In Memoriam: Musicians We’ve Lost in 2021

With 2021 coming to end, we take a look back at some incredibly talented musicians we’ve lost this year.

2021 has been a rough year for us much like last year. In the midst of it all, we also lost some musicians who left a mind-blowing impact on us with their art. Their contributions to the music industry will always be cherished – they cannot be forgotten. From the Grammy-nominated trans-icon SOPHIE to the iconic rapper DMX to Anne Feeney who blended her activism with music, the music industry suffered massive losses with the death of some incredibly talented musicians.

SOPHIE

(September 17, 1986 – January 30, 2021)

Sophie Xeon, mononymously known as SOPHIE is a Grammy-nominated Scottish artist. Sophie’s high-intensity and innovative electronic productions pushed the boundaries of 21st-century pop; they drew on pop, trance, and underground dance music. The Glasgow-born artist has worked with the likes of Diplo, Camila Cabello, Charli XCX, and Madonna who sought the artist to co-produce the 2015 single Bitch, I’m Madonna.

Charli XCX, the Boys and ‘1999’ hitmaker worked with SOPHIE on her abrasive, avant-garde EP, ‘Vroom Vroom’ and the hit single ‘After The Afterparty’. The musician was also known as a transgender icon after Sophie came out as transgender. The artist told Billboard that being trans meant “taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren’t fighting against each other and struggling to survive”.

Sophie’s 2018 debut album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, was nominated for a Grammy for ‘Best Dance/Electronic Album’. The record explores questions of identity, non-conformity, and reinvention. This stellar artist succumbed to an accidental fall from a balcony in the Greek capital – Athens, when Sophie climbed up to watch the full moon and slipped. Sophie, the dynamic and innovative musician will be missed.

 

Anne Feeney

(July 1, 1951 – February 3, 2021)

Born in Pennsylvania, Anne Feeney was a US folk singer, songwriter, and guitarist who began playing the instrument in high school. Her first public performance was at a rally against the Vietnam war in 1969 and this was just the beginning of the musician blending activism and music. Feeney has not only contributed to the music industry, but she was also deeply committed to a number of causes in society.

She has played over 4000 shows throughout the U.S. and Europe over a thirty-year career, and her “Have You Been to Jail for Justice” serves as an anthem for activists worldwide. Most of her gigs were at union halls, for striking workers at rallies, and she played at the March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C.  in 2004.

The musician who blended elements of Irish, bluegrass, folk, and pop music performed during the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999. It was featured in the documentary, ‘This is What Democracy Looks Like’.

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Feeney has appeared at peace protests, fund-raisers for progressive causes, and began a professional recording career in the late 1980s. She began her professional music career after working as a trial lawyer for more than ten years, mainly representing refugees and survivors of domestic violence. Her music is sometimes tinged with satire and humor that were reminiscent of 1960s protest songs. She released twelve albums in her career with “Have You Been to Jail for Justice?” being her biggest hit.

It was also covered by Peter, Paul and Mary and often sung at demonstrations. In her efforts to make a difference, the musician served as president of the Pittsburgh Musician’s Union from 1981 to 1997.

Feeney became the first and only woman to hold that position and she also served on the executive board of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). She was also an active member of the American Federation of Musicians and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The labor activist died of Covid-19 at age 69. Anne Feeney’s marvelous contribution to both music and society will always be remembered.

 

Mary Wilson

(March 6, 1944 – February 8, 2021)

Mary Wilson is the founding member of The Supremes and was the only original member still with the afore-mentioned group when they broke up in 1977. Wilson was only fifteen when she became a founding member of the hit-making group. The group started as a quartet called The Primettes. This quartet was formed with Mary’s Detroit housing project neighbors Diana Ross, Betty McGlown, and Florence Ballard.

Wilson was the glue that held the group together through times of tragedy. Mary worked with The Supremes’ replacements to keep the group’s name going which marked the history of the most successful female pop group of the 1960s. Their string of ten Number 1 hits on the US pop charts began in 1964. It started with Where Did Our Love Go, which transformed the Motown sound into an international pop sensation.

Jay Schwartz, Mary’s publicist, confirmed her death. Wilson was an instrumental advocate for the Truth in Music Advertising act in the 2000s. This Act is now law in at least thirty-five states in the US and the legislation “ensures that a name of a famed legacy musical group — like ‘The Supremes’ — cannot be used by a group of performers unless it includes at least one member of the original act,” as per NPR.

The star died of hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, a condition related to high blood pressure, the Clark County Coroner office told the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network. Wilson died at her home in Las Vegas, she was 76.

 

DMX

(December 18, 1970 – April 9, 2021)

Earl Simmons, popularly known as DMX was a distinctive and soulful rapper who sold millions of records. Simmons took the name DMX from the Oberheim DMX drum machine. It was a model popular in the 1980s. The leading hip-hop performer was nominated for three Grammy Awards and he has collaborations with epic artists such as JAY-Z, Ja Rule, and LL Cool J. He was the first musician with first five albums debuting at number one on the Billboard chart and his chart-topping songs include ‘Party Up (Up in Here)’ and X Gon’ Give It To Ya.

Earl Simmons also starred in Hype Williams’s 1998 gangster film, ‘Belly’.  He appeared with the rappers Nas and Method Man in the film. He featured in the 2000 action movie ‘Romeo Must Die’ with Jet Li and the R&B singer Aaliyah. Furthermore, Simmons starred with Steven Seagal in the 2001 action film “Exit Wounds.” The rapper passed away at age 50, a week after suffering a heart attack.

 

Jim Steinman

(November 1, 1947 – April 19, 2021)

Jim Steinman who was an American composer, lyricist, and record producer had a stroke four years ago. His health had been declining and he died in Danbury, Connecticut (US) at 73. Steinman has worked with greats like Meat Loaf, Celine Dion, Bonnie Tyler, and his work has appeared in multiple genres. These include adult contemporary, rock, dance, and pop. Steinman was the composer of the rock singer Meat Loaf’s 1977 debut album ‘Bat Out of Hell’. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time with more than 50 million copies sold around the world.

In 1996, he wrote the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Whistle Down the Wind  and the show premiered at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. It opened in London’s West End in 1998 and has been revived several times and toured around the world. His work also appeared in musical theater and film scores as he worked on the soundtracks for ‘Shrek 2’, the musical ‘Tanz der Vampire’, the comedy ‘Rude Awakening’, the musical ‘More Than You Deserve’, and more!

Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, ‘Read ‘Em and Weep’ by Barry Manilow, ‘Making Love Out of Nothing at All’ by Air Supply, and Celine Dion’s version of ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’ are some of the popular songs Jim Steinman composed.

 

Lloyd Price

(March 9, 1933 – May 3, 2021)

Lloyd Price, is the ‘50s R&B vocalist who burst onto the national scene in the US in 1952 with his first single, the self-penned Lawdy Miss Clawdy. It was for the L.A.-based label Specialty Records and the song leaped to No. 1 on the national R&B chart. The arrangement on the track featured pianist Fats Domino and drummer Earl Palmer of Dave Bartholomew’s studio band.

As per Variety, Price noted how his hit broke new ground with listeners who previously hadn’t cocked an ear to black music and even Elvis Presley recorded a fierce cover of the song. Four more top-five R&B singles succeeded the hit ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’. However, Price’s career came to a halt when he was drafted in 1953 and later on he founded his own label, KRC Records. His label quickly gained profits due to his self-authored ballad ‘Just Because’ which was distributed by ABC-Paramount Records.

The ballad reached number 3 on the R&B side in 1957. His 1958 smash hit – ‘Stagger Lee’ reached number 1 on both the pop and R&B rolls. Chart-topper ‘Personality’ inspired Lloyd Price’s professional nickname “Mr. Personality”. His 1959 “I’m Gonna Get Married,” and “Personality” both reached the R&B top 10 through 1960.

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Price appeared in Leon Gast’s Oscar-winning 1996 documentary about ‘the Rumble in the Jungle’. It was called ‘When We Were Kings’. He was also in Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte’s 2008 feature about the chaotic festival, “Soul Power.” As time passed on, Price diversified into other lines of work. He built low-income housing and marketed a line of Southern soul food.

However, he never gave up performing and issued a new album, ‘This is Rock and Roll,’ in 2017. Although his profile lowered later in life, Price maintained a touring schedule into his 80s. He operated his own studio near his home in New York’s Westchester County. Price also published an autobiography, ‘sumdumhonky’ in 2015. Lloyd Price died of complications from diabetes. He was 88.

 

B.J. Thomas

(August 7, 1942 – May 29, 2021)

Billy Joe Thomas, commonly known as B.J. Thomas was the Grammy-winning singer who enjoyed success on multiple charts. These included the pop, country, and gospel charts with hits like ‘I Just Can’t Help Believing’, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, and ‘Hooked on a Feeling’. The singer announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer in March. He died from complications of the disease at the age of 78.

Thomas broke through in 1966 with a gospel-styled cover of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. He went on to sell millions of records, had dozens of hits across genres, and even reached number 1 with pop, adult contemporary, and country listeners in 1976 with (Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song’. In 1976 his “Home Where I Belong” became one of the first gospel albums to be certified platinum for selling more than one million copies.

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Thomas’ signature recording was ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’. It was a number one 1 pop hit. The song made him an Oscar winner for the best original song as part of the soundtrack to one of the biggest movies of 1969 – ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. B.J. Thomas had few pop hits after the mid-1970s. However, he still continued to score on the country charts with chart-toppers such as ‘Whatever Happened to Old-Fashioned Love’ and ‘New Looks from an Old Lover’ at number 1.

Thomas was also a top gospel and inspirational singer. This was in the late 1970s and early ’80s when he won two Dove Awards and five Grammys. In addition to this, he won a Grammy in 1979 for best gospel performance for ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and acted in a handful of movies. These included ‘Jory’ and ‘Jake’s Corner’. He also toured often.

 

Joey Jordison

(April 26, 1975 – July 26, 2021)

Joey Jordison was the former drummer of the US heavy metal band Slipknot. Jordison died at the age of 46. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. Joey was one of Slipknot’s original members. He founded the band in 1995 along with percussionist Shawn Crahan and bassist Paul Gray. Slipknot went on to sell millions of albums globally as well as find mainstream US chart success.

Jordison adopted horror-movie outfits featuring boiler suits and masks while he was drumming in high-speed alongside the percussionists. Their debut album was certified platinum in 2000. This set the stage for their sophomore album – Iowa. It topped the UK album chart in 2001. The drummer played on two studio albums with the band. They were: 2004’s Vol 3: (The Subliminal Verses) and 2008’s All Hope Is Gone. The latter was their first album to top the US chart and in 2005, Jordison won a Grammy with Slipknot.

Slipknot earned this Grammy for best metal performance for Before I Forget. Jordison left the band in 2013 and after leaving Slipknot, he went on to form bands. They were: ‘Scar the Martyr’, ‘Vimic’ and ‘Sinsaenum’. The drummer resumed Murderdolls. This was a side project he had begun in 2002. Furthermore, Jordison also played live drums for Metallica, Korn, Satyricon, Ministry and Rob Zombie. The drummer later revealed he had transverse myelitis, a nerve disease, which had affected his ability to play, as per The Guardian.

 

Gift of Gab

(October 7, 1971 – June 18, 2021)

Timothy J Parker, popularly known as – Gift of Gab – was a legendary rapper. He was one-half of the American rap duo Blackalicious. The rapper was known for acrobatic flow. He passed away when he was 50. Parker had endured numerous health problems over the years and died of natural causes. Seven years ago, he was diagnosed with kidney failure and he had been undergoing dialysis until a kidney transplant in January 2020.

The duo dropped their acclaimed first studio album ‘Nia’ in 1999. The rapper’s artistry was highlighted in Alphabet Aerobics, from 1999’s A2G EP and Blackalicious released three more albums. Gift of Gab also released several solo projects. The rapper’s dexterous wordplay will always be remembered.

 

Johnny Solinger

(August 7, 1965 – June 26, 2021)

Johnny Solinger was the former Skid Row singer. The singer passed away at the age of 55 a month after revealing that he was suffering from liver failure. He was Skid Row’s longest-running vocalist (from 1999 to 2015). Solinger replaced Sebastian Bach, who left the hard rock band in 1996.

Johnny fronted the group when it opened for Kiss’ Farewell Tour in 2000. He embarked on a solo career after parting ways with the group and sang on two of Skid Row’s albums – 2003’s ‘Thickskin’ and 2006’s ‘Revolutions Per Minute’. Solinger was the longest-tenured singer in Skid Row’s thirty-five-year history.

 

Biz Markie

(April 8, 1964 – July 16, 2021)

Marcel Theo Hall, known professionally as Biz Markie, was the New York rapper, beatboxer, and producer who was known for his 1989 hit ‘Just a Friend’. Biz Markie died at 57. He was a highly endearing figure. His biggest hit was ‘Just a Friend’, which reached number nine in the US charts. Biz Markie was diagnosed with diabetes in 2014. He was hospitalized for weeks with the illness during 2020. The rapper was notable for his freestyling and beatboxing talent and made appearances in film and television.

In addition to touring (including as a DJ), he performed guest raps with other artists too. He appeared on the Beastie Boys (an American hip-hop group) tracks as well. The tracks were: ‘Do It’, ‘The Biz vs The Nuge’ and ‘Intergalactic’. Biz Markie guested alongside Slick Rick on the Will Smith track ‘So Fresh’. In addition to this, he acted opposite Smith in a cameo in Men in Black II. The Rolling Stones sampled him for their 1997 song ‘Anybody Seen My Baby?’, and he became a host on US radio station Sirius XM in 2020.

 

Charlie Watts (June 2, 1941 – August 24, 2021)

Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones drummer passed away peacefully. He pushed the band’s sound for nearly six decades and was eighty years old when he died. Watts is considered one of the greatest rock drummers of all time. This is due to his keen knowledge of jazz as well as his smooth ability to make songs swing even when keeping the strictest time. Watts joined The Rolling Stones in 1963 and always used a straightforward four-drum setup. He was positively minimalist compared with the multi-instrument setups that many rock groups found favorable.

The group scored thirteen UK Number 1 albums including the critically adored likes of ‘Let It Bleed’, ‘Sticky Fingers’, and ‘Exile on Main Street’. Watts helped to power their high-energy world tours, playing with the group well into his mid-70s – his final tour was the two-year No Filter tour, beginning in 2017.

Watts not only played with the Rolling Stones but also played jazz in a series of groups over the years. These included his own quintet. One of them was Rocket 88, reuniting with Korner and Bruce in the late 1970s to play boogie-woogie. In the mid-1980s, he was a bandleader in the Charlie Watts Orchestra. It was a gargantuan unit playing big band jazz that toured the world. They also released a live album, ‘The Charlie Watts Orchestra Live at Fulham Town Hall’.

Watts was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004. He recovered after a course of radiotherapy. The iconic drummer’s final release with the band was ‘Living in a Ghost Town’. It was 2020 single taken from a studio album the group had been planning.

 

Sarah Harding

(November 17, 1981 – September 5, 2021)

Sarah Harding was a member of the pop girl group ‘Girls Aloud’. She announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was receiving chemotherapy in August 2020 and died aged 39 from breast cancer. ‘Girls Aloud’ had twenty-one UK Top ten singles with their debut single ‘Sound of the Underground’ becoming the first of four UK chart-toppers in a decade-long career.

The girl group became one of the country’s most successful music acts during that period. Four of their five studio albums also went Top Ten on the charts. ‘Girls Aloud’ earned critical acclaim for their high energy. They had a quirkily guitar-driven sound. The group’s high-profile fans included Bono, Chris Martin, and Arctic Monkeys. Ken Livingstone and David Cameron were self-professed admirers too. The group’s Number 1 hit The Promise won the 2009 Brit award for best single and Girls Aloud went on hiatus later in 2009.

Sarah began an acting career that resumed after the 2013 split of Girls Aloud as she featured in two movies of the St Trinian’s movie series. The star also featured in the BBC TV film ‘Freefall’ that starred Dominic Cooper, Riz Ahmed and Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike. She starred as Stephanie in the Danny Dyer movie ‘Run for Your Wife’ and Harding played wronged lover Joni Preston in four episodes of Coronation Street in 2015.

Sarah Harding also appeared in a stage adaptation of the film ‘Ghost’. However, the star had her greatest success post-Girls Aloud by returning to reality TV as she won Celebrity Big Brother in 2017. Furthermore, Harding also appeared on ‘Celebrity MasterChef’, the gymnastics show ‘Tumble’ and the winter sports series – The Jump.

 

Young Dolph

(July 27, 1985 – November 17, 2021)

Young Dolph was shot and killed in his hometown of Memphis at age 36. A star of indie rap and a cousin of the late artist Juice Wrld, Young Dolph was buying cookies at Makeda’s Butter Cookies when a gunman drove up and shot through the window. Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., who is known for his stage name – Young Dolph began freestyling with his friends as a teenager.

He started releasing mixtapes in 2008 and released his debut studio album ‘King of Memphis’ in 2016 which peaked at number 49 on the Billboard 200 chart. The rapper’s last solo album ‘Rich Slave’ which featured the single RNB with Megan Thee Stallion, in August 2020 debuted in the top five at number 4 on the Billboard chart last year.

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