In memoriam: musicians we've lost to COVID-19

Thank you for your music, John Prine, Adam Schlesinger, Ellis Marsalis, and others.

Thank you for your music, John Prine, Adam Schlesinger, Ellis Marsalis, and others

A tribute to the musicians we've lost due to COVID-19. (Photos courtesy of Getty)

Grief is complicated enough as a private experience. Grief, as the collective experience that's come to define 2020, is harder to hold. How do you make room for disbelief, sadness, fear and anger when there is no end in sight to COVID-19?

The music community has lost so many incredibly talented people to COVID-19, and there aren't any easy answers for how to move through this moment. But there are spaces, for fans and artists alike, to find gratitude and to remember what it's like to find music that calls you home. We can also explore the complexity of our feelings about these tragic, untimely deaths in the legacy these artists leave behind: we'll sing their songs and mine their back catalogues; read their interviews and watch their videos; spin their records and stream their songs. 

Making sense of this mess will look different for everybody, and this is one way CBC Music is mourning the artists who have changed us. Scroll down for our tribute to a range of artists gone too soon, and who truly left this world a better place than it was when they found it. Thank you for the music.

Note: this article will continue to be updated as necessary.

Sean Cunnington 

June 12, 1968, to March 18, 2020

"He was one of the most energetic, fun, and creative people I ever met — and one hell of a guitar player. He was always thinking of ways to make learning music fun for people, and did such a wonderful job helping to build the T-Rox Music Academy. Rest in Peace, Sean."

— Emily Burgess (via Hamilton Blues Lovers)

Manu Dibango 

Dec. 12, 1933, to March 24, 2020
Musician and songwriter

"Manu Dibango has been a hero of Africa and will continue to be for long into the future. We honour this man, his music and the way he represented all Africans during his glorious career. We had the great privilege to collaborate with Manu and create a beautiful recording together. We have many wonderful memories of Manu. In this year that has brought too much sadness, we listen to this great man's music to find our smile again. Rest now brother, you have done well."

Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Thulani Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala, Msizi Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko) (via CNN)

Joe Diffie 

Dec. 28, 1958, to March 29, 2020
Singer-songwriter and musician

"Sometimes I hear bad news, and over and over again in that cold empty space, I think if I wait a minute or two, the news will change, but it's final. Joe Diffie, one of our best singers and my buddy, is gone. We are the same age, so it's very scary. I will miss his voice, his laughter, his songs. My thoughts go out to his entire family. I'll love you always Joe and am so grateful you were in my life."

Tanya Tucker (via Music Row)


Jan. 17, 1956, to March 31, 2020

"A Harvard graduate turned underwear model turned theatre critic who not only successfully married disco's sparkle to punk's nihilism, but also injected it with influences of Brechtian cabaret and an arch sense of humour."

Sophia Wyeth (via God is in the TV)

Adam Schlesinger 

Oct. 31, 1967, to April 1, 2020
Musician, singer-songwriter, composer, producer

"With the terrible instant clarity that tragedy confers, it's now easy to recognize [Adam Schlesinger] for what he was: a modest man of immodestly lavish talent. He was one of the great songwriters of his generation, with a body of work that stands next to those of far bigger boldface names."

Jody Rosen (via the New Yorker)

Ellis Marsalis Jr. 

Nov. 14, 1934, to April 1, 2020
Musician and educator

"My dad was a giant of a musician and teacher, but an even greater father. He poured everything he had into making us the best of what we could be. My friend and Harvard Law professor David Wilkins just sent me the following text: 'We can all marvel at the sheer audacity of a man who believed he could teach his black boys to be excellent in a world that denied that very possibility, and then watch them go on to redefine what excellence means for all time.'"

Branford Marsalis (via the Guardian)

Hal Willner 

April 6, 1956, to April 7, 2020

"Hal didn't care about 'popular.' What made Hal so great besides his sweet collaborative nature, was that he was unapologetically weird. His entire life was a face-first dive into the unknown. He believed weird was as essential to mankind as love or the lightbulb."

— Adam McKay (via CNN)

John Prine 

Oct. 10, 1946, to April 7, 2020

"Words can't even come close. I'm crushed by the loss of my dear friend, John. My heart and love go out to Fiona and all the family. For all of us whose hearts are breaking, we will keep singing his songs and holding him near."

— Bonnie Raitt (via Variety)

Henry Grimes 

Nov. 3, 1935, to April 15, 2020
Composer and musician

"First of all, he's a great improviser. Full of ideas. One of the things that you see in some beginning improvisers are that if you play a note they have to play the same note just to show, 'Hey. See, I heard you.' [laughs] Henry manages to counterpoint whatever's going on, but he doesn't have that insecure reaction at all. He counterpoints while following his own trajectory, and it always works."

— Mark Ribot (via WBGO)

Lee Konitz 

Oct. 13, 1927, to April 15, 2020
Composer and musician

"Improvisary means unforeheard, unforeseen. I don't know what the Latin word for heard is. But it's something like that. And that's a question that I asked the so-called improvisers — how much of what you're improvising is really preplanned? The idea is that the music is full of surprises."

— Lee Konitz (via NPR)

Howard Crompton Tweddle 

Feb. 15, 1951, to April 22, 2020

"How good he was as a bass player in a jazz context is reflected by how many different groups he played with around the city and how many people are feeling very sad now."

— John Haysom (via CBC Radio One's All in a Day)

Fred the Godson 

Jan. 1, 1985, to April 23, 2020
Rapper and DJ

"My little brother ooooh how sad am I. I prayed and prayed and prayed for you all night long.… I am in shock to say the least. I love you soooooooo much little brother. It's been years since I felt this pain.... Maybe now the world will pay attention to your greatness."

— Fat Joe (via Instagram)

Dave Greenfield

March 29, 1949, to May 3, 2020

"I am very sorry to hear of the passing of Dave Greenfield. He was the difference between the Stranglers and every other punk band. His musical skill and gentle nature gave an interesting twist to the band. He should be remembered as the man who gave the world the music of Golden Brown."

— Hugh Cornwell (via Twitter)


Aug. 17, 1972, to May 7, 2020
Rapper, vocalist, producer

"Our music is considered 'unclassic' by mainstream British culture. It's considered throwaway and vague, and I think we have become comfortable with the name tag and position. I'm not comfortable with this process, art form, culture and experience being relegated to a minor importance, just because it isn't classical music. A lot of thought and self-analysis goes into making music, let alone hip-hop music, and I wanted to upgrade the perception a little."

— Ty (via the Guardian)

Renée Claude

July 3, 1939, to May 12, 2020
Singer, actress

"One of our great performers has left us.... For these magical years, for that memorable voice, thank you for everything. You will find peace, dear Renée. My most sincere sympathies to your family and loved ones."

— Céline Dion (via Twitter, translated by CBC Music)