In Memoriam 2021: The Musicians We Lost

In 2021, the music world said goodbye to artistic visionaries from every corner of the field. We lost rock and roll pioneers, groundbreaking music journalists, and foundational jazz legends (many of whom were honored in a video made by our colleagues at Jazz Night in America). From prolific engineers to producers who helped reimagine the possibilities of sound to writers who helped us understand its impact, the breadth of talent was immeasurable. Below is a list of just some of the many musicians and voices lost in 2021, listed in chronological order by the date that they left us.

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GerRY MARSDEN

Leader of the 1960s rock group Gerry and the Pacemakers

Sept. 24, 1942 — Jan. 3, 2021

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Howard johnson

Tuba virtuoso who carved a place for tuba in contemporary jazz

Aug. 7, 1941 — Jan. 11, 2021

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duke bootee

Record producer and hip-hop pioneer who co-wrote "The Message," Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1982 hit and cultural staple

Jun. 6, 1951 — Jan. 13, 2021

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SYLVAIN SylVAIN

Guitarist for the hard-driving New York Dolls

Feb. 14, 1951 — Jan. 13, 2021

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phil spector

Legendary producer and convicted murderer who created pop's "wall of sound"

Dec. 26, 1939 — Jan. 16, 2021

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JUNIOR MANCE

Impeccably bluesy hard-bop pianist

Oct. 10, 1928 — Jan. 17, 2021

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sammy nestico

Composer known for his big band jazz arrangements

Feb. 6, 1924 — Jan. 17, 2021

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jimmie rodgers

Singer known for 1950s hits "Honeycomb" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine"

Sept. 18, 1933 — Jan. 18, 2021

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jonas gwangWa

South African trombonist, composer and activist against apartheid

Oct. 19, 1937 — Jan. 23, 2021

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eva coutaz

Director of revered classical label Harmonia Mundi

Feb. 26, 1943 — Jan. 26, 2021

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hilton valentine

Founding guitarist for British Invasion band The Animals

May 21, 1943 — Jan. 29, 2021

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flory jagoda

Singer-songwriter, guitarist and accordionist dedicated to preservation of Sephardic Jewish music

Dec. 21, 1923 — Jan. 29, 2021

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sophie

Trailblazing producer who helped usher in a new era of pop-infused electronic music

Sept. 17, 1986 — Jan. 30, 2021

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double k

People Under The Stairs rapper and producer

Aug. 1, 1977 — Jan. 30, 2021

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ricky powell

Iconic street photographer who documented the ascension of hip-hop and other scenes in '80s and '90s New York

Nov. 20, 1961 — Feb. 1, 2021

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danny ray

Legendary emcee and hype man for James Brown

Mar. 22, 1935 — Feb. 2, 2021

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anne feeney

Folk singer and committed political activist

Jul. 1, 1951 — Feb. 3, 2021

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jim weatherly

Singer-songwriter whose hits, including "Midnight Train to Georgia," spanned genres

Mar. 17, 1943 — Feb. 3, 2021

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mary wilson

Trailblazing co-founder of The Supremes

Mar. 6, 1944 — Feb. 8, 2021

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chick corea

Legendary jazz pianist and composer with a strong melodic sense and a crisp, distinctive touch

Jun. 12, 1941 — Feb. 9, 2021

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rupert neve

Audio equipment inventor who shaped rock and roll's sound

Jul. 31, 1926 — Feb. 12, 2021

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milford graves

Drummer, scientist, educator and improvisor who mapped the music of the heart

Aug. 20, 1941 — Feb. 12, 2021

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johnny pacheco

Co-founder of Fania Records, which revolutionized the sound of Cuban dance music in the 1970s

Mar. 25, 1935 — Feb. 15, 2021

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ketchy the great

LA rapper who came up in the underground scene, best known as a member of the Stinc Team

Apr. 19, 1994 — Feb. 15, 2021

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u-roy

Jamaican dancehall icon who had an enormous influence on early rap

Sept. 21, 1942 — Feb. 17, 2021

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prince markie dee

Member of the Fat Boys who brought beatboxing to the masses

Feb. 19, 1968 — Feb. 18, 2021

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james burke

"O-o-h Child" singer and member of the Five Stairsteps

1950 — Feb. 19, 2021

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ralph peterson jr.

Drummer, bandleader and composer who re-enlivened hard bop

May 20, 1962 — Mar. 1, 2021

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bunny wailer

Singer, songwriter and reggae monarch who brought roots reggae to an international stage

Apr. 10, 1947 — Mar. 2, 2021

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barbara ess

No Wave musician, toy-instrument virtuoso, zine-maker and pinhole camera auteur

Apr. 4, 1944 — Mar. 4, 2021

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michael stanley

Leader of Cleveland's Michael Stanley Band and quintessential heartland rocker

Mar. 25, 1948 — Mar. 5, 2021

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lou ottens

Philips engineer who invented the cassette tape

Jun. 21, 1926 — Mar. 6, 2021

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james levine

Supremely gifted conductor and former maestro of the Metropolitan Opera whose career collapsed after allegations of sexual misconduct

Jun. 23, 1943 — Mar. 9, 2021

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jimmie morales

Prolific Puerto Rican percussionist and salsa hero

Sept. 10, 1957 — Mar. 16, 2021

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freddie redd

Jazz pianist and composer who scored the play The Connection

May 29, 1928 — Mar. 17, 2021

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paul jackson

Bassist for Herbie Hancock's Headhunters who helped propel the group to the furthest reaches of rapturous jazz-funk

Mar. 28, 1947 — Mar. 18, 2021

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buddy deppenschmidt

Drummer and educator whose work brought bossa nova into the mainstream

Feb. 16, 1936 — Mar. 20, 2021

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malcolm cecil

Pioneering producer whose analog synthesizer transformed music

Jan. 9, 1937 — Mar. 28, 2021

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B.B. dickerson

Founder and bassist for legendary funk group War

Aug. 3, 1949 — Apr. 2, 2021

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victor paz

The most sought-after big band lead trumpeter of his time

Aug. 30, 1932 — Apr. 3, 2021

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sonny simmons

Saxophonist and crucial voice in one of jazz's most innovative eras

Aug. 4, 1933 — Apr. 6, 2021

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wayne peterson

Composer who won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1992 for his composition "The Face of the Night, the Heart of the Dark"

Sept. 3, 1927 — Apr. 7, 2021

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dmx

Legendary rapper whose confessional, grounded songs made him a voice of his generation

Dec. 18, 1970 — Apr. 9, 2021

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black rob

Former Bad Boy Records rapper known for his signature 2000 song "Whoa!"

Jun. 8, 1968 — Apr. 17, 2021

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jim steinman

"Lord of Excess" and writer of operatic power ballads for Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler

Nov. 1, 1947 — Apr. 19, 2021

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les mckeown

Prolific performer and singer for Scotland's Bay City Rollers

Nov. 12, 1955 — Apr. 20, 2021

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shock g

Introspective and party-starting songwriter, rapper and leader of Bay Area collective Digital Underground

Aug. 25, 1963 — Apr. 22, 2021

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milva

One of Italy's most enduring pop divas

Jul. 17, 1939 — Apr. 23, 2021

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christa ludwig

Warm-voiced German mezzo-soprano who mastered opera and art song

Mar. 16, 1928 — Apr. 24, 2021

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bob fass

Host of New York City radio show Radio Unnameable, which served as a megaphone for the emerging 1960s counterculture

Jun. 29, 1933 — Apr. 24, 2021

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al schmitt

Recording engineer known for his exquisite ear, warmth and fastidiousness

Apr. 17, 1930 — Apr. 26, 2021

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martin bookspan

Radio broadcaster, critic and former "voice of the New York Philharmonic"

Jul. 30, 1926 — Apr. 29, 2021

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ed ward

Incisive former critic, editor for Rolling Stone and longtime contributor to WHYY's Fresh Air

Nov. 2, 1948 — May 2021

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lloyd price

Singer-songwriter and early rock and roll star

Mar. 9, 1933 — May 3, 2021

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pervis staples

Founding member of The Staple Singers

Nov. 18, 1935 — May 6, 2021

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curtis fuller

Leading trombonist and composer of jazz's Detroit wave

Dec. 15, 1932 — May 8, 2021

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bob koester

Producer, record store owner and founder of Delmark Records

Oct. 30, 1932 — May 12, 2021

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norman simmons

Pianist, composer and educator whose jazz career spanned more than 65 years

Oct. 6, 1929 — May 13, 2021

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mario pavone

Bassist, versatile composer and key figure in the Connecticut jazz educational scene

Nov. 11, 1940 — May 15, 2021

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alix dobkin

Folk-singer and lesbian activist

Aug. 16, 1940 — May 19, 2021

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chi modu

Photographer of some of the most enduring images in hip-hop

Jul. 7, 1966 — May 19, 2021

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roger hawkins

Drummer and co-founder of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Oct. 16, 1945 — May 20, 2021

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john davis

Unseen vocalist for lip-syncing, Grammy-winning, Grammy-forfeiting duo Milli Vanilli

Aug. 31, 1954 — May 24, 2021

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b.j. thomas

Singer known for hits "I Just Can't Help Believing" and "Hooked on a Feeling"

Aug. 7, 1942 — May 29, 2021

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gift of gab

Co-founder and emcee for legendary hip-hop group Blackalicious

Oct. 7, 1970 — Jun. 18, 2021

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jeanne lamon

Violinist and conductor who offered historically informed performances of centuries-old music

Aug. 14, 1949 — Jun. 20, 2021

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gianna rolandi

Acclaimed American soprano for the New York City Opera

Aug. 16, 1952 — Jun. 20, 2021

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jon hassell

Trumpeter, composer and ethnomusicologist

Mar. 22, 1937 — Jun. 26, 2021

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frederic rzewski

Politically minded American composer and pianist acclaimed for variations based on a Chilean protest song

Apr. 13, 1938 — Jun. 26, 2021

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louis andriessen

Dutch composer of propulsive music which embraced jazz, minimalism and politics

Jun. 6, 1939 — Jul. 1, 2021

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rick laird

Founding bassist of the Mahavishnu Orchestra

Feb. 5, 1941 — Jul. 4, 2021

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raffaelLa carrà

Singer, actor and "the queen" of Italian television

Jun. 18, 1943 — Jul. 5, 2021

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djivan gasparyan

Armenian musician and composer beloved by rock stars and Hollywood

Oct. 12, 1928 — Jul. 5, 2021

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juini booth

Acclaimed jazz bassist and member of the Sun Ra Arkestra

Feb. 12, 1948 — Jul. 11, 2021

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biz markie

Rapper and "clown prince" of hip-hop

Apr. 8, 1964 — Jul. 16, 2021

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robby steinhardt

Violinist and vocalist for Kansas

May 25, 1950 — Jul. 17, 2021

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jerry granelli

Drummer heard on Vince Guaraldi Trio's iconic Peanuts soundtracks

Dec. 30, 1940 — Jul. 20, 2021

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peter rehberg

Electronic artist and co-founder of the Editions Mego record label

Jun. 29, 1968 — Jul. 22, 2021

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patricia kennealy-morrison

One of the first woman rock critics, handfasted wife of Jim Morrison

Mar. 4, 1946 — Jul. 23, 2021

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joey jordison

Drummer and founding member of Slipknot

Apr. 26, 1975 — Jul. 26, 2021

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dusty hill

Bassist for the enduring Texas blues rock band ZZ Top

May 19, 1949 — Jul. 27, 2021

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johnny ventura

Beloved Dominican merengue star and former mayor of Santo Domingo

Mar. 8, 1940 — Jul. 28, 2021

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jacob desvarieux

Guitarist and singer for groundbreaking zouk band Kassav'

Nov. 21, 1955 — Jul. 30, 2021

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charles connor

Longtime drummer for Little Richard

Jan. 14, 1935 — Jul. 31, 2021

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kelli hand

Best known as K-Hand, a prolific producer and house music pioneer recognized as the "First Lady of Detroit"

Sept. 15, 1964 — Aug. 3, 2021

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paul johnson

Producer, DJ and Chicago house music legend

Jan. 11, 1971 — Aug. 4, 2021

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dennis "dee tee" thomas

Saxophonist and founding member of Kool & the Gang

Feb. 9, 1951 — Aug. 7, 2021

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walter yetnikoff

Former president of CBS Records who championed stars including Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen

Aug. 11, 1933 — Aug. 9, 2021

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chucky thompson

Super-producer and architect of hip-hop soul

Jul. 12, 1968 — Aug. 9, 2021

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pil trafa

Frontman of Argentine punk group Los Violadores, one of the most celebrated groups from South America's underground scene.

1959 — Aug. 13, 2021

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nanci griffith

Folk-singer known for her crystalline voice and literary songwriting

July 6, 1953 — Aug. 13, 2021

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r. murray schafer

Experimental Canadian composer of music that explored connections between sound, humans and nature

Jul. 18, 1933 — Aug. 14, 2021

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squeak

DJ and producer for Pivot Gang, the West Side Chicago hip-hop collective

Sept. 20, 1994 — Aug. 16, 2021

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michael morgan

Versatile American conductor and longtime music director of the Oakland Symphony

Sept. 17, 1957 — Aug. 20, 2021

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larry harlow

Iconic salsa musician, producer and activist

Mar. 20, 1939 — Aug. 20, 2021

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tom t. hall

Country music storyteller responsible for "Harper Valley PTA"

May 25, 1936 — Aug. 20, 2021

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bill emerson

Celebrated banjoist and co-founder of The Country Gentlemen

Jan. 22, 1938 — Aug. 21, 2021

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don everly

Half of rock and roll's pioneering duo The Everly Brothers

Feb. 1, 1937 — Aug. 21, 2021

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charlie watts

Rolling Stones timekeeper for nearly 60 years

Jun. 2, 1941 — Aug. 24, 2021

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lee "scratch" perry

Prolific reggae artist and producer who reimagined what a mix could be

Mar. 20, 1936 — Aug. 29, 2021

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mikis theodorakis

Greek composer, activist, politician and creator of music for the film Zorba the Greek

Jul. 29, 1925 — Sept. 2, 2021

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alemayehu eshete

Celebrated Ethiopian pop artist

June 1941 — Sept. 2, 2021

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sarah harding

Member of English pop group Girls Aloud

Nov. 17, 1981 — Sept. 5, 2021

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ralph irizarry

Master timbalero and Latin jazz bandleader

Jul. 18, 1954 — Sept. 5, 2021

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carmen balthrop

American soprano and star of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha, who once sang before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee

May 14, 1948 — Sept. 5, 2021

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susan anway

Early vocalist for The Magnetic Fields

Jan. 9, 1951 — Sept. 5, 2021

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carl bean

Archbishop, AIDS activist and pioneer in the LGBTQ religious movement

May 26, 1944 — Sept. 7, 2021

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phil schaap

Leading American jazz scholar and evangelist

Apr. 8, 1951 — Sept. 7, 2021

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tino contreras

Iconic Mexican jazz drummer

Apr. 3, 1924 — Sept. 9, 2021

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george wein

Co-founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and lifelong supporter of where jazz was headed

Oct. 3, 1925 — Sept. 13, 2021

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george mraz

Czech bass virtuoso with a prolific jazz career

Sept. 9, 1944 — Sept. 16, 2021

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dottie dodgion

Swinging drummer with a groundbreaking career

Sept. 23, 1929 — Sept. 17, 2021

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sarah dash

Singer and co-founder of the group Labelle

Aug. 18, 1945 — Sept. 20, 2021

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melvin van peeBles

Filmmaker, musician, actor and godfather of Black cinema

Aug. 21, 1932 — Sept. 21, 2021

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julz sale

Singer and guitarist for British post-punk band Delta 5

May 24, 1958 — Sept 21, 2021

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richard h. kirk

Electronic musician and founding member of Cabaret Voltaire

Mar. 21, 1956 — Sept. 21, 2021

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pee wee ellis

Soulful saxophonist who sharpened the sounds of James Brown and Van Morrison

Apr. 21, 1941 — Sept. 23, 2021

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george frayne

Commander Cody of the Lost Planet Airmen, whose exuberant psychedelic roots excavations helped define country rock

Jul. 19, 1944 — Sept. 26, 2021

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dr. lonnie smith

NEA Jazz Master known for his dynamism and wizardry on the Hammond B3 organ

Jul. 3, 1942 — Sept. 28, 2021

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mike renzi

Jazz pianist who accompanied many of the genre's greats

Apr. 28, 1941 — Sept. 28, 2021

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carlisle floyd

American composer of lyrical operas steeped in the lore of the south

Jun. 11, 1926 — Sept. 30, 2021

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raymond gniewek

Violinist and concertmaster for the Metropolitan Opera orchestra for 43 years

Nov. 13, 1931 — Oct. 1, 2021

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paddy moloney

Co-founder of the Irish folk band The Chieftains

Aug. 1, 1938 — Oct. 12, 2021

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ronnie tutt

Prolific drummer for artists including Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond

Mar. 12, 1938 — Oct. 16, 2021

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edita gruberova

Slovak soprano whose stratospheric high notes and supreme vocal agility graced European stages for half a century

Dec. 23, 1946 — Oct. 18, 2021

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leslie bricusse

Songwriter and composer for movies including Goldfinger and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Jan. 29, 1931 — Oct. 19, 2021

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tommy debarge

Member of funky R&B group Switch

Sept. 5, 1957 — Oct. 21, 2021

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bernard haitink

Dutch conductor who prized thoughtful music making over showboating and glamour

Mar. 4, 1929 — Oct. 21, 2021

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jay black

Lead singer for the 1960s pop group Jay and the Americans

Nov. 2, 1938 — Oct. 22, 2021

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sonny osborne

Bluesgrass musician, banjo player and one half of the Osborne Brothers

Oct. 29, 1937 — Oct. 24, 2021

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pat martino

Jazz guitarist revered for his speed and fluid precision

Aug. 25, 1944 — Nov. 1, 2021

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nelson freire

Brazilian piano virtuoso

Oct. 18, 1944 — Nov. 1, 2021

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ronnie wilson

Multi-instrumentalist and founding member of R&B funk group The Gap Band

Apr. 7, 1948 — Nov. 2, 2021

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Marília Mendonça

Passionate Brazilian pop singer

Jul. 22, 1995 — Nov. 5, 2021

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astro

Founding member of reggae band UB40

Jun. 24, 1957 — Nov. 6, 2021

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graeme edge

Drummer and co-founder of The Moody Blues

Mar. 30, 1941 — Nov. 11, 2021

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young dolph

Memphis rapper who uplifted collaborators and fans

Jul. 27, 1985 — Nov. 17, 2021

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dave frishberg

Jazz pianist, singer and witty songwriter for Schoolhouse Rock!

Mar. 23, 1933 — Nov. 17, 2021

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mick rock

Rock photographer who captured countless iconic images of artists including David Bowie and Lou Reed

Nov. 21, 1948 — Nov. 18, 2021

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slide hampton

A truly original trombonist, arranger and composer

Apr. 21, 1932 — Nov. 18, 2021

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joanne shenandoah

Native American multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer

Jun. 23, 1957 — Nov. 22, 2021

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gared o'donnell

Singer and guitarist for Planes Mistaken for Stars

Dec. 19, 1976 — Nov. 24, 2021

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stephen sondheim

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Broadway legend

Mar. 22, 1930 — Nov. 26, 2021

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alvin lucier

American experimental composer whose music changed the way we think about sound

May 14, 1931 — Dec. 1, 2021

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stonewall jackson

Country music veteran and, at the time of his death, the most senior member of the Grand Ole Opry after 65 years

Nov. 6, 1932 — Dec. 4, 2021

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greg tate

Essential music writer, critic and journalist who chronicled Black culture

Oct. 14, 1957 — Dec. 7, 2021

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barry harris

Beloved jazz pianist who carefully preserved the language of bebop

Dec. 15, 1929 — Dec. 8, 2021

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slim 400

Compton rapper known for his frequent collabs with YG

Jun. 21, 1987 — Dec. 8, 2021

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robbie shakespeare

Legendary reggae bassist of Sly & Robbie

Sept. 27, 1953 — Dec. 8, 2021

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michael nesmith

Musician, producer, member of The Monkees and much more

Dec. 30, 1942 — Dec. 10, 2021

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steve bronski

Founding member of British synth-pop group Bronski Beat

Feb. 7, 1960 — Dec. 7, 2021

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vicente Fernández

An icon of traditional Mexican music whose voice became synonymous with Mexico itself

Feb. 17, 1940 — Dec. 12, 2021

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wanda young

Marvelettes singer of "Please Mr. Postman" fame

Aug. 9, 1943 — Dec. 15, 2021

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leonard hubbard

Bassist and founding member of The Roots

1959 — Dec. 16, 2021

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kangol kid

Early New York City hip-hop pioneer and member of UTFO

Aug. 10, 1966 — Dec. 18, 2021

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drakeo the ruler

A critically acclaimed force in West Coast rap

Dec. 1, 1993 — Dec. 18, 2021

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j.d. crowe

Adventurous banjo expert, whose work with The New South cleared new paths for bluegrass

Aug. 27, 1937 — Dec. 24, 2021

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janice long

Groundbreaking broadcaster who helped launch Amy Winehouse, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The La's

Apr. 5, 1955 — Dec. 25, 2021

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sandra jaffe

Co-founder of Preservation Hall, essential New Orleans jazz venue and cultural center

Mar. 10, 1938 — Dec. 27, 2021

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Will Chase, Susie Cummings, Sarah Knight, Candice Vo Kortkamp and Barclay Walsh contributed research to support this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Corrected :

A previous version of this story included an incorrect image for Don Everly. It has since been updated.