In Memoriam: a tribute to the musicians who left us in 2019
A salute to the talented, inspiring, groundbreaking artists who passed on this year
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 incredible musicians, composers, and industry people left us in 2019. 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.
Dec. 1, 1952, to Jan. 1, 2019
Singer-songwriter, activist, Bridge School co-founder
"My laugh has always been rather distinctive. It's something I can hold on to that's still mine … I am a survivor. Although we named the band the Survivors after Ben Keith died, we didn't have any idea some 10 years ago what an apt name it would turn out to be! I've gone through a lot of good stuff and scary stuff, and I will keep going forward."
— Pegi Young (PegiYoung.com, 2017)
Feb. 24, 1932, to Jan. 26, 2019
Composer, conductor, arranger, and jazz pianist
"What I remember most was the change in Michel's body language as he shared his new music. Once at the piano, he slowed down and became absorbed. He would rush you as if to an American ice cream parlor on a crowded summer afternoon — and then offer you a slowly simmered French meal. I sat as he played, and marvelled quietly when his hands turned the melody unexpectedly, a new minor key, a delicious twist that only he could have invented."
— Melissa Errico (the New York Times, 2019)
Aug. 12, 1971, to Feb. 4, 2019
Musician, programmer, electronic artist
May 15, 1940, to Feb. 21, 2019
"I have never felt that I had to change or do anything that wasn't natural to me. I will never, ever be some kind of wishy-washy creature that pretends or lets others guide me. I guide my life. It is mine. No matter what anyone says, I'm going to be Jackie. That's all I can be. That's all I know. It's what I feel from my heart and my soul. I was a phony person. If I was not doing what makes me live the way I do, makes me think, makes me feel, makes me be the person I am, then there's no point in me being at all. I've got to be who I am. Most people are planted in someone else's soil, which means they're a carbon copy. I say to them, uproot yourself. Get into your own soil. You may be surprised who you really are."
Jan. 4, 1955, to Feb. 25, 2019
Musician, singer-songwriter (Talk Talk)
Mark Hollis captured so many of us with his haunting approach to song and the compelling ways he presented simplistic mountains of sound. He was an educator of emotion and a voice for the blood throat shadows of tomorrow. This is a loss amongst many.—@bssmusic
April 6, 1929, to Feb. 28, 2019
Pianist, conductor, composer
"When you're working with music that is invariably better than you are, it's difficult to become swell-headed."
— André Previn (Grammy.com)
Sept. 17, 1969, to March 4, 2019
Singer (the Prodigy), motorcycle racer
"When Prodigy first came on the scene, their work was like an adrenaline injection sorely needed within the musical landscape. The music was exciting and Keith Flint brought an incredible, dangerous persona to deliver the lyrics with an arresting attitude. Keith's performance both on stage and in the band's videos was always electrifying. I'll miss his bravado and what was clearly, by my standards, some of the best music of yesterday and still today."
— Jimmy Page (the Guardian, 2019)
March 7, 1946, to March 6, 2019
"As soon as you got onstage you knew you were OK, because Charlie had your back. I don't remember a single moment when he was unhappy or negative. [He was] proof that growing up in a small, isolated community doesn't and shouldn't hold us back from pursuing our talents and our passions and our desires."
— Susan Agluklark (CBC North, 2019)
Aug. 15, 1985, to March 31, 2019
Rapper, entrepreneur, activist
"Growing up as a kid, I was looking for somebody — not to give me anything — but somebody that cared. Someone that was creating the potential for change and that had an agenda outside of their own self interests … I remember feeling, like, No. 1, what's the point and, No. 2, maybe I'm tripping. Maybe I'm not even supposed to be ambitious; maybe I'm not even supposed to be thinking this big and thinking outside the box; maybe I should just follow suit. That's a dangerous thing. I would like to prevent as many kids from feeling like that as possible. Because what follows is self-destructive.
"I was able to make music differently and approach art differently. I don't want to make songs that I don't like and that I'm not inspired by. I won't be on the radio with these types of records and that's fine if I can get $100 for CDs and sell 10 times less and equal the same amount of profit. But I want to make music that I believe in and that I'm inspired by. And not music that I feel like has to make it past the radio gatekeeper or the label gatekeeper."
— Nipsey Hussle (Los Angeles Times, 2018)
April 3, 1922, to May 13, 2019
Singer, actor, activist
"During the painful and bleak periods I've suffered through these past years, my animal family has been a source of joy and strength to me. I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent, devoted companionship of your pets that you can get from no other source. I have never found in a human being, loyalty comparable to that of any pet."
— Doris Day (the New York Times via the book Doris Day: Her Own Story, 1976)
Jan. 4, 1948, to May 19, 2019
Organist, choral conductor, church musician
"He was always positive. He was good with both amateur and professional singers, and treated everyone equally, always greeting us with a 'bravo' following our performances."
— Carole Therrien (CBC Music, 2019)
May 16, 1931, to May 20, 2019
Organist, conductor, composer
"Conductor, composer, musician, Dr. Derek Holman was my hero, my mentor and he inspired my entire youth and subsequently, my career. If I do what I do today, it's because of him. I owe him so much, I cannot even begin to express my sadness at his passing. Through his teachings I learned so much about good music, the importance of being well prepared, working hard and injecting passion into my work. It is not an understatement to say that my time in the CCOC saved me."
— Karina Gauvin (CBC Music, 2019)
1944 to May 28, 2019
Songwriter, producer, author
"Impersonal music is what I write, because it can be taken anywhere by anyone. They're anthems. Every day I want to write the ultimate song — one that will invite people, that will include people, that will make them feel loved and make them want to sing it."
— Ralph Murphy (Words and Music, 2017)
Aug. 26, 1949, to May 30, 2019
Jazz singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor
"I think music is, in effect, a time machine. It takes you to different places, places you'd want to go. It can take you to a past you're not familiar with. I can't figure why people would want to go [to] the places they're singing about these days."
— Leon Redbone (the Associated Press, 1990)
April 2, 1968, to June 5, 2019
Guitarist (Big Wreck)
"Today we mourn the loss of a brother, and true friend. Brian was a great human being, selfless, caring and thoughtful. I will miss fishing with you most of all Bri. You got me hooked on the fly, for that I am eternally greatful [sic]. Rest in peace big brother. See you in Heaven."
— Paolo Neta (Facebook, 2019)
Nov. 20, 1941, to June 6, 2019
"The only thing that makes a record commercial is if people buy it. Originally, I felt to go commercial would prostitute myself and bastardize the music. On reflecting, I thought that if without messin' up the music and keeping the roots and elements of what I want to do musically, I could still make a commercial record I would not feel ashamed from, I'm proud of, and still have a feel for, then it's not a bad thing but it even serve a good purpose."
— Dr. John (Rolling Stone, 1973)
Kelly Jay Fordham
Dec. 1, 1941, to June 21, 2019
"Rock and roll is always pandemonium. When you are playing in Northern Ontario or Northern Quebec, you have pretty tough clients. I've seen fights in these clubs where guys come in with chains on or bring power saws with them, so we thought the music should match that. These guys work in the mines all week so we come at the weekend and supply them with chaos and we've carried all this into our concerts."
— Kelly Jay Fordham (Melody Maker, 1972)
Feb. 25, 1943, to June 21, 2019
Music manager, record executive
"When it came to our business, Elliot guided me through every move. We talked every day. Often I would call him multiple times a day, arguing, discussing, planning and sharing. He was there for me and protected my music with a fierceness."
— Neil Young, (NeilYoungArchives.com, 2019)
June 10, 1931, to July 6, 2019
Bossa nova pioneer, musician
"His voice was one of the most intimate sounds of the 20th century — more melodic than a sigh, more rhythmic than chitchat, only just barely. Every syllable that appeared on his lips carried an air of effortlessness, but Gilberto had worked hard to locate that sacred place where a human breath becomes music."
— Chris Richards (the Washington Post, 2019)
Feb. 28, 1929, to July 12, 2019
"I've yet to meet someone with a bigger heart, a stronger will and a more determined mind. He never took 'no' for an answer and yet, he was an amazing charmer, maintaining people's attention with his wonderful stories and anecdotes about his career and other things."
— Danièle LeBlanc (CBC Music, 2019)
Jan. 22, 1961, to Sept. 11, 2019
"He's legendary, but he was first a legend in his own mind, then he became a real legend. That was the only time I saw that happen where someone was like, 'I'm gonna get famous' and he just kind of made himself. He was the least likely person on Earth to get popular and he did. I'm in awe of the power of the songwriting. He was the first person I met who just wielded songwriting like that."
— Brain Beattle (the Austin Chronicle, 2019)
March 23, 1944, to Sept. 15, 2019
Musician, songwriter (the Cars), producer, painter
Feeling grateful for Ric. Had the opportunity to send him this email a couple years back. My first king. Thank you, thank you, thank you. <a href="https://t.co/h4u8CXDhRg">pic.twitter.com/h4u8CXDhRg</a>—@thekillers
Aug. 3, 1935, to Sept. 16, 2019
Jazz pianist, composer, conductor
"I just thought the world of him as one of our greatest musicians, a very unique musician who deserved an awful lot of respect."
— Oliver Jones (CBC Montreal, 2019)
March 20, 1936, to Sept. 17, 2019
Jazz pianist and composer
"I play from my shoulders, from my whole body, which is why I'm percussive. With singers I play with less force, less aggression. I use the soft pedal. You don't voice the chord with the leading tone. You wait for them to sing a phrase, then fill in the space… [I'm] a blues pianist who understands the philosophy of jazz."
— Harold Mabern (TedPanken.Wordpress.com via album The Leading Man's liner notes, 1993)
Sept. 15, 1945, to Sept. 30, 2019
"The only limitations that I have, I feel, as a singer are what my brain can handle and what my voice can do. And whether or not there are people that might hire me to sing somewhere or who might have an idea that I can't do something because I'm Black, well, that's their problem because I really do not have a problem with this because I know — as I've always said, as I said rather naively as a young child — my brain is the same colour, and so are my vocal chords."
— Jessye Norman (NPR 's Fresh Air, 1987)
July 17, 1963, to Oct. 2, 2019
Musician and songwriter (the Muffs)
March 29, 1994, to Oct. 14, 2019
Singer, actor, model
"If a man speaks up, it's considered standing up for his own convictions, and if a female idol speaks up, it's considered 'attention seeking' and met with a flood of criticism…. It's undeniably deeply linked to a popular culture that views young female celebrities as 'dolls' or 'sexual objects' to be consumed. In that respect, Sulli was special.... She wanted to live as a free woman without paying attention to how people see her."
Wake Self (Andrew Martinez)
1989 to Nov. 5, 2019
Hip-hop artist, community activist
Sept. 18, 1962, to Nov. 20, 2019
Musician, actor, writer
"At a certain point in the '90s, I think we realized that, you know, bands have ebbs and flows and it really felt like we were having to play way too much to continue making a living. And I remember being on a ferry with John talking about this and saying, 'I think we should really all find some different things to do and have Spirit play way less.' And I said to Johnny, you know, 'What do you think you would do, if we kind of back off of the band?' And he goes, 'I'm not really sure, but I'd be fine as long as it involves applause.'
"[That] was his line, and he did exactly that. He went back into theatre and he went back into starring in musicals and movies and television shows. He had an amazing second career as an actor. But I always loved that line about the applause. I thought that was very John and very funny."
— Geoffrey Kelly (CBC's As It Happens, 2019)
Dec. 31, 1948, to Nov. 22, 2019
Organist, music director
"I felt that a tradition must be nourished with new material, otherwise it fossilizes. Part of what I've had in mind is to try to go to composers who would not normally be thought of as writing for church choirs but who are working in mainstream music — operas, symphonies, chamber — and say, 'Here's a choir, would you like to write for us?'"
— Stephen Cleobury (the New York Times via the Telegraph, 2012)
Jan. 13, 1991, to Nov. 24, 2019
"There have been plenty of instances where I looked at the pictures of myself being active until now. I think to myself that I used to be like this … when I think back upon the happy times, I end up smiling. I'm thankful for those memories and have even casted a spell where I tell myself that 'I'm not depressed. Since I have fans who have given me love and watched over me up until now, I am happy!'"
— Goo Hara (Hallyu Interview, 2013)
Oct. 5, 1929, to Dec. 7, 2019
"Simon was universally loved by the entire orchestra, and he brought us back together musically. Many of the concerts that we performed with him during that time will live with me forever — most notably a performance of Paul Hindemith's 'Mathis der Maler' in February 2004. I last spoke with him on his 90th birthday this past October, and am very sad that was to be the last time I had to share with my friend. His legacy to music worldwide will be a lasting one, but perhaps no more so anywhere than here with his [Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony] family. Rest well, my friend."
— Larry Larson (Ludwig van Toronto, 2019)
May 30, 1958, to Dec. 9, 2019
Musician (Roxette), painter, writer
"There were so many people who didn't think I'd make it. Doctors, too. But I knew inside I was going to beat the cancer. And those years when I was unable to speak, became totally isolated. I remember when we'd sit and eat dinner, the whole family, how Micke and the kids would be chatting together. I couldn't get a single word out. It was horrible. And yet I knew all along I was going to make it…. I've always had tremendous inner strength — and strong faith in God. But that's one of the few things I'm not willing to talk about. My faith is private. On the other hand, I do want to talk about everything you can overcome if you — how can I put this? — if you make your mind up. When things were at their most difficult … even if nobody else believed in me, I believed in myself. Felt I had to. And now I'm sitting here."
— Marie Fredriksson (Vi.se, 2015)
Feb. 26, 1928, to Dec. 15, 2019
"'She was the first!' Monique Leyrac, an elegant and polished entertainer, sister to Piaf and Garland, was the first great international star from French Canada to make her mark from New York to Paris to Montreal. Fluent in French and English, her artistry has reached far beyond Quebec to all Canadians and onto the international scene, leading the way for all those who have followed, from Diane Dufresne to Céline Dion."
Aug. 8, 1993, to Dec. 24, 2019
"As a daughter to a residential school survivor, I believe that keeping our language stronger will help my children, their children and so on. And so we need to keep fighting to keep this communication alive. I wanted the young people to be inspired that we can use our language however we want."
— Kelly Fraser (Unreserved, 2019)
"Kelly was a ball of energy and passion. She loved her people more than anything else and her entire being was centred around trying to improve living conditions for Inuit and First Nations. She was such a giving person."
— Thor Simonsen (Globe and Mail, 2019)
Find me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner