A year of musical loss

Leonhard Foeger—Reuters
British Pop Star David Bowie screams into the microphone as he performs on stage during a concert in Vienna.

As we welcome 2017 with open arms, it is with a swift kick in the pants we bid farewell to a year of staggering loss. As the death toll of musical artists rose one after another, our collective heads spun one last time when on Christmas day, news of George Michael’s passing was announced.It all started January 10. The world gasped simultaneously as word of David Bowie’s untimely demise took to the airwaves. Bowie changed everything and his influence on music and culture is infinite. His pioneering forays into androgyny and never before seen showmanship merely served as part of the Bowie puzzle. The music he created and invented was and remains unmatched as multitudes of those he inspired defy and redefine the musical landscape.Shortly after, the death of Glenn Frey of the Eagles delivered a suffering blow to the heart of America. Co-founder of the band responsible for defining the 1970’s California sound, Frey steered the Eagles into absolute domination of the airwaves and the Billboard charts throughout their entire expansive career. Frey found major success as a solo artist during the band’s hiatus and will go down in history as one of Classic Rock’s founding fathers.Just two months later an immeasurable loss to anyone and everyone who appreciates country music in its truest form came with the death of the maverick trailblazer that defined the outlaw country music movement, Merle Haggard. A defender of the working class, Haggard’s songwriting spoke to and for the underdog in us all. In the 1970’s Haggard cemented his position among the outlaw country set with the likes of Willy Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. Haggard’s legacy as an accomplished songwriter and multi-instrumentalist will live on as a celebrated creator of real, raw country music.Eleven days later, purple tears ran down our befuddled faces as Prince’s death was announced. Like David Bowie, Prince was a being all his own. Lascivious, oozing with sexuality, sensuality, electrifying presence, and astounding talent — Prince shook the foundation of any and everything he touched. He could shred like Hendrix, sing like Aretha, and dance like James Brown. His mastery of multiple instruments, ability to compose the headiest of love ballads, scorching funk, rhythm and blues, soul and rock coupled with an adolescent rebelliousness and Caligula-like eroticism, Prince Rogers Nelson sits perched high atop the lofty peaks of musical legend and lore.Just when we could take a breath long enough to stop talking about Prince’s legacy, we lost a truly magnificent bard in Leonard Cohen. At 82, the poet, singer songwriter, die hard romantic, and often prophetic artist shuffled off this mortal coil. Like a sculptor, Cohen worked day and night, tirelessly at crafting song and prose lush with darkness, heart-wrenching beauty, and unflinchingly raw commentary on the human condition. His voice was as dark as many of the songs he gave us, but his light will forever shine bright, “There is a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.”Leon Russell and Sharon Jones passed away in November. Russell, known as “the master of space and time,” renowned for his work as keyboardist, singer songwriter and producer wrote hit songs and recorded with Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones.Soul singing sensation, Sharon Jones, and her band, the Dap Kings spearheaded a funk and soul revival of the 1970’s — bringing hordes of new fans to the genre. Sadly, she lost her battle with pancreatic cancer at age 60.2016 also took from us Earth Wind and Fire founder, Maurice “Moe” White, bluegrass patriarch, Ralph Stanley, and Zydeco superstar, Buckwheat Zydeco.Let us pray 2017 takes fewer lives so crucial to the fabric of musical greatness.