Musicians who have died in 2021: from Charlie Watts to Sabah Fakhri

The deceased includes singers, rappers, guitarists and producers

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It's already shaping up to be another exceptionally difficult year for the music industry.

As the pandemic has led to the shuttering of many major music festivals, many luminaries and innovators have died in 2021.

The names of those we've lost so far span various genres and talents, including singers, rappers, guitarists and producers from fields such as pop, soul, hip-hop and jazz.

Here are some of the most renowned musicians, in chronological order, who died in 2021:

- Gerry Marsden

- Phil Spector

- Sophie

- Anne Feeney

- Mary Wilson

- Chick Corea

- Ali Hemeida

- Johnny Pacheco

- Bunny Wailer

- DMX

- Al Schmitt

- Les McKeown

- Shock G

- Anita Lane

- Gamal Salama

- Gift of Gab

- Ellen McIlwaine

- Biz Markie

- Joey Jordison

- Johnny Ventura

- Dusty Hill

- Don Everly

- Brian Travers

- Sarah Dash

- Charlie Watts

- Mikis Theodorakis

- Sabah Fakhri

- Marilia Mendonca

- Astro

January 3: Gerry Marsden

Rock aficionados will remember him as the frontman of 1960s group Gerry and the Pacemakers, which will forever be known as the name behind Liverpool Football Club's version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's You’ll Never Walk Alone, which the team adopted as an anthem.

Marsden died, aged 78, reportedly after a short illness.

January 16: Phil Spector

Phil Spector revolutionised pop music in the 1960s. He then ended up in prison for murder.

The US musician and record producer was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson in 2003 at his castle-like mansion in Los Angeles. After a trial in 2009, he was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.

Until the actress’s death, which Spector maintained was an “accidental suicide”, few residents even knew the mansion belonged to the reclusive producer, who spent his remaining years in a prison hospital east of Stockton.

In the 1960s, Spector was hailed a visionary for merging spirited vocal harmonies with orchestral arrangements in pop anthems such as Da Doo Ron Ron, Be My Baby and He’s a Rebel. He was dubbed the rare self-conscious artist in rock’s early years and cultivated an image of mystery and power with his dark shades and impassive expression.

He died at the age of 81 from Covid-19 complications, according to his daughter.

January 30: Sophie

The experimental artist and producer died, aged 34, after falling from the balcony of her apartment in Athens, Greece.

Through two collections – 2015's compilation Product and 2018's Grammy-nominated album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-insides – Sophie managed to produce a bright and ebullient sound widely considered to be the harbinger of the hyper-pop movement, a niche genre renowned for its maximalist approach to pop music, drawing on influences from trance, hip-hop and emo rock genres.

February 3: Anne Feeney

US folk singer and political activist Anne Feeney had been seeking treatment for her fractured back when she contracted the coronavirus and developed pneumonia. She died at a hospital in Pittsburgh aged 69.

The Have You Been to Jail for Justice? singer was known for her rousing songs of protest, often blending elements of bluegrass, folk, Irish and pop music.

Her first public performance was held during a 1969 rally protesting the war in Vietnam and marked the beginning of a five-decade career combining music with activism.

She released 12 albums in her lifetime and often spent more than 200 days a year on tour. She performed at folk festivals and concerts but also at picket lines and political demonstrations.

February 8: Mary Wilson

Vocalist Mary Wilson was only 15 when she founded the singing group The Supremes in a housing project in Detroit.

It became the most commercially successful act of US label Motown Records and quickly became the most successful American vocal group of its day, with 12 No 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

In the mid-1960s, their worldwide popularity was rivalled only by The Beatles.

Wilson stayed with The Supremes until its end in 1977. She then began her solo career, releasing two studio albums.

Wilson died aged 76 in her home in Las Vegas.

Her last single Why Can’t We All Get Along was released posthumously in March.

February 9: Chick Corea

Chick Corea took jazz to uncharted waters from the helm of his keyboard.

Born in 1941, he began his professional career in his early twenties, recording his debut album Tones for Joan’s Bones in 1966.

He released his critically-acclaimed second album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs in 1968.

That same year, Corea began performing and recording with Miles Davis on some of the legendary trumpeter’s most famous albums, including Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way.

He left the group in 1970 to form the free jazz band Circle.

He would go on to leave several musical acts, including Return to Forever and the Chick Corea Elektric Band. He also frequently collaborated with other jazz and classical luminaries, including Hiromi Uehara, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny.

A 23-time Grammy Award-winner, Corea died of cancer on February 9. He was 79.

His last words to his fans was a stirring message about the necessity – and joy – of music. “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright.

“It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so. If not for yourself then for the rest of us. It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun.”

February 11: Ali Hemeida

Known for the effervescent 1980s hit Loulaky, the Egyptian singer succumbed to cancer aged 55 in February.

The hit single, which reportedly sold millions regionally, set him up as a star of the stage and screen, and as a popular concert act. He also had starring roles in television dramas, including last year’s Ala Eish and Omar and Diab.

February 15: Johnny Pacheco

The Dominican American multi-instrumentalist and composer ushered into the US a new Latin sound called the pachanga.

Blending heady Cuban rhythms with Dominican music and dance form of merengue, the exciting sound became a hit across the US and helped popularise the Latin dance term “salsa”. He won the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Pacheco died in a New Jersey hospital from complications of pneumonia.

March 2: Bunny Wailer

Jamaican singer-songwriter, percussionist and three-time Grammy Award-winner Bunny Wailer died aged 73 because of complications from a stroke he suffered in 2020.

One of reggae’s leading lights, Wailer was a founding member of The Wailers, along with Bob Marley.

The band achieved international fame with hits such as Simmer Down and Buffalo Soldier.

Wailer then left the group in favour of a solo career in 1974.

In 2017, he was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Merit.

April 9: DMX

The hip-hop world was heartbroken after the death of one of its most beloved figures.

Real name Earl Simmons, DMX was known for his raspy vocals and charisma that found him success as a rapper, with song such as Ruff Ryders' Anthem and Party Up (Up in Here), and on the big screen as a star of action films Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave.

It was down to his much-publicised struggles with substance abuse, however, that had fans and peers rally around him in support, over the last decade.

DMX died aged 50 from a cardiac arrest caused by a drug overdose.

April 17: Al Schmitt

A maestro of the recording studio, the American won more Grammy Awards than any other record engineer or mixer.

His tally of 20 gongs includes production work on albums by Paul McCartney (Kisses on the Bottom), Ray Charles (Genius Loves Company) and Natalie Cole's Unforgettable... with Love.

Schmitt's death at 91 was announced by his family with no cause given.

April 20: Les McKeown

Les McKeown was the lead singer of the Scottish pop-rock band Bay City Rollers.

The group was big in the 1970s and were nicknamed the “tartan teen sensations from Edinburgh”.

Though the group had many line-up changes over the years, McKeown was the singer during the band’s heyday and helped them achieve international recognition.

They overhauled their image with McKeown’s arrival, adopting capri pants, tartan and platform shoes.

McKeown left the band in 1978, just as its popularity began to dwindle.

He established the pop band Egotrip and released the solo album All Washed Up in 1979.

After releasing eight more studio albums, he rejoined the Bay City Rollers in 2015, performing in a series of reunion shows.

McKeown died in his home in London, England, aged 65.

April 22: Shock G

As well as being a hip-hop pioneer, Shock G is widely credited with giving future rap superstar Tupac Shakur his career break.

As frontman of Digital Underground – whose boldness and experimentalism would influence the likes of Outkast – the duo scored hits with The Humpty Dance and Doowutchyalike.

In addition to enlisting Tupac’s talents as a backup dancer on Digital Underground tours, Shock G also went on to produce and feature in Tupac's breakout 1993 single I Get Around.

Shock G died at the age of 56, reportedly from an accidental drug overdose.

April 28: Anita Lane

Australian singer Anita Lane first came to international attention in the 1980s as a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, along with Nick Cave and Mick Harvey.

Lane and Cave had a romantic relationship that ended in the mid-1980s. However, Lane continued to collaborate with Cave on several songs, writing the lyrics for tracks such as Stranger than Kindness and From Her to Eternity.

Lane then began her solo career, releasing her debut album Dirty Pearl in 1993 and Sex O’Clock in 2001.

A representative of her music label Mute confirmed her death, aged 61, but no cause was given.

“She was a beautiful unworldly spirit with the tenderest of voices,” Mute said following her death. “She would sum up an emotion, a situation, a lifetime, in one effortless sentence when others would struggle to show meaning using long-ranging books of poetry and testaments of prose.”

May 7: Gamal Salama

Egyptian maestro Gamal Salama died aged 76 after contracting the coronavirus.

His death was announced by Egypt’s Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem. “The field of Arab creativity has lost a noble knight, a musical genius and an artistic icon,” she said.

Born in Alexandria in 1945, Salama studied music in Cairo and the Soviet Union, obtaining a doctorate in musical composition from the Moscow Conservatory in 1976.

Salama played the organ in the Umm Kulthum band and composed songs for several leading Arab figures, including Lebanese singer Sabah, Moroccan-Egyptian singer Samira Said, as well as Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani.

June 18: Gift of Gab

True to his name, Gift of Gab was a dexterous beast on the mic.

The rapper, whose real name was Timothy Jerome Parker, was one half of the critically acclaimed group Blackalicious, and renowned for his virtuosity and mastering various rapping styles.

Gift of Gab's demise, at the age of 50 after recovering from kidney failure the previous year, also spelt the end of Blackalicious.

June 23: Ellen McIlwaine

Nobody could play the guitar quite like Ellen Mcllwaine.

Her buttery slide technique and psychedelic rhythm made a fan out of even Jimi Hendrix, who performed with Mcllwaine in the mid-1960s in New York.

Often classified as a folk artist, Mcllwaine’s musical repertoire had roots in gospel soul, blues and rock music.

She released 13 studio and live albums throughout her five-decade career and she started her own record label, Ellen McIlwaine Music, in 2006.

Mcllwaine was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer only six weeks before her death. She died in her long-time home of Calgary, Canada, aged 75.

July 16: Biz Markie

The hip-hop pioneer, real name Marcel Hall, is known for his charismatic stage presence and playful lyrics.

With his classic 1988 debut album Goin' Off, Markie earned the loveable moniker "clown of hip-hop" with tracks such as Pickin' Boogers and Let Go of My Eggo.

Carried by its off-key chorus, 1987’s Just a Friend is Markie's biggest hit and landed on the top 10 of the US pop charts.

Markie died at the age of 57, reportedly after suffering health issues related to Type 2 diabetes.

July 26: Joey Jordison

The former drummer of metal titans Slipknot died in his sleep, aged 46, after suffering from years of complications related to the neurological condition acute transverse myelitis.

Known for his flamboyant concert appearances, including wearing death masks, face paint and jumpsuits, Jordison's inventive drumming played a larger role in Slipknot fashioning an eclectic and crushing sound all of their own.

He was widely considered a "legend" of the heavy metal music scene. Trivium frontman and guitarist Matthew Heafy said: “Joey’s contributions to music changed the face of heavy music on the planet as we know it.”

July 28: Johnny Ventura

The musician died after suffering a heart attack at home in his native Dominican Republic. He was 81.

Ventura was largely responsible for popularising merengue music, with its dance-driven Afro-Caribbean rhythms and blazing horns, across Latin America and the US.

His most successful period was in the 1960s where he released singles that went on to become standards of the genre including Patacon Pisao and Merenguero Hasta La Tumbadora.

Ventura also found success in politics and served as vice mayor to the Dominican Republic's capital city Santo Domingo from 1994 to 2002.

July 28: Dusty Hill

ZZ Top’s long-bearded bassist for the million-selling Texas blues rock trio died at age 72.

No cause of death was revealed.

Hill provided the rumbling groove for all of the group's hits including Tush in 1975, and the 1980s songs Sharp Dressed Man, Legs and Gimme All Your Lovin’.

He joined his bandmates on stage when ZZ Top was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, introduced by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

August 21: Don Everly

The surviving member of The Everly Brothers died in his Nashville home in the US, aged 84.

With his brother Phil, who died in 2014 at the age of 74, the duo shaped the sound of rock and roll and country music.

Hits such as Bye Bye Love and All I Have to do is Dream features their trademark high harmonies, poignant lyricism and chiming guitars.

In 1986, the duo became one of the first artists inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, to be followed by the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Everly Brothers first split in 1973 after 22 years and reunited for another 22-year stretch in 1983.

Don also launched a solo career and found success in the country music charts in the late 1970s with his band Dead Cowboys.

August 22: Brian Travers

The UB40 saxophonist and songwriter died from cancer at the age of 62.

Travers co-founded the eight-piece British band in 1978 along with other musicians from various schools across Birmingham.

The band got its name from a form used to claim unemployment benefits at the time.

UB40 are among the most successful reggae bands to come out of the UK, scoring more than 40 Top 40 singles and selling 100 million albums worldwide.

September 20: Sarah Dash

Described as the "glue" of hit-making vocal trio Labelle, Dash died aged 76.

No cause of death was revealed.

With a strong soprano voice rooted in US churches, Dash went on to be known for singing the backing high harmonies in plenty of Labelle hits including the 1974 chart-topper Lady Marmalade.

In addition to her time with Labelle, Dash released four solo albums and collaborated with various musicians including Chic's Nile Rodgers and Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones.

August 24: Charlie Watts

The backbone of The Rolling Stones died after suffering from an unspecified health issue.

A member since 1963. Watt's deft playing style, fusing rock and roll with his love for jazz, gave The Rolling Stones a sense of groove and swing that was rarely replicated by peers.

In 2004, Watts was treated for throat cancer at London’s The Royal Marsden Hospital and he was given the all-clear after a four-month battle with the disease, involving six weeks of intensive radiotherapy treatment.

September 2: Mikis Theodorakis

The world knows him as the composer behind the 1964 Oscar-winning film Zorba the Greek, but Theodorakis was also a Second World War resistance fighter and a leading national figure opposing military rule in Greece from 1967 to 1974.

However, it was as a composer that he made his biggest impact with scores for seminal films including the gritty 1973 drama Serpico starring Al Pacino and the acclaimed 1976 Chilean film Letters from Marusia.

Theodorakis died, aged 96, from heart complications and the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared three days of mourning in tribute.

November 2: Sabah Fakhri

The beloved musician, who died aged 88, had a remarkable 70-year career during which he was hailed as the ambassador of the Syrian folk music genre, and was a major influence on generations of Arab artists across the region.

Throughout his career, Fakhri was a luminary in revitalising forms and techniques of traditional Arabic music, namely Qudud Halabiya (musical measures of Aleppo) and the Muwashshah musical genre.

He often found his lyrics in the works of the 10th-century poets Abu Firas Al Hamdani and Al Mutanabbi.

Some of his most famous songs include Ya Mal al-Sham, Ana Wa Habibi and Oul Lel Maliha.

Fakhri’s music showcased the intricacies of classical Arabic composition and poetry.

His legacy leaves a lasting imprint on classical Arabic music, with his influence discernible in the works of the genre’s most contemporary practitioners.

November 5: Marilia Mendonca

The popular Brazilian singer died in a plane crash aged only 26, en route to a concert within her homeland.

The rising star performed sertanejo music, a popular Brazilian genre. She was known for tackling feminist issues in her songs, such as denouncing men who control their partners, and calling for women's empowerment.

Her album Todos os Cantos won her the 2019 Latin Grammy for Best Sertanejo Music Album.

Mendonca was nominated for the same award this year for her album Patroas.

November 6: Astro

The former vocalist and founding member of British reggae giants UB40 died at the age of 64.

Real name Terence Wilson, Astro was an integral member of the group having lent his vocals to hits Red Red Wine and Rat in Mi Kitchen. He performed with the band until 2013, when he formed a breakaway group with former UB40 lead singer Ali Campbell.

It was the latter who announced the news of Astro's death on Twitter.

"We are absolutely devastated and completely heartbroken to have to tell you that our beloved Astro has today passed away after a very short illness," he said. "The world will never be the same without him."

Updated: November 08, 2021, 7:00 AM
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