Michael Jackson (1958-2009)
“The King of Pop” is one of the most impressive entertainers the world has ever seen. Whether it be dancing on stage or flawlessly changing octaves, Michael Jackson was a one-of-a-kind performer. Throughout all of his different eras, we saw an artist continue to evolve both musically and personally. Jackson’s iconic yet tumultuous career came to an end in 2009. At the time of his sudden passing, he was only 50 years of age.
The Swedish musician (real name Tim Bergling) had broken out as a major force within the music industry as a 16-year-old. His online groundswell of support only intensified over time. From there, Avicii become a global star. He was masterful in sampling, splicing, and mixing together tracks with his unique collection of beats. In 2018, Avicii was found deceased whilst in Oman. He was only 28 years of age.
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While rap got its early beginnings out on the East Coast, West Coast rap burst onto the scene in the late ’80s. Eazy-E of N.W.A. (real name Eric Wright) was integral in fostering this growth of the industry in California. He was an absolute genius lyrically. Along the same lines, Eazy-E wasn’t afraid to grapple with social-economic, racial, and political issues within his work. To this day, Eazy-E remains as an immensely influential artist. In 1995, Wright died due to complications stemming from living with AIDS. He was 30 years of age.
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Otis Redding (1941-1967)
Hailing from Georgia, Otis Redding beautifully embodies the rhythmic soul of music from the south. His innate ability to produce a slow but impactful drawl was fortified further by a musical arrangement. “The Dock of the Bay” remains not only his most noteworthy song, but also one of the bigger ones from the ’60s as a whole. On the way to a gig in Madison, Wisconsin, inclement weather caused a plane crash into Lake Monona. Redding was 26 years old at the time of the accident.
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Ritchie Valens (1941-1959)
The life of Ritchie Valens is a case of ‘what could have been.’ At only 17 years of age, Valens burst onto the scene in a large way. The sub-genre of Chicano music largely stems from combining his family’s cultural music along with the current climate of rock and roll. ‘La Bamba’ — a song everyone knows — was Valens’s baby. He shockingly died in a plane crash as he was approaching his 18th birthday. Though his time on Earth was short, Valens still to this day holds plenty of impact for musicians of all generations.
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John Lennon (1940-1980)
John Lennon was a world-class poet. His ability to craft thought-provoking material was seen time and time again through both his own work as well as with his band, The Beatles. Lennon wrote/sang a number of timeless songs — including “Instant Karma!”, “Oh Yoko!”, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, and a multitude of joint efforts with Paul McCartney. In 1980, Lennon was brutally gunned down by an formerly overzealous fan. He was 40 years old at the time of the horrific murder.
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Sid Vicious (1957-1979)
English-born Sid Vicious (real name Simon Ritchie) was the quintessential punk rocker. The height of punk rock in England coincided with Vicious’ band (Sex Pistols) emerging as a leader within the genre. Vicious was gifted as both a vocalist and a bassist. Off-stage, he epitomized the punk rock life to the fullest. Vicious had a very public relationship with a woman named Nancy Spungen. After problems with both substance abuse and incarceration, Vicious died in 1979 via a drug overdose. He was only 21 years of age.
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Hank Williams (1923-1953)
Though only 30 when he passed away, Hank Williams is still regarded as one of the most prolific country singers of all-time. A native of Alabama, Williams waded through a tough childhood. He eventually broke through in the 1940s as a true star. 35 of his singles found themselves nestled within the top-10 of the best sellers chart. Williams unfortunately struggled with both alcoholism and drug use. He later died of heart failure in correspondence to the usage of alcohol and prescription drugs.
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Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)
Tupac Shakur was a man of many talents. He dabbled in multiple subjects — including acting, producing, rapping, and even ballet. As a rapper, Shakur provided the voice to a lost generation. He offered deep soliloquies about personal issues. Tupac’s ability to be transparent whilst also pungent lyrically really did endear him to a large number of people. His life was controversially ended in an infamous scene in Las Vegas. Suspected gang warfare was in play — though no one really knows as to who was responsible for Tupac’s death. He was 25 years old at the time of his passing.
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Notorious B.I.G. (1972-1997)
The height of the Tupac-Notorious B.I.G. rivalry corresponded with a golden age of hip-hop and rap. B.I.G. (real name Christopher Wallace) rapped with ridiculous amounts of flow. His rhymes were clean, and his lyrical breakdowns were immensely clever. Wallace was a showman in the best sense of the term, and was an expert in storytelling rather than just spitting empty bars. Like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. was mysteriously gunned down by an unknown assailant. The New York native was only 24 at the time of the tragedy.
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Whitney Houston (1963-2012)
Whitney Houston had the voice of an angel. She effortlessly could hit the highest of notes whilst simultaneously holding all the power in a single room. Houston’s voice lingered over the airwaves like a sultry jaunt across the room. For the lack of a better term, she simply possessed once-in-a-generation vocal capabilities. Few artists can attest to having seven-consecutive number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Houston was found dead at the age of 48. She had drowned in a bathtub after reportedly having ingested a number of different substances.
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Kurt Cobain (1967-1994)
Kurt Cobain is the grunge era of music. A native of Washington, Cobain was the front man of the band Nirvana. A free spirit, Cobain often marched to the beat of his own drum. His magnetic talent was plainly visible for anyone who’s ever heard or seen him perform. However, Cobain had a darker side laying beneath the surface. Struggling with both mental health and drug addiction, Cobain committed suicide in 1994. He was 27 years of age.
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Bob Marley (1945-1981)
Bob Marley is a universal icon. Putting his proclivity for marijuana aside, Marley’s music spoke about the core principles of happiness, joy, social issues, and disenfranchised individuals. His raspy twang paired beautifully with the rhythmic beats of the Jamaican sound. Marley is a popular individual in virtually all corners of the Earth. He simply exuded an existence of tranquility. Marley passed away somewhat unexpectedly at the age of 36.
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Janis Joplin (1943-1970)
Like Hendrix, Winehouse, Morrison, and Cobain, Janis Joplin was a part of the unfortunate ’27 club.’ A native of Texas, Joplin began her emergence as a musician during her early 20s. Much of her sound was developed from spending time in the counterculture epicenter of San Francisco. Joplin paired elements of soul and blues with psychedelic arrangements. It made for the finest in auditory candy. Upon reaching her 27th birthday, Joplin passed due to a drug overdose. It was known she liberally participated in multiple substances. Even with Joplin deceased, her impact on the current rock genre is vast.
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Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
James Marshall Hendrix remains as one of the most gifted guitarists in the modern era. His fingers danced on the strings like a ballerina in a Broadway performance. Hendrix also emitted insane levels of ‘smoothness’ and ‘cool’ whenever taking the stage. He simply was an absolute joy to watch play. From a young age, Hendrix demonstrated a true proficiency in terms of playing the guitar. He eventually made big-time classics such as “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary.” Sadly at age 27, Hendrix passed away from a suspected drug overdose in London.
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Jim Morrison (1943-1971)
Rock and Roll was an ever evolving genre throughout the ’60s. Softer rock groups — such as The Beatles or The Kinks — grew to be very popular. However, elements of blues were soon added. Elongated guitar riffs and aggressive drumming complemented in ushering in a new genre. Every major rock band needed a standout front man. Jim Morrison was this guy for The Doors — and frankly was the prototype front man for every aspiring group. His ability lyrically was phenomenal, as was the energy with which he performed. Unfortunately, Morrison passed away at the cursed age of 27.
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Marvin Gaye (1939-1984)
Marvin Gaye had a voice which could only be described as ‘silky’. The Washington D.C. native was clearly influenced by crooning singers from the ’30s and ’40s. Gaye’s rhythmic ability was simply phenomenal. He’d move in and out of lower octaves — only then to suddenly punctuate the airwaves with velvety sounds. Gaye was massive in terms of crafting together hit songs. There are more than a handful of his tracks (“What’s Going On”, “Sexual Healing”, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”) which are popular in the current climate. With a large contingent of soul singers bursting onto the scene throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Gaye was arguably the ringleader of this movement. Tragically, Gaye was shot and killed by his father. He was only 44 at the time of his passing.
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“The King of Rock and Roll” was transcendent in a number of ways. Elvis was an unabated showman — and one which could get the crowd in a crazy frenzy with the simplest of hip thrusts. He had an uncanny ability to mesh together a number of prominent genres (blues, country, rock) whilst also being original in the process. Aside from his musical prowess, Elvis had the presentation of someone everyone wanted to be. He was energetic, fun, and highly talented. His impact in music can surely be felt today. It extends across a wide range of genres, and his aesthetic look even had a major influence on past and present generations. Elvis passed away at the age of 42 due to a heart attack.
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The Detroit native was at one time a rising star within the pop/R&B universe. Aaliyah was first recognized as a child on the reality competition show Star Search. From there, her trajectory only kept rising. Aaliyah was a part of the burgeoning scene of women R&B artists during the late ’90s. With the likes of Missy Elliott, TLC, Ashanti, and Blu Cantrell becoming famous, it was Aaliyah leading the charge as a dynamic talent. There was simply no telling as to how big she could’ve gotten. Sadly, Aaliyah was on a plane that crashed in the Bahamas. She was 22 years old at the time of the accident.
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Freddie Mercury (1946-1991)
Theatrical and immensely gifted, Freddie Mercury — the front man for the band Queen — was everything you’d want in an ideal lead singer. He had a certain amount of bravado that simply couldn’t be quantified. Mercury engaged with the crowd, and hit decibels that few could reach. “We Are The Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are only two of his many hits. These songs still are prevalent in the current time, and likely won’t become obsolete anytime soon. Sadly at the age of 45, Mercury passed away due to residual complications from AIDS.
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Amy Winehouse (1983-2011)
Whilst English tabloid media liked to portray Amy Winehouse in somewhat of a negative light, she still was a fantastic talent. Her ability to manipulate her voice was quite impressive — particularly since Winehouse’s range sat within many different genres. Her raspy vocal presentation worked well with her clearly mature lyrical construction. As was documented throughout the news, Winehouse struggled with substance abuse. This was cleverly illustrated in the song “Rehab”. Winehouse died at the age of 27 due to alcohol poisoning.
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Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopes (1971-2002)
One-third of the distinguished group TLC, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes is sorely missed. She was uncut, brash, raw, and completely authentic. Lopes knew who she was, and celebrated it accordingly. Lopes was very skilled both as a lyricist as well as a singer. Her imprints were all over TLC — whether it be lyrically, vocally, creatively, and even in terms of collective aesthetics. Simply put, she was an indispensable member of the group. Whilst filming a documentary in Honduras about her life, Lopes got in a fatal car accident. As the driver of the vehicle, she unfortunately perished. Lopes was 30 at the time of her passing.
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Dolores O’Riordan (1971-2018)
Singer Dolores O’Riordan was somewhat of a troubled soul. The lead singer of the band The Cranberries, O’Riordan’s distinct lilt appeared like a wail booming through the airwaves. The context was sometimes cheerful — though maudlin and melancholy elements did have a habit of dominating the band’s lyrical construct. O’Riordan’s voice was soothing as it was sharp. A true lover of her home country (Ireland), O’Riordan was often complementary of her hometown, Limerick. In 2018, O’Riordan unexpectedly passed away in a London hotel room. She was 46 years of age.
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Selena was a true gift to the music world. Her musical upbringing in Texas allowed for Selena to be the unofficial queen for Tejano music. In fact, she was a large reason for its emergence into the mainstream. Along the same lines, Selena was revered for her work in the community. She cared deeply for those around her, and was an incredibly family-oriented person. As her popularity grew, so did the adoration for her and her work all across the world. At 23 years of age, she was brutally murdered by a former business partner.
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Cass Elliot (1941-1974)
Cass Elliot (real name Ellen Cohen) was a singer within the famed group The Mamas & the Papas. While other band members operated with softer voices, Elliot grew plenty of praise for her booming vocal ability. She often carried songs with her range, and even branched out with a handful of solo albums in the post-band stage of her career. Elliot was often underappreciated for how talented she really was — especially in the genre of soul. Much of her content was restricted to the ream of pop. At the age of 32, Elliot passed away due to heart failure.
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Buddy Holly (1936-1959)
Though only 22 when he passed away, Buddy Holly (real name Charles Holley) set the scene for many incredibly famous acts to follow in his footsteps. Holly was revolutionary in the realm of Rock and Roll. He was often inspired by country and blues music. However, is largely responsible for creating the typical Rock and Roll ensemble when it came to a drummer, guitarists, and a bassist. It was made even more impressive when considering his young age. Unfortunately, Holly was killed in the same plane crash which was responsible for taking the life of Ritchie Valens.
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Karen Carpenter (1950-1983)
When Karen Carpenter sang, those in the audience became transfixed by her angelic sound. Her voice was both pleasant and powerful. Whether belting out a Christmas tune or one from her mass amounts of records, Carpenter was unequivocally a songbird within her generation. Additionally, very few had Carpenter’s ability to emit such strong emotion through a simple glance or body movement on stage. Carpenter suffered from body image issues for years. At the young age of 32, Carpenter passed away due to complications stemming from her battle with anorexia.
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Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990)
If anyone wants a master class in guitar playing, throw on a Stevie Ray Vaughan album. The native of Dallas was supremely gifted with the ability to play every single note under the sun. Vaughan was integral in breathing life back into the (at the time) dormant world of blues music. Experimenting with different tones and volumes enabled Vaughan to delve into newfound sounds. To this day, his impact in the world of blues, Rock and Roll, and guitar playing is palpable. In 1990, Vaughan died in a plane crash. He was only 35 years of age.
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Tammi Terrell (1945-1970)
Tammi Terrell (real name Thomasina Winifred Montgomery) was best known for her duet role alongside Marvin Gaye in the iconic 1967 classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. As a solo artist, Terrell had seven singles hit inside the Billboard Top 100 at one point or another. When watching her sing, Terrell’s energy pops off the screen with reckless abandon. It genuinely appeared as if she was elated to take the stage every single time when she performances. At the age of 24, Terrell passed away horrifically due to a brain tumor. Had she continued on her projected path, her name may have been put alongside the likes of Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.
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