an American guitarist and leader of The J. Geils Band.
The J. Geils Band released eleven albums between 1970 and 1985. Although they were influenced by soul music and rhythm and blues, their musical style was difficult to categorize and their success was allegedly limited by being “too white for the black kids and too black for the whites”.
The band’s sound moved toward pop and rock by the time the breakthrough album Love Stinks came out in 1980. Their next album, Freeze Frame, produced the song “Centerfold”, which sat at number one for six weeks, and the title track, which was a Billboard Top 10 hit.
On April 11, 2017, Groton Police conducted a well-being check on Geils and found him unresponsive at his home. He was pronounced dead from natural causes at age 71.
May 17, 2017: Chris Cornell
Chris Cornell (July 20, 1964 – May 17, 2017) was born Christopher John Boyle in Seattle, Washington but took his mother’s maiden name after his parents split up. He was a musician, singer and songwriter, and the lead vocalist, main songwriter and rhythm guitarist for the Seattle grunge rock band Soundgarden, as well as lead vocalist and songwriter for Audioslave.
Cornell was known as a major role in the 1990s grunge movement, for his extensive catalogue as a songwriter, his almost four octave vocal range, and his amazingly powerful singing technique.
Chris Cornell was an amazing vocalist and was voted “Rock’s Greatest Singer” by readers of Guitar World, ranked 4th in the list of “Heavy Metal’s All-Time Top 100 Vocalists” by Hit Parader, 9th in the list of “Best Lead Singers of All Time” by Rolling Stone and 12th in MTV’s “22 Greatest Voices in Music”.
On May 17, 2017, Cornell was found dead in the bathroom of his hotel room at the MGM Grand, Detroit shortly after performing a show with Soundgarden at the Fox Theatre. The cause of death was determined to be suicide by hanging, aged 52, although his family have suggested that prescription drugs played a major role in his death.
May 27, 2017: Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman (December 8, 1947 – May 27, 2017) was born Gregory LeNoir Allman in Nashville, Tennessee and spent most of his childhood in Nashville, before moving to Daytona Beach, Florida.
He was a musician, singer, songwriter and best known for performing in the Allman Brothers Band with his brother, Duane.
During his career Gregg received several Grammys, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His distinctive voice also placed him in 70th place in the Rolling Stone list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.
Gregg was extremely influential in the world of Southern Rock, Blues, R&R, and Country. His voice was amazing, soul-searching, and heart-tearing, and his awesome touch on the Hammond organ, and his song writing are all legendary and hugely influential.
Gregg Allman “passed away peacefully” on May 27, 2017 at his home in Savannah, Georgia, aged 69. The cause was complications of liver cancer.
July 20, 2017: Chester Bennington
Chester Charles Bennington (March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017) was an American singer and songwriter best known as the frontman for the rock band Linkin Park, lead singer for Dead by Sunrise and also fronted Stone Temple Pilots from 2013 to 2015.
Chester was born on March 20, 1976, in Phoenix, Arizona.
He first gained prominence as a vocalist following the release of Linkin Park’s debut album, Hybrid Theory, in 2000, which became a huge commercial success. The album was certified by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2005, as one of the best-selling debut album of the decade. Linkin Park’s following studio albums continued the band’s success.
Chester Bennington died by hanging and while a note has not been found, the death was treated as a suspected suicide.
August 8, 2017: Glen Campbell
Glen Travis Campbell (April 22, 1936 – August 8, 2017) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, television host, and actor. He died of Alzheimer’s disease in Nashville, aged 81.
He was best known for hits like Rhinestone Cowboy, Galveston and Wichita Linesman.
He never learned to read music, but besides guitar, he could play the banjo, mandolin and bass, and by 1963 his playing and singing were on 586 recorded songs.
In 1969 Glen sang the theme song to “True Grit”, which was written by composer Elmer Bernstein and lyricist Don Black, and received nominations for the Oscar for Best Song and the Golden Globe for Best Original Song. He also co-starred in the movie (one of my favorite films of all time!), with John Wayne.
He had problems with alcoholism and cocaine addiction in the early 1980s, and was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident in 2003, spending 10 days in jail.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
September 3, 2017: Walter Becker
Walter Carl Becker (February 20, 1950 – September 3, 2017) was an American musician, songwriter, and record producer. He was best known as the co-founder, guitarist, bassist, and co-songwriter of Steely Dan. He died on September 3, 2017 following an undisclosed illness, aged 67.
Becker met future song writing partner Donald Fagen while studying at Bard College and they moved to California together in 1971 and formed Steely Dan, enjoying a critically and commercially successful 10-year career.
When Steely Dan split, Becker moved to Maui, Hawaii, stopped using drugs and became an Avocado farmer. He reduced his musical activity, and worked mainly as a record producer for artists such as Michael Franks, Fra Lippo Lippi and Rickie Lee Jones.
In 1985, he briefly became a member of the English sophisti-pop group China Crisis, producing and playing synthesizer on their album “Flaunt the Imperfection”.
Becker and Fagen reformed Steely Dan in 1993 and remained active, most notably including their 2000 “Two Against Nature” album, which won four Grammy Awards. In 2001 the duo were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received Honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Berklee College of Music.
September 8, 2017: Don Williams
Donald Ray Williams (May 27, 1939 – September 8, 2017) was an American country singer and songwriter. He died in Mobile, Alabama aged 78.
Don spent seven years with the folk-pop trio the Pozo-Seco Singers, and after the group split he began his solo career in 1971, singing popular ballads and having an amazing 17 number one country hits.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
He had a strong influence over a variety of recording artists of different genres. His hits have been covered by artists such as Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Alison Krauss, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Lambchop, Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Pete Townshend and Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Don Williams died in Mobile, Alabama aged 78.
September 8, 2017: Troy Gentry
Troy Gentry (April 5, 1967 – September 8, 2017), of country duo Montgomery Gentry, has died following a helicopter crash in New Jersey, he was 50.
Musicians Eddie and Troy, who were both natives of Kentucky, began performing in the 1990s as part of two different bands with Montgomery’s brother, John Michael Montgomery. In 1999 they formed Montgomery Gentry which was known for its Southern rock influences. They collaborated with other artists such as Charlie Daniels, Toby Keith and members of The Allman Brothers Band.
As Montgomery Gentry they released six studio albums and had more than twenty chart singles.
In 1999, they were awarded Favorite New Artist (Country) at the American Music Awards and have multiple Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association awards nominations to their name. They won CMA Vocal Duo of the Year in 2000, were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009 and into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in April 2015.
Troy Gentry died in a helicopter crash before 1 p.m. ET in Medford, New Jersey.
September 14, 2017: Grant Hart
Grantzberg “Grant” Vernon Hart (March 18, 1961 – September 14, 2017) was an American musician, best known as the drummer and co-songwriter for the alternative, hardcore punk rock band Hüsker Dü.
As Hüsker Dü’s co-songwriter, Hart’s songs (including “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” and “Turn on the News”) received praise from both critics and contemporaries alike. His vocal style, in contrast to that of his Hüsker Dü bandmate Bob Mould, had a more measured and melodic delivery. His choice of lyrical themes, ranged from teenage alienation in “Standing by the Sea” and the depiction of a murder in “Diane,” to playful story-telling in “Books About UFOs,” and these helped to expand the subject matter of hardcore punk.
American rock music of the past 30 years would have looked very different without the influence of Hüsker Dü.
The band set a relentless pace between 1982 and 1987, playing gruellingly long tours in with shows almost every night, and they released six studio albums and the live collection Land Speed Record (1982). Although their records didn’t score highly on the mainstream charts, they were hugely influential on the new wave of independent American bands that were springing up across the US. Soul Asylum, the Replacements, REM, the Pixies and the grunge scene centring on Seattle all drew inspiration from Hüsker Dü’s music and independent ethic.
Hart died from liver cancer on September 14, 2017.
October 2, 2017: Tom Petty
Thomas Earl (Tom) Petty (October 20, 1950 – October 2, 2017) as born in Gainesville, Florida, the first of two sons of Earl and Kitty Petty.
He was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer, and best known as the lead singer of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He was also a member and co-founder of the late 1980s super group the Traveling Wilburys, with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison.
Petty recorded a number of hit singles and albums with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist over the years, many of which are mainstays on adult contemporary and classic rock radio.
In 1999, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for their contribution to the recording industry. Then in December 2001, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York.
On July 29, 2014, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ thirteenth studio album, Hypnotic Eye was released and debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming their first album to ever top the chart.
In his career, Petty sold more than 80 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time.
Tom Petty was found unconscious, not breathing and in full cardiac arrest at his home, on the morning of October 2, 2017. His death was incorrectly reported by the media that afternoon, although these reports were retracted after the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it had unfortunately indicated his death to the media before confirming it.
It was confirmed by his family and manager, later on the evening of October 2, 2017, that he had actually died, surrounded by family and friends, at the University of California-Los Angeles’ Santa Monica hospital.
October 24, 2017: Fats Domino
Antoine “Fats” Domino Jr, (February 26, 1928 – October 24, 2017) was an American pianist and singer-songwriter and probably the most influential rock and roll performers of the 1950s and 60s, has died of natural causes aged 89.
Five of the records he released before 1955 sold over a million copies and were certified as gold records, and he had a total of 35 records in the U.S. Billboard Top 40. His musical style was based on traditional rhythm and blues, and accompanied by saxophones, bass, piano, electric guitar, and drums.
Even after his success, Fats continued to live in his old neighborhood. His large home was roomy enough for his 13 children, but he still preferred to sleep in a hammock outside.
Fats Domino died from natural causes on October 24, 2017, at his home in Harvey, Louisiana, at the age of 89.
November 18, 2017: Malcolm Young
Malcolm Mitchell Young (January 6, 1953 – November 18, 2017) was a Scottish-Australian musician, songwriter, and co-founder, rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist of legendary hard rock, heavy metal band AC/DC. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland to William and Margaret Young and the family moved to Australia in 1963, when Malcolm was 10.
Malcolm Young was 20 when he formed AC/DC with his younger brother Angus in 1973.
Except for a brief absence in 1988, Malcolm was with AC/DC from its beginning until he retired in 2014 for health reasons.
The major breakthrough in AC/DC’s career came “Highway to Hell”, which was producer by the legendary “Mutt” Lange, and released in 1979. It was the first AC/DC LP to break into the US top 100, and eventually reached No. 17.
Early in 1980, the band began work on a new album, “Back in Black”, but Bon Scott would unfortunately, not live to see it finished. On 20 February 1980, Scott died due to Pulmonary aspiration of vomit with the official cause of death listed as “acute alcohol poisoning”
Following Bon Scott’s death AC/DC considered quitting, but they eventually decided to continue and starting looking for a new frontman, finally decided on ex-Geordie singer Brian Johnson.
AC/DC, and Malcolm Young, continued to make albums throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
In 2003, Young and the other members of AC/DC were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on October 1, 2004, a central Melbourne road, Corporation Lane, was renamed ACDC Lane in honour of the band.
Although Angus, the younger Young brother, was the more visible, Malcolm was described as the driving force and the leader of the AC/DC. As the rhythm guitarist, he was responsible for the broad sweep of the band’s sound, and developed many of their guitar riffs and co-wrote the band’s material with Angus.
Malcolm Young died from dementia on November 18, 2017 in Elizabeth Bay, Australia, at the age of 64.
November 21, 2017: David Cassidy
David Cassidy, who shot to fame in The Partridge Family, before going on to become a teen pop idol in the 1970s, has died aged 67.
David Bruce Cassidy (April 12, 1950 – November 21, 2017) was an actor, singer, songwriter and guitarist. He first became famous playing Keith Partridge, the son of Shirley Partridge, in the 1970s musical-sitcom The Partridge Family. This role led to him becoming one of the biggest teen idols and pop singers of the 1970s. He later had a career in both acting and music.
In November 2017 Cassidy was hospitalized suffering from liver and kidney failure. He was critically ill in a medically-induced coma and several websites actually said he had died!
He was out of the coma two days later, but remained in critical condition, with doctors hoping to keep him stable until a liver became available for transplant, which it never did.
David Cassidy died of liver failure in Fort Laudadale, Florida on November 21, 2017, aged 67.
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