In Memoriam 2019: The Musicians We Lost

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Nipsey Hussle (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Warner Music)

Heroes of alt-rock and idols of classic Hollywood, jazz luminaries and Pulitzer-winning composers, cult legends and rule-breakers, rising stars and old masters: Music communities around the globe lost dozens of shining voices this year. Here's NPR Music's celebration of some of the musicians who left the world in 2019.

Clydie King

Aug. 21, 1943 – Jan. 7, 2019

King began her career by leading her own doo-wop group, but the Dallas native found her way to greater renown as an in-demand backup singer, recording with the likes of Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steely Dan and Bob Dylan.

Joseph Jarman

Sept. 14, 1937 – Jan. 9, 2019


An integral member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago who later was ordained as a Buddhist priest, the saxophonist, composer and multi-instrumentalist pushed experimental jazz, and the sounds he coaxed from his instruments, toward new horizons. (Read the NPR essay)

Carol Channing

Jan. 31, 1921 – Jan. 15, 2019

Though she'll always be identified with Hello, Dolly!, Channing's prolific career in theater, film, television and recording spanned more than six decades. (Read the full obituary)

Oliver Mtukudzi

Sept. 22, 1952 – Jan. 23, 2019

Known as "Tuku" to his legion of fans, Mtukudzi often aimed his songwriting at the politics of his native Zimbabwe—celebrating the country's new independence in the early 1980s and criticizing the rule of Robert Mugabe as it stretched into the 2010s. (Read the full obituary)

Michel Legrand

Feb. 24, 1932 – Jan. 26, 2019

The French musician was a prolific composer of film scores, with collaborators including directors Jean-Luc Godard, Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy. His work on 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair brought him the first of several Oscars and many nominations. (Read the full obituary)

James Ingram

Feb. 16, 1952 – January 2019

With a signature timbre that instantly evokes the classic R&B sound of the 1980s, Ingram landed two Grammys and two No. 1 hits as a singer and became an in-demand collaborator, co-writing with Quincy Jones and dueting with Linda Ronstadt. (Read the full obituary)

Ethel Ennis

Nov. 28, 1932 – Feb. 17, 2019

A singer, community builder and regional celebrity—known in Baltimore as the city's "First Lady of Jazz"—Ennis' recordings in the mid-20th century became vital contributions to a heyday of vocal jazz and traditional pop. (Read the full obituary)

Dominick Argento

Oct. 27, 1927 – Feb. 20, 2019

The Pulitzer-winning composer was best known for his lyrical and astringent music for the human voice, writing 13 operas as well as a number of song cycles and choral works. (Read the full obituary)

Jackie Shane

May 15, 1940 – February 2019

The trailblazing transgender soul singer from Nashville found fame in Toronto in the 1960s, and a cult following later, before retreating underground for decades. She resurfaced in 2017 when a compilation of her recordings drew new attention to her life and career. (Read an NPR essay from 2017)

Peter Tork

Feb. 13, 1942 – Feb. 21, 2019

Tork was the oldest of the made-for-TV rock quartet The Monkees, and a musician in his own right before being cast. The sitcom band fashioned as a prefab answer to The Beatles found its way to real-world No. 1 hits, including "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer." (Read the full obituary)

Mark Hollis

Jan. 4, 1955 – Feb. 25, 2019

Hollis was the mastermind of the influential U.K. band Talk Talk, which touched both the heights of radio pop with songs like "It's My Life" and the fringes of what would come to be known as post-rock with albums like Spirit of Eden. (Read the full obituary)

André Previn

April 6, 1929 – Feb. 28, 2019

Previn was a celebrated polymath: a composer of Oscar-winning film music, conductor, pianist and music director of major orchestras, including the symphonies of Houston, Pittsburgh and London. (Read the full obituary)

Keith Flint

Sept. 17, 1969 – March 4, 2019

Flint was the ragged voice and scowling face of The Prodigy's barnstorming 1990s singles "Firestarter" and "Breathe," which made the British dance act a sensation with alternative rock fans and helped popularize big-beat music in America. (Read the full obituary)

Hal Blaine

Feb. 5, 1929 – March 11, 2019

Blaine was part of the session dream team The Wrecking Crew, but his resume was in a class all its own. His drumming backed Grammy-winning and chart-topping songs by Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and many more, and is the signature pulse of The Ronettes' "Be My Baby." (Read the full obituary)

Dick Dale

May 4, 1937 – March 16, 2019

Born Richard Anthony Monsour, Dale changed the sound of rock and roll in the early 1960s when he upped the reverb on his guitar and applied the Arabic scales of his father's native Lebanon. His high-energy interpretation of an old song from Asia Minor, "Misirlou," became surf rock's calling card. (Read the full obituary)

Scott Walker

Jan. 9, 1943 – March 22, 2019

Walker was first known for his work with blue-eyed soul trio The Walker Brothers in the 1960s, but it was his late-career trilogy of challenging art-rock albums that defined his reputation as one of avant-garde music's most electrifying auteurs. (Read the full obituary)

Ranking Roger

Feb. 21, 1963 – March 26, 2019

As a singer for the U.K. band The Beat (known as The English Beat in the U.S.), Roger Charlery helped transform ska into the subgenre two-tone, infusing the Caribbean-rooted music with punk-rock structures and '80s textures. (Read the full obituary)

Nipsey Hussle

Aug. 15, 1985 – March 31, 2019

A beloved inspirational figure in hip-hop, the rapper and philanthropist born Ermias Joseph Asghedom survived gang life in South Central Los Angeles and legitimized his street hustle, using his entrepreneurial skills to create economic empowerment in his community. (Read the full obituary)

Beth Carvalho

May 5, 1946 – April 30, 2019

Known as the "godmother of samba" in Brazil, Carvalho propelled her country's music forward with her husky voice and infectious performances, which earned her a lifetime achievement honor from the Latin Grammy Awards.

Doris Day

April 3, 1922 – May 13, 2019

A big-band singer and actress who became a titan of classic Hollywood, Day made nearly three dozen films and more than 600 recordings, topping both the Billboard and box office charts at the height of her career. (Read the full obituary)

Leon Redbone

Aug. 26, 1949 – May 30, 2019

Playing dusty classics from Tin Pan Alley and ragtime to blues and country with a loose fidelity and a wry style, the famously mysterious artist became an object of fascination and admiration, with famous fans including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and John Prine. (Read the full obituary)

Roky Erickson

July 15, 1947 – May 31, 2019

Perhaps the embodiment of his hometown's slogan, "Keep Austin Weird," the psychedelic lodestar helmed The 13th Floor Elevators and wrote one of garage rock's original anthems, "You're Gonna Miss Me," forging new paths for rock music and becoming a beloved cult figure. (Read the full obituary)

Dr. John

Nov. 21, 1940 – June 6, 2019

The pianist, guitarist, jive talker and psychedelic godfather born Malcolm John Rebennack was among the most beloved fixtures of New Orleans music, carving wide lanes through blues, jazz and rock with an unmistakable look, voice and personality. (Read the full obituary)

Bushwick Bill

Dec. 8, 1966 – June 9, 2019

Born Richard Shaw in Kingston, Jamaica, the MC was a founding member of the pioneering Houston trio Geto Boys, whose dark horrorcore raps helped put the city on hip-hop's map. (Read the full obituary)

Dave Bartholomew

Dec. 24, 1918 – June 23, 2019

Best known for collaborating on an extraordinary string of hits with Fats Domino, the New Orleans trumpeter, songwriter, bandleader, producer and arranger was one of the primary architects of the sound that became rock and roll. (Read the full obituary)

João Gilberto

June 10, 1931 – July 6, 2019

Gilberto was the founding master of bossa nova, which drew on Brazil's African-influenced samba tradition but was performed without the usual battery of drums and rhythm instruments. His intimate and nuanced guitar playing and singing became central to the style. (Read the full obituary)

Johnny Clegg

June 7, 1953 – July 16, 2019

A singer, dancer and activist who co-founded two groundbreaking, racially mixed bands during the apartheid era, Clegg was one of the most celebrated voices in modern South African music. (Read the full obituary)

Ben Johnston

March 15, 1926 – July 21, 2019

A master of microtonal music, the avant-garde composer heard notes between the standard 12 pitches in an octave to create a wide range of pieces for orchestra, chamber ensembles, piano and stage. (Read an NPR profile from 2016)

Art Neville

Dec. 17, 1937 – July 22, 2019

The keyboardist, singer and songwriter sometimes known as "Poppa Funk" was a founding member of The Meters and of The Neville Brothers, the musical family whose soul sound traveled far beyond its home base of New Orleans. (Read the full obituary)

David Berman

Jan. 4, 1967 – Aug. 7, 2019

In his songs as Silver Jews and more recently as Purple Mountains, alongside frequent collaborators Pavement and labelmates Bill Callahan and Will Oldham, Berman established himself as a world-class lyricist who embodied indie rock's literate side. (Read the full obituary)

Celso Piña

April 6, 1953 – Aug. 21, 2019

The prolific and celebrated Mexican accordion player contributed greatly to the evolution of cumbia, bringing the Colombian folk style to stages around the world and deftly blending it with contemporary Latin styles. (Read the full obituary)

Camilo Sesto

Sept. 16, 1946 – Sept. 8, 2019

This Spanish pop sensation amassed dozens of No. 1 songs worldwide, wrote and produced hits for his Latin pop peers and starred in a Spanish-language adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Daniel Johnston

Jan. 22, 1961 – Sept. 11, 2019

The outsider singer, songwriter and visual artist was a true musician's musician. His guileless lyrics about love and alienation found fans in artists like Tom Waits, Yo La Tengo, Bright Eyes and Kurt Cobain, whose appreciation of his work helped bring it to a wider audience. (Read the full obituary)

Ric Ocasek

March 23, 1944 – Sept. 15, 2019

As the leader of The Cars, Ocasek wove offbeat new-wave elements into a hook-savvy Top 40 sound, and rocked a distinctive look perfect for MTV. His influence outlasted the group's 1980s reign, as he became a commanding producer for a younger generation of alternative bands. (Read the full obituary)

Harold Mabern

March 20, 1936 – Sept. 17, 2019

Mabern was a jazz pianist of percussive fire and boundless soul, with a language that pulled from hard bop, post-bop, Memphis soul and the blues. His penchant for block chords combined McCoy Tyner's modal coloration with the ringing affirmations of gospel. (Read the full obituary)

Christopher Rouse

Feb. 15, 1949 – Sept. 21, 2019

A composer of uncompromisingly expressive works, primarily for orchestra (one of which earned him a Pulitzer Prize), Rouse also taught courses in the history of rock. He once called himself a writer of "fast and furious" music. (Read the full obituary)

Robert Hunter

June 23, 1941 – Sept. 23, 2019

As the Grateful Dead's behind-the-scenes lyricist, Hunter provided the band with many of its most enduring lines, including the rock radio staple "Truckin' " and its immortal refrain, "What a long, strange trip it's been." (Read the full obituary)

José José

Feb. 17, 1948 – Sept. 28, 2019

Known as Mexico's "Prince of Song," the powerhouse crooner born José Rómulo Sosa Ortiz was a fixture of the Latin charts in the 1970s and '80s. In the 2000s he received lifetime achievement honors from the Latin Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Read the full obituary)

Jessye Norman

Sept. 15, 1945 – Sept. 30, 2019

Praised for the beauty and opulence of her voice, Norman crafted a distinctive career that spanned decades and styles of music, becoming a leading figure both in the opera house and on the recital stage. Her repertoire was broad, from baroque music to modernists, pop songs and blues to her beloved Duke Ellington. (Read the full obituary)

Giya Kancheli

Aug. 10, 1935 – Oct. 2, 2019

The Georgian composer's work spanned seven symphonies and large-scale works (like his Styx for viola, chorus and orchestra), as well as many intimate pieces for small ensembles and solo instruments, like the sweet, wistful piano tune "When Almonds Blossomed." (Read the full obituary)

Kim Shattuck

July 17, 1963 – Oct. 2, 2019

Shattuck was best known as the singer, guitarist and primary songwriter of The Muffs, but she was also one of alternative rock's favorite guest artists, singing on tracks by NOFX and Bowling for Soup and playing bass on tour with the reunited Pixies. (Read the full obituary)

Ginger Baker

Aug. 19, 1939 – Oct. 6, 2019

As the engine room of Cream, Blind Faith and other bands of the 1960s and '70s, Baker's intensity, inventiveness and fluency in the polyrhythms of jazz and Afrobeat made him a primary inspiration for generations of rock drummers. (Read the full obituary)

Raymond Leppard

Aug. 11, 1927 – Oct. 22, 2019

With full-bodied performances and pioneering scholarship, the British-born conductor, harpsichordist and composer helped reintroduce audiences to 16th and 17th century Italian masterpieces, and wrote contemporary works for stage and screen. (Read the full obituary)

Mariss Jansons

Jan. 14, 1943 – Nov. 30, 2019

Hailed for incisive and evocative performances of works by Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Strauss, the conductor enjoyed a truly global career, directing major orchestras in Russia, Norway, England and the United States. (Read the full obituary)

Juice WRLD

Dec. 2, 1998 – Dec. 8, 2019

The young Chicago rapper born Jarad Anthony Higgins was one of the fastest-rising names in the emo-rap subculture that incubated on SoundCloud before exploding onto the charts. His 2017 single "Lucid Dreams" hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and this March his album Death Race for Love went to No. 1. (Read the full obituary)

Jerry Herman

July 10, 1931 – Dec. 26, 2019


The Broadway legend was the songwriter behind hit musicals including Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage aux Folles. His shows created signature roles for their stars and, in the case of Hello, Dolly!, knocked The Beatles off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 when Louis Armstrong covered the title tune.

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