In Memoriam 2016

Dec 19, 2016
Originally published on December 31, 2016 12:01 pm

Music suffered heavy losses in 2016, a year like no other in recent memory. We bid unexpected farewells to the very brightest stars — David Bowie and Prince — but we also lost masters from every corner of the music world, from classical composers and jazz greats to world music superstars, soul singers, country giants, prog-rock pioneers and record producers. They left us with unforgettable sounds and compelling stories. Hear their music and explore their legacies here.

(Credits: Tom Huizenga, producer; Mark Mobley, editor; Brittany Mayes, designer)

Kevin Winter / Getty Images


June 7, 1958 — April 21, 2016

We may never see another total talent like Prince again. He was the product of terrific genes, music education and a post-Beatles, post-Hendrix studio audacity. As a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, guitar shredder, producer, philanthropist and music business innovator, he knew few creative limits. And his transcendently erotic, genre-spanning music made us all believe freaks ran the universe.—Jason King

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Terry O'Neill / Getty Images

David Bowie

Jan. 8, 1947 — Jan. 10, 2016

David Bowie was an open channel through whom music changed in myriad ways. The patron saint of freaks and rebels, a champion of the marginalized, Bowie was a total artist who didn't dabble but triumph in fashion, theater and film. He challenged himself and us up to and through his final masterpiece, Blackstar.—Ann Powers

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Pierre Boulez

March 26, 1925 — Jan. 5, 2016

Once an enfant terrible who suggested blowing up opera houses, the French composer created complex, fantastically colorful and surprisingly sensual music with new acoustic and electronic sounds. As a first-tier conductor and music director of the New York Philharmonic, he eventually embraced most of the canon, performing familiar works with analytical clarity.—Tom Huizenga

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Rob Verhorst / Redferns/Getty Images

Maurice White

Dec. 19, 1941 — Feb. 4, 2016

Memphis-born musical visionary Maurice White did humanity a major favor by founding 1970s superstar act Earth, Wind & Fire — which brimmed with talent like bassist Verdine White, falsetto singer Philip Bailey and tenor White himself. Delivering exuberantly funky R&B joints like "Sing a Song" and "September," EWF redefined the soul band as the ultimate sensual rhythm machine.—Jason King

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Leonard Cohen

Sept. 21, 1934 — Nov. 7, 2016

The most elegant poet and philosopher of the rock era was also one of its most sensual and funniest. If "Hallelujah" was his signature hymn, his hundreds of other songs teemed with as much divinity, grounded in erotic detail and a deep appreciation of human vulnerability. He also looked great in a suit.—Ann Powers

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AFP / Getty Images

George Michael

June 25, 1963 — December 25, 2016

‪George Michael, the brains behind ‪Wham! and a massive star in his own right, was a pop genius who wrote as many earworms as any of his '80s superstar peers, and proved that a teen idol could grow up to be a serious artist. He also embodied historic transformations within the LGBTQ community, journeying, over time, from the closet to outspoken advocacy. A complicated man, Michael left a shining legacy.—Ann Powers

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Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images

Juan Gabriel

Jan. 7, 1950 — Aug. 28, 2016

Mourned in his native Mexico as a national hero, he told stories that resonated with Latin music fans from the tip of South America to North America. He was iconic because of his legendary insistence on going his own way. —Felix Contreras

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Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for Stagecoach

Merle Haggard

April 6, 1937 — April 6, 2016

The hardscrabble poetry of his songs spoke of plain truths and lessons learned, and was set to music both rowdy and reflective. His evocative storytelling left a long shadow across country music and picked up fans as disparate as Johnny Cash and The Grateful Dead.—Felix Contreras

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Glenn Frey

Nov. 6, 1948 — Jan. 18, 2016

Mixing the pop smoothness with the rock grit, Frey co-wrote and sang many of The Eagles' biggest hits, including "Take It Easy," "Lyin' Eyes" and "Heartache Tonight." Between the band's initial 1980 breakup and its first reunion in 1994, Frey became a solo star — with hits such as "The Heat Is On" and "Smuggler's Blues" — and launched an acting career.—Stephen Thompson

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Kristian Dowling / Getty Images

Sharon Jones

May 4, 1956 — Nov. 18, 2016

A music business afterthought for much of her life, the funky and ingratiating Brooklyn soul singer broke out in the last 20 years to become one of the most electrifying performers in the business. With the aid of her band The Dap-Kings, Jones was an era-straddling thriller whose appeal crossed generations.—Stephen Thompson

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Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr.

Nov. 14, 1947 — Sept. 24, 2016

With the band Buckwheat Zydedco, Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr. took Louisianna roots music places it had never been. This charismatic accordionist and singer not only helped bring Creole music into the mainstream, he claimed rock standards for the zydeco dance floor.—Mark Mobley

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Ralph Stanley

Feb. 25, 1927 — June 23, 2016

A high tenor, banjo player and titan of American mountain music, he and his brother Carter Stanley were bluegrass originators. Late in his career, he sang an unforgettable "O Death" in O Brother, Where Art Thou? While the lyrics asked that he be spared, the authority and quiet intensity of his voice demanded Death acquiesce for many years.—Mark Mobley

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Hayley Madden / Redferns/Getty Images

Esma Redžepova

Aug. 8, 1943 — Dec. 11, 2016

She was the voice of a people, the Roma (historically known as Gypsies). This Macedonian singer, educator and humanitarian was one of the first international stars to sing in the Romany language. She gained particular fame she didn't seek when a song of hers was licensed for the opening of Borat. But her legacy continues through hundreds of recordings and dozens of children she fostered.—Mark Mobley

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STR / AFP/Getty Images

Papa Wemba

June 14, 1949 — April 24, 2016

The Congolese superstar with the high, happy, easygoing voice was influential in mixing African and Western pop styles, and reached an international audience through the world music movement of the '80s and '90s. His dapper fashion gave rise to a wave of young men known as sapeurs — the Society of Atmosphere-setters and Elegant People.—Mark Mobley

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Pulse nightclub shooting

June 12, 2016

Ghost Ship warehouse fire

Dec. 2, 2016

Dozens of people died this year in Orlando and Oakland doing one of the things they enjoyed most — dancing among family, friends and strangers. That they would die so young in places problems shouldn't matter made a difficult year even tougher. The music won't stop, but neither will the memories, vigilance and love.—Mark Mobley

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Jane Little

Feb. 2, 1929 — May 15, 2016

For more than 71 years she played double bass in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, a span that included the visionary tenure of music director Robert Shaw. At 87 years old, during a concert, she collapsed while playing her instrument, which was a foot taller than she was. The song on her music stand? "There's No Business Like Show Business."—Mark Mobley

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The Washington Post / Getty Images

Mose Allison

Nov. 11, 1927 — Nov. 15, 2016

In an age when most pop moved away from jazz, Mose Allison had the ears of rock stars, including The Who, The Clash and Elvis Costello. Yet he never lost a jazz audience devoted to his quietly sophisticated playing, witty writing and charmingly glancing, bluesy singing.—Mark Mobley

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Jack Vartoogian / Getty Images

Gato Barbieri

Nov. 28, 1932 — April 2, 2016

Hard to imagine going from avant-garde to Last Tango in Paris to smooth jazz in a single, eventful career, but he did it all with style and grace. Argentina's gift to the tenor sax made amazing records and championed Latin folk before it was cool. —Felix Contreras

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Hans Harzheim / ECM

Paul Bley

Nov. 10, 1932 — Jan. 3, 2016

Here's one measure of Paul Bley's talent: The supporting musicians on his debut recording were Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. Bley in turn helped launch the careers of Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny. Bley could hear all the directions music could take, out into the realms of what came to be called "free jazz" — a '60s movement in which he was a central figure.—Tom Cole

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Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Guy Clark

Nov. 6, 1941 — May 17, 2016

Lyle Lovett put it well at a Nashville memorial for this Texas troubadour: "Guy Clark was my friend before I ever met him." So many songwriters learned by listening to his pristine, humble, gruffly sung tunes. Echoing through three generations of country and Americana stars, Clark shaped the way they philosophize about the plain stuff of life.—Ann Powers

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Tony Conrad

March 7, 1940 — April 9, 2016

Tony Conrad wasn't so much a violinist but a mediator between worlds. Whether jamming with Faust and the Theatre of Eternal Music in the '70s, or later with Jim O'Rourke and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, he always understood the essential being of sound as one continuous note.—Lars Gotrich

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Peter Maxwell Davies

Sept. 8, 1934 — March 14, 2016

Called the "harlequin of British music," the artistically restless composer was inspired by modernists like Pierre Boulez, ancient English choral traditions and eventually the austere landscape of his beloved Orkney Islands. He left a genre-spanning trove of works running from the expressionistic to the serene and even ceremonial, as in 2004 he became Master of the Queen's Music.—Tom Huizenga

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Ullstein Bild / Getty Images

Keith Emerson

Nov. 2, 1944 — ca. March 11, 2016

The first time I saw Keith Emerson, it was 1971, and he was standing on top of his Hammond L-100 thrusting daggers into the keys. He was a madman making a wild mix of classical and rock in Emerson, Lake & Palmer's wistful tales of prophets and "the fate of all Mankind."—Bob Boilen

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Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Dec. 6, 1929 — March 5, 2016

Too many candy-coated Mozart performances in the 1950s forced the Austrian cellist to create and conduct his own orchestra — Concentus Musicus Wien. From that moment, Harnoncourt became a dominant force in the early music movement, championing Monteverdi and Bach. Eventually, with the world's great orchestras at his command, he presided over repertoire from Beethoven to Gershwin.—Tom Huizenga

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Fin Costello / Redferns/Getty Images

Bobby Hutcherson

Jan. 27, 1941 — Aug. 15, 2016

Forget the fact that he had few peers on his instrument and instead consider his intense musicality and faultless swing. Then you have essentially crystallized his entire career, especially his impressive Blue Note output.—Felix Contreras

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Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Paul Kantner

March 17, 1941 — Jan. 28, 2016

San Francisco music journalist Joel Selvin called Paul Kantner "the soul" of Jefferson Airplane, the "contrarian" who "kept everything off balance." Kantner co-founded the band and co-wrote songs including "Wooden Ships." There was a strong anti-authoritarian strain that ran through his music and his life. As Selvin put it, "He never bought the Mercedes and moved to the suburbs." Kantner stayed in the city whose sound he helped define.—Tom Cole

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Greg Lake

Nov. 10, 1947 — Dec. 7, 2016

Guitar Svengali Robert Fripp got attention as mastermind of the first King Crimson, and keyboard Dumbledore Keith Emerson stole the show in Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But Greg Lake was the voice that went from quietly melodious to full-throated on "In the Court of the Crimson King." He wrote "Lucky Man," a standout on ELP's debut, at just 12 years old, and created the beautiful and enduring "I Believe in Father Christmas."—Tom Cole

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Rick Diamond / Getty Images for IEBA

Joe Ligon

Oct. 11, 1936 — Dec. 11, 2016

The Mighty Clouds of Joy were led by a voice of thunder. Joe Ligon was a stalwart of the hard gospel style who took some flak from the faithful for performing on Soul Train, but also managed to score a disco hit, delivering a message of salvation where it wasn't often heard.—Mark Mobley

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Neville Marriner

April 15, 1924 — Oct. 2, 2016

The widely admired English conductor introduced Mozart to untold millions when he led the ensemble he founded, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, for the Oscar-winning movie Amadeus. Over five decades he made hundreds of sturdy recordings of repertoire from Vivaldi to Bartok, fronting orchestras in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Stuttgart.—Tom Huizenga

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Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

George Martin

Jan. 3, 1926 — March 8, 2016

As producer and arranger and with The Beatles, George Martin changed what anyone thought was possible in rock music. "George Martin made us what we were in the studio," John Lennon said. "He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians."—Bob Boilen

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Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Scotty Moore

Dec. 27, 1931 — June 28, 2016

Scotty Moore wanted to be a jazz guitarist but became one of the most revered of all rock 'n' roll sidemen. He was working at Sun Studio in Memphis when owner Sam Phillips asked him to audition an unknown named Elvis. Moore's crisp fills and biting solos on "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Heartbreak Hotel" have become parts of history.—Tom Cole

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Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

Marni Nixon

Feb. 22, 1930 — July 24, 2016

Eliza Doolittle in London, Anna in Siam, Maria on Manhattan's West Side — they had different famous faces onscreen but sang with the same voice. Marni Nixon had an unparalleled career as a Hollywood "ghost singer," but also left a distinguished legacy of stage and recording work, especially in contemporary classical music.—Mark Mobley

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Russell Oberlin

Oct. 11, 1928 — Nov. 25, 2016

The pioneering countertenor was a leading force in the American early music movement of the 1950s and possessed a singularly identifiable voice. Rather than using falsetto to sing in the alto range, Oberlin's voice settled naturally high, affording him a full-bodied tone devoid of the hooty quality of many countertenors.—Tom Huizenga

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Jack Vartoogian / Getty Images

Pauline Oliveros

May 30, 1932 — Nov. 24, 2016

Known for her aesthetic called "deep listening," Oliveros thought nothing of dropping into a vacant cistern with her accordion to record an album. The Texas-born composer embraced improvisation, music of American Indians and experimented early with electronics, deconstructing Puccini in Bye Bye Butterfly, which doubled as a bold statement on the lack of women composers.—Tom Huizenga

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Phife Dawg

Nov. 20, 1970 — Mar. 22, 2016

Can't really imagine alt-hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest without Malik Taylor aka Phife Dawg aka Phife aka the Five Foot Assassin. Trini-blooded Phife delivered high tenor rhymes that acted as counterpoint to Q-Tip's sagacious flow. Unafraid to wax political, Phife also helped afford the Native Tongues pioneers an affable street cred. Never the flashiest MC, he remains a timeless icon of post 90s East Coast hip-hop.—Jason King

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Larry Ellis / Getty Images

Prince Buster

May 24, 1938 — Sept. 8, 2016

Young boxer Cecil Bustamente Campbell became a pioneer of ska and rocksteady and one of the first Jamaican musicians to break worldwide. As famous as he was in the '60s thanks to songs like "Al Capone" and "Madness is Gladness," he had a second wave of fame in the '70s and '80s as groups like The Specials and Madness seized upon his music.—Mark Mobley

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Martti Kainulainen / AFP/Getty Images

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Oct. 9, 1928 — July 27, 2016

The eclectic Finn, who said his brief stint in Manhattan taught him more than his teachers, was a musical experimenter. Blessed by his revered predecessor Jean Sibelius, Rautavaara dabbled in atonal techniques, neoclassical elegance, elements of American jazz — even recording birdcalls for his popular Cantus arcticus. His later mystic phase attracted a new contingent of admirers.—Tom Huizenga

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GAB Archive / Redferns/Getty Images

Leon Russell

April 2, 1942 — Nov. 13, 2016

A musician's musician, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer worked with the greats — Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, George Harrison and countless others — in a career that spanned 60 years. Though Russell's biggest hits came in the early '70s, he enjoyed a major comeback in 2010 through a hit album with Elton John, whose own work he'd helped inspire.—Stephen Thompson

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Asif Hassan / AFP/Getty Images

Amjad Sabri

Dec. 23, 1976 — June 22, 2016

At just 45, in the prime of his life and career, the clarion-voiced Sabri was gunned down while making his way to a TV performance during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing this especially accomplished and promising member of a devout and revered musical family devoted to an ancient, honorable and tolerant tradition.—Mark Mobley

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Jean Shepard.
Elmer Williams / Getty Images

Jean Shepard

Nov. 21, 1933 — Sept. 25, 2016

There'd be no Kacey Musgraves — maybe even no Loretta Lynn — without Jean Shepard. A pioneer who sang of female independence starting in the 1950s, she was the first woman to reach a half century as a Grand Old Opry member and championed traditional country until the end of her long, inspiring life.—Ann Powers

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NFL Films

Sam Spence

March 29, 1927 — Feb. 6, 2016

In 1966, the ascendant NFL took on a thrilling new sound, as Sam Spence began scoring NFL Films highlights with orchestral music fit for swinging spy films and spaghetti westerns. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "Fly, Eagles Fly" sound quaint next to the modern onslaughts of "The Over the Hill Gang," "Wild Bunch" and "The Pony Soldiers."—Mark Mobley

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Elizabeth Swados

Feb. 5, 1951 — Jan. 5, 2016

Coming to Broadway directly between West Side Story and Rent, Elizabeth Swados's Runaways had a similarly galvanizing run and even younger cast. After interviewing actual runaways, Swados wrote the music, lyrics, and book, choreographed and directed the celebrated show. She was also a novelist, children's book author, memoirist and inspiration to countless younger theater artists.—Mark Mobley

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Frank Micelotta / Getty Images

Rod Temperton

Oct. 9, 1949 — ca. Oct. 5, 2016

Pop's British Invasion remained an occupying force — even if you didn't know that "Thriller," "Rock With You," "Off the Wall," "Boogie Nights," "The Groove Line" and "Always and Forever" were written by one self-effacing Englishman who shunned celebrity while making peerless music.—Mark Mobley

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Rick Nederstigt / AFP/Getty Images

Toots Thielemans

April 29, 1922 — Aug. 22, 2016

Toots Thielemans heard a Louis Armstrong record and went from studying mathematics in his native Belgium to playing jazz on the most unlikely instrument: the harmonica. And what's even more unlikely, given how hard he blew, is that he suffered from asthma all his life. He was a favorite sideman of Quincy Jones, who called him "my Uncle Bebop." Thielemans was also a good guitarist who developed a technique of whistling while he played.—Tom Cole

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Rudy Van Gelder

Nov. 2, 1924 — Aug. 25, 2016

Rudy Van Gelder defined the sound of jazz, from the late '50s into the 21st century, as the man on the other side of the studio glass. He started recording his high school friends in his parents' living room and went on to steer more than 20,000 recordings by the likes of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver. Van Gelder felt that each musician's contributions should be heard clearly — his gift to them and us.—Tom Cole

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Nana Vasconcelos

Aug. 2, 1944 — March 9, 2016

Rhythm was just one of his gifts. Beautiful melodies would often come soaring from his voice, from his earliest days with the chill jazz label ECM to big stadiums with Pat Metheny.—Felix Contreras

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AFP / Getty Images

Alan Vega

June 23, 1938 — July 16, 2016

There was a terrifying side to an Alan Vega performance but there was also a wink of humor. He was half of an electric minimalist punk duo called Suicide with partner Martin Rev. They made confrontational art in a band not well-loved but ultimately memorable and important.—Bob Boilen

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Bernie Worrell

Apr. 14, 1944 — June 24, 2016

Hugely influential funk and rock keyboard player best known as the top and bottom of Parliament-Funkadelic. His lumbering, fuzzed-out bass lines and high, keening solos gave George Clinton's band galactic power and kicked Talking Heads into a higher gear. In a band or as a solo artist, he made synths sing and dance.—Mark Mobley

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And we're going to spend some time now remembering some of the musicians we lost this past year. And there were sadly a lot of them, so many we couldn't fit them all into the montage you're about to hear. You will recognize some, including this purple icon of pop.


PRINCE: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life - it means forever, and that's a mighty long time. But I'm here to tell you there's something else, the afterworld.


EMERSON AND LAKE AND PALMER: (Instruments playing).


THE URBAN VERBS: (Instruments playing).


JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) It's time you walked away set me free.


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) If the writing was on the wall. Free, yeah - and you can know it all if you choose. Just remember, lovers never lose.


LEON RUSSELL: (Singing) But we're alone now, and I'm singing this song to you.


PAUL BLEY: (Playing piano).


ERNESTINE ANDERSON AND GEORGE SHEARING: (Singing) Where has the time all gone to? Haven't done half the things we want to. Oh, well...


ROB WASSERMAN: (Instruments playing).


A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Rapping) Yo, microphone check - one, two - what is this? The 5-foot assassin with the roughneck business. I float like gravity, never had a cavity - got more rhymes than the Winans got family.


PARLIAMENT: (Instruments playing, vocalizing).


EARTH, WIND AND FIRE: (Singing) When you wish upon a star, your dreams will take you very far, yeah.


PRINCE: (Playing guitar, vocalizing).


TOOTS THIELEMANS: (Instruments playing).


TOOTS THIELEMANS: (Instruments playing.)


MOSE ALLISON: (Singing) You're sitting there yakking right in my face. I guess I'm going to have to put you in your place. You know, if silence was golden, you couldn't raise a dime.


SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS: (Singing) One hundred days, 100 nights to know a man's heart.


JEAN SHEPARD: (Singing) So girls, take my advice. Think it over once or twice, for the root of all evil is a man.


STANLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) I am a man of constant sorrow. I've seen trouble all my days.


MERLE HAGGARD: (Singing) Take me away and turn back the years. Sing me back home before I die.


GUY CLARK: (Singing) We were friends, me and this old man - was like desparados waiting for a train.


LEONARD COHEN: (Singing) He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them. But he himself was broken long before the sky would open. Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.


JUAN GABRIEL: (Singing) Como quisiera, que tu vivieras...


GATO BARBIERI: (Instruments playing).


ROTTERDAM PHILHARMONIC: (Instruments playing).




ELVIS PRESLEY: (Vocalizing).


THE EAGLES: (Singing) Well, I've been running down the road trying to loosen my load. Got a world of trouble on my mind.


GEORGE MICHAEL: (Singing) Because there ain't no joy for an uptown boy who's teacher has told him goodbye.


BOWIE: (Singing) Look up here. I'm in heaven.


PRINCE: (Singing) No need to worry, no need to cry - I'm your messiah, and you're the reason why. 'Cause you - I would die for you.


BOWIE: (Singing) Still don't know what I was waiting for. And my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets. And every time I thought I'd got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet.


PRINCE: (Singing) Let me guide to the purple rain. Purple rain, purple rain...

GREENE: All right, a montage of the work of just some of the musical artists we lost in the year 2016, ending right now with the work of producer George Martin. Now, for more on these and other musicians we lost in 2016, visit NPR Music. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Our theme music was written by BJ Leiderman and arranged by Jim Pugh. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Rachel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BEATLES' "A DAY IN THE LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.