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In memoriam: A tribute to the musicians who left us in 2018

A salute to the talented, inspiring, groundbreaking artists who passed on this year.
Essential Aretha Franklin: Artists on their favourite Aretha songs. (Hulton Archives)

Saying goodbye to artists we love is a complicated kind of grieving. We might not have known them, but we knew them, and they knew us. Sometimes it was only through their insights — the twist of a lyric, the curl of their fingers across six strings, a deliberate pause interrupting a relentless, driving beat — that we even began to cultivate our own truths with any kind of clarity. Music as community, songs as communion, three precious minutes of something as big or as small as we need it to be.

Some great musicians left us in 2018. Let's stand still together for a little bit and pay tribute not just to what they gave us while they were here, but what they leave us to discover over and over and over again, a new experience each time we press play or let the needle fall upon the vinyl.


'Fast' Eddie Clarke

Oct. 5, 1950 - Jan. 10, 2018
English guitarist, songwriter (Motörhead, Fastway)

"Thank you for the riffs. Thank you for the solos. Thank you for the attitude. Thank you for being in the coolest band. Thank you for inspiring me to go down the same path." — Lars Ulrich, via Rolling Stone


Dolores O'Riorden

Sept. 6, 1971 - Jan. 15, 2018
Irish singer, songwriter and guitarist (the Cranberries)

"Her journey from the outskirts of a lesser Irish city into international renown gave proof to the endless possibilities of big dreams. She gave insecurity and uncertainty a powerful voice. Her songs made it clear that asking questions is the path to getting answers. To the faithful departed, you are missed, you are legend." — Craig Jenkins, via Vulture


Hugh Masekela

April 4, 1939 - Jan. 23, 2018
South African trumpeter, composer, and activist

"If there's one thing that was important to him, it was his people, their cultures and traditions. And this is what I think he represents." — Nduduzo Makhathini, via CBC's As it Happens


Mark E. Smith

March 5, 1957 - Jan. 24, 2018
English singer, songwriter (the Fall)

"There was always privilege in music, it was always like that, but nowadays you don't have a chance in hell. Why [James] Blunt would talk about it I don't know but that's what I'm saying. He's looked at them cutting the army back, he's in a tank and he's gone to Daddy, 'What shall I do?' In the past it would have been 'stick at it', now his Dad is telling him to be a jazz singer. Imagine him as a tank commander, I'd shit myself." — Mark E. Smith, via NME


Tommy Banks

Dec. 17, 1936 - Jan. 25, 2018
Jazz pianist, composer, conductor and senator

"Tommy led the way for all of us actually, in almost any field. He was many things. He lived many lives…. He was such a restless, creative spirit. He didn't sleep, I don't know how he did it." — Colin MacLean, via CBC


Dennis Edwards

Feb. 3, 1943 - Feb. 1, 2018
American singer (the Temptations)

"Dennis Edwards didn't just begin verses. He attacked silence.… Dennis Edwards was one of the great, authentic narrators of the late '60s and early '70s. Reading about 1968 during that tumultuous year's 50th anniversary provides insight into a complicated time. But hearing 'Cloud Nine'  —  the first Temps song to feature Edwards's voice in the lead — puts you there, in the thick of it. Because it wasn't just what Dennis Edwards sang about, it's how he sang it." — Rembert Browne, via The Ringer


Lovebug Starski

May 16, 1969 - Feb. 8, 2018
Rapper, DJ, hip-hop pioneer

"Lovebug Starski was a DJ, MC and innovator. A pioneer who excelled before and after the recording line of '79, the year when rap records began. He was the first double trouble threat in hip-hop and rap music. He DJ'ed for the great MCs and MC'ed with the great DJs. Besides Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Lovebug Starski was one of the few that took his legendary street records status into the recording world." — Chuck D, via Pitchfork


Jóhann Jóhannsson

Sept. 19, 1969 - Feb. 9, 2018
Icelandic composer and multi-instrumentalist

"Jóhann was a brilliant and unique artist. His personality is alive in his music — thoughtful, inquisitive, gracious, idiosyncratic, sometimes melancholy, sometimes witty and above all, pure." — James Marsh, via Indiewire


Ahmed Janka Nabay

Jan. 5, 1964 - April 2, 2018
Sierra Leonian musician

"I hope that people will concentrate on my music. I want to hear somebody in London play bubu music, somebody in Germany play bubu music. Somebody in South Africa, Nigeria, something like that. That's my hope.... This is my life, this is what I stand for. It's for me and my entire country." — Ahmed Janka Nabay, via Bandcamp


Yvonne Staples

Oct. 23, 1937 - April 10, 2018
American gospel and soul singer, manager (the Staple Singers)

"She had no desire to be a front singer even though people in the family told her she had a great voice." — Bill Carpenter, via The New York Times


Avicii (Tim Bergling)

Sept. 8, 1989 - April 20, 2018
Swedish DJ and producer

"I would say the artist who melodically remind me of Tim and don't have formal music training would be the B-52s. Typically when they write, they're very melodic [hums 'Deadbeat Club'] — sweet and almost nursery rhymey in their cadence quality, and that's what Avicii had. Most people once they learn a little more about music and scales and references to tonal centers and things like that they become intellectually more developed, so that more innocent thing goes away, and it's very hard to keep it once you get smarter and smarter. That's one reason I liked him, he was like this diamond in the rough, the music business never said 'You have to do this,' he was a young kid writing these songs that everybody can relate to." — Nile Rodgers, via Variety


Charles Neville

Dec. 28, 1938 - April 26, 2018
American saxophonist

"My dear brother Charlie the horn man, just want you to know that if I would've had the choice of picking my brothers, I would definitely choose you. You were a great brother. You'll always be in my heart and soul, like a tattoo. You helped to mold me into who I am today and I'll always be thankful. I'll always see your special infectious smile on the stage next to me, it would always give me a smile. I'm happy that we had a long hang together, the ups and downs. It took who we were and where we came from to make us who we are. And you are a great brother Charlie the horn man. I know you have a spot in the heavenly band next to James Booker, James Black, Herbert Hardesty, Fats Domino, Johnny Adams all the jazz bebop players who you turned me on to. Dizzy, Charlie Parker, Miles and the list goes on. Momee, Poppee, Jolly Cookie, they are all waiting on you. Some of my greatest memories are of growing up with you and family." — Aaron Neville, via Facebook


Clarence Fountain

Nov. 28, 1929 - June 3, 2018
American vocalist (the Blind Boys of Alabama)

"Everybody has a point in life when your time is out. Everybody's time is coming. But I thank Him for letting me live as long as I have." — Clarence Fountain, via the Atlantic


Peter Longworth

Nov. 23, 1964 - June 26, 2018
English-Canadian pianist, teacher

"What people have really noticed though, is how beautifully he elevates the collective musical experience. Ask his colleagues and they'll say he's an 'excellent collaborator' and 'fun to play with!' Comments like those come from instrumentalists and singers all over North America and Europe." — Cathy Irving, via CBC Music


Randy Rampage

Feb. 21, 1960 - Aug. 14, 2018
Canadian musician (D.O.A., Annihilator)

"Randy was a founding member of the original punk scene in Vancouver. He lived for the moment, and he gave everything for the moment. He gave of himself, and he was completely selfless, as a person and as a performer." — Susanne Tabata, via CBC


Jill Janus

Sept. 2, 1975 - Aug. 14, 2018
American vocalist (Huntress)

"Jill Janus was an extremely gifted performer and artist. She was so much larger than life, larger than the stage, larger than metal. Whether it was her wild performances in the Huntress videos, her dark and wicked (yet completely approachable) sense of humour or her love of sharing her thoughts and feelings on the occult, blood, Lemmy or the tarot with her devoted fans, Jill Janus made our world and our scene better." — Alpha Tauri, via Metal Insider


Aretha Franklin

March 25, 1942 - Aug. 16, 2018
American singer, songwriter, pianist, composer and activist

"Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect." — Barack Obama, via Twitter


Mac Miller

Jan. 19, 1992 - Sept. 7, 2018
American rapper, producer

"I feel like Mac was always growing, and his last project was very vulnerable and one of his most ambitious projects yet. It's a shame he went so soon, we all lost somebody very important and we expected him to be around for a lot longer than he stayed with us. But, that's just the way things go so rest in peace to Mac Miller." — A Tribe Called Red's Tim "2oolman" Hill, via CBC Music's My Playlist

Editor's note: Strong language warning


Marty Balin

Jan. 30, 1942 - Sept. 27, 2018
American guitarist, singer and songwriter (Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship)

"Marty and I shared the deepest of love — he often called it Nirvana — and it was. But really, we were all touched by his love. His presence will be within my entire being forever." — Susan Balin, via Billboard


Montserrat Caballé

April 12, 1933 - Oct. 6, 2018
Spanish soprano

"Montserrat Caballé was one of the great singers of the bel canto and Italian Romantic repertory. At Covent Garden in the 1970s and '80s, she gave unforgettable interpretations of Leonora (in Il trovatore), Amelia (in Un ballo in maschera), Tosca, Aida and Norma, among other roles, and her impassioned delivery and unique stage personality left an indelible impression on all who saw and heard her. Unencumbered by any feelings of snobbery about opera as an art form, Caballé was one of the small number of opera singers of her era who experienced truly global recognition, embracing music of all kinds as she sought to communicate with audiences whoever and wherever they were. She will be much missed.'" — Oliver Mears, via the Royal Opera


Carol Hall

April 3, 1936 - Oct. 11, 2018
American songwriter, recording artist and composer (Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Sesame Street)

"With great sadness I say goodbye to Carol Hall who passed away yesterday. Two of her iconic songs 'It's Alright to Cry' and 'Parents are People' inspired three generations of children to be Free To Be...You and Me Carol is gone but her music and words will live in our hearts forever." — Marlo Thomas, via Twitter


Takehisa Kosugi

March 24, 1938 - Oct. 12, 2018
Japanese composer and violinist

"There is a radical integrity to everything he did that stayed razor sharp. He reframed everyday actions as mesmerizing music events that pushed the philosophical edge of his whole field into new frontiers." — Jay Sanders, via The New York Times


Roy Anthony Hargrove

April 26, 1932 - Nov. 7, 2018
Jazz trumpeter

"The Great Roy Hargrove: He is literally the one man horn section I hear in my head when I think about music. I know I've spoken (of) every aspect of Soulquarian era recording techniques but even I can't properly document how crucial and spot on Roy was with his craft, man. We NEVER gave him instructions: just played the song and watched him go." — Questlove, via Variety


Frances Lai

April 26, 1932 - Nov. 7, 2018
French accordionist, composer and writer

"He was the man of my life, an angel disguised as an accordionist. We made 35 films together and we had a love story that lasted 50 years." — Claude Lelouch, via Billboard


Roy Clark

April 15, 1933 - Nov. 15, 2018
American multi-instrumentalist and host of Hee Haw

"I don't think that, without Roy Clark and Buck Owens, my grandpa ever picks a guitar up. And if he never picks a guitar up, neither do I. I owe him everything…. He [Roy Clark] knew I was a picker. We played 'Under the Double Eagle' and a bunch of these fast picking songs. And he did that a few more times out on the road. He lived in Oklahoma. Every time we would play 'Tulsa' he would sit in." — Brad Paisley, via USA Today


Pete Shelley

April 17, 1955 - Dec. 6, 2018
English punk/new wave singer, songwriter and guitarist (the Buzzcocks)

"Well, I never knew there was a law against sounding vulnerable. And anyway, personal politics are part of the human condition, so what could be more political than human relationships?" — Pete Shelley, via the Guardian


Nancy Wilson

Feb. 20, 1937 - Dec. 13, 2018
American vocalist and activist

"My soul mourns the loss of my dear friend #NancyWilson. She was such a beautiful person & songstress that the world of jazz will forever miss. Her polished vocals & style was unmatched as the #SongStylist. I will miss her dearly as a friend & mentor. RIP Nancy 💜" — Chaka Khan, via Instagram


Galt MacDermot

Dec. 18, 1928 - Dec. 17, 2018
Canadian-American pianist, composer and writer of Broadway musicals (Hair)

"King Galt. The Broadway community is mourning his passing this morning (#Hair will love forever) but best believe he was the hip-hop community's too. Name em: #WhoHah from Bustah Rhymes, #Mash from J Dilla, DownWithTheKing from Rev Run & DMC.... So many classics. RIP to #GaltMacDermot & peep all his classics!! It fed '90s hip-hop something crazy!" — Questlove, via Instagram [with edits for clarity]

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