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In Memoriam 2023: The Musicians We Lost

John Rogers
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Getty Images

Updated January 2, 2024 at 4:03 PM ET

When you read these names of musicians, producers, visual artists and writers who died in 2023, your heart may be filled with sorrow and sadness. After all, music offers us opportunities to both dream outside of and root yourself in reality. When we lose artists who reflect and refract myriad versions of ourselves and the world we know and aspire to be, it can feel impossible to imagine a world without their musical guidance.

Yet it's also a moment to celebrate — not just their impact on culture writ large but also inside ourselves. This year, we lost icons, rock pioneers, hip-hop trailblazers, jazz legends and prolific composers across pop and classical music. Lift up their names and play their music or remember their contributions to our daily lives. (Our colleagues at NPR's Culture Desk also offer up their own tribute.) What follows is a memorial to them, listed below in chronological order by the date they left us.

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Gangsta Boo

One of the South's premiere crunk MCs, who got her start in Three 6 Mafia and collaborated with OutKast, Run the Jewels and Blood Orange

Aug. 7, 1979 — Jan. 1, 2023

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Fred White

Drummer for the era-defining, genre-defying band Earth, Wind & Fire

Jan. 13, 1955 — Jan. 1, 2023

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Alan Rankine

Scottish musician who co-founded The Associates and produced records for Cocteau Twins and Paul Haig

May 17, 1958 — Jan. 3, 2023

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Justin Bartlett

Illustrator of metal album covers, whose pen favored intricately grotesque terror

May 27, 1977 — Jan. 9, 2023

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Jeff Beck

Guitar virtuoso unlimited by genre who nevertheless always sounded like himself

June 24, 1944 — Jan. 10, 2023

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Yukihiro Takahashi

Drummer and singer for the trailblazing synth-pop group Yellow Magic Orchestra

June 6, 1952 — Jan. 11, 2023

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Lisa Marie Presley

Daughter of Elvis Presley, caretaker of his legacy and a singer-songwriter in her own right

Feb. 1, 1968 — Jan. 12, 2023

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Robbie Bachman

Drummer and co-founder of Canadian rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Feb. 18, 1953 — Jan. 12, 2023

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Bruce Gowers

TV director whose credits include American Idol, the MTV Video Music Awards and the music video for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Dec. 21, 1940 — Jan. 15, 2023

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David Crosby

A prominent figure of the free-spirited 1970s Laurel Canyon scene and co-founder of Crosby, Stills & Nash

Aug. 14, 1941 — Jan. 18, 2023

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Van Conner

Bassist and co-founder of the grunge luminaries Screaming Trees

March 17, 1967 — Jan. 18, 2023

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Redferns/Getty Images

Tom Verlaine

Television's restlessly innovative guitarist and a founding father of American punk

Dec. 13, 1949 — Jan. 28, 2023

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Barrett Strong

Motown songwriter behind "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," plus the singer of the label's very first hit, "Money (That's What I Want)"

Feb. 5, 1941 — Jan. 29, 2023

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Charlie Thomas

Member of The Drifters, an R&B group known for hits "Under the Boardwalk" and "Save the Last Dance for Me"

April 7, 1937 — Jan. 31, 2023

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Steve Sostak

Saxophonist, singer and co-founder of the art-punk band Sweep the Leg Johnny

May 18, 1973 — Feb. 4, 2023

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Burt Bacharach

Visionary pop composer behind an astonishing catalog of hit songs

May 12, 1928 — Feb. 8, 2023

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Lewis Spratlan

American composer who won the Pulitzer Prize in music for a concert version of the opera Life is a Dream

Sept. 5, 1940 — Feb. 9, 2023

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Trugoy the Dove

The irrepressible id of De La Soul

Sept. 21, 1968 — Feb. 12, 2023

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Huey "Piano" Smith

New Orleans R&B pianist and songwriter who influenced early rock and roll

Jan. 26, 1934 — Feb. 13, 2023

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Tim Aymar

Heavy metal singer for Pharaoh and Chuck Schuldiner's Control Denied

Sept. 4, 1963 — Feb. 13, 2023

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Tom Whitlock

Co-writer of Top Gun's inescapable soundtrack hits "Danger Zone" and "Take My Breath Away"

Feb. 20, 1954 — Feb. 28, 2023

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Steve Mackey

Pulp bassist who produced music for the likes of M.I.A., Florence + the Machine and Marianne Faithfull

Nov. 10, 1966 — March 2, 2023

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Christophe Simon / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images

Wayne Shorter

Saxophonist, composer and creator of one of the singular sounds in the last century of jazz

Aug. 25, 1933 — March 2, 2023

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David Lindley

Los Angeles session guitarist and musician's musician who played with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart

March 21, 1944 — March 3, 2023

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Glen "Spot" Lockett

Black Flag, Minutemen and Hüsker Dü trusted the record producer to capture their punk rock intensity and urgency

July 1, 1951 — March 4, 2023

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Gary Rossington

The last surviving original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd

Dec. 4, 1951 — March 5, 2023

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Topol

Israeli singer and actor who mastered the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on stage and screen

Sept. 9, 1935 — March 8, 2023

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Jerry Samuels

Singer and songwriter behind Napoleon XIV's novelty hit "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!"

May 3, 1938 — March 10, 2023

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Jim Gordon

Session drummer for Eric Clapton and The Beach Boys, later convicted of killing his mother

July 14, 1945 — March 13, 2023

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Bobby Caldwell

R&B singer-songwriter who gave us the deeply soulful "What You Won't Do for Love"

Aug. 15, 1951 — March 14, 2023

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Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins

Singer in George Clinton's doo-wop group The Parliaments, which mutated into the innovative Parliament-Funkadelic

June 8, 1941 — March 16, 2023

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Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou

Nonagenarian nun who composed beautifully complex music for piano that drew on honky tonk, classical music and her own Ethiopian heritage

Dec. 12, 1923 — March 25, 2023

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Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images

Ryuichi Sakamoto

From synth-pop pioneers Yellow Magic Orchestra to high-profile film scores and ambient masterpieces, a sophisticated curiosity elevated everything in the Japanese composer's work

Jan. 17, 1952 — March 28, 2023

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Brian "Brizz" Gillis

Singer for late-'90s pop group LFO

Jan. 19, 1975 — March 29, 2023

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Seymour Stein

Famed music executive and tastemaker who co-founded Sire Records

April 18, 1942 — April 2, 2023

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Vivian Trimble

Keyboardist and founding member of the irrepressibly cool Luscious Jackson

May 24, 1963 — April 4, 2023

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Paul Cattermole

Singer for British pop group S Club 7

March 7, 1977 — April 6, 2023

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Lasse Wellander

Guitarist for Swedish pop group ABBA

June 18, 1952 — April 7, 2023

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Kidd Jordan

Avant-garde jazz saxophonist, educator and patriarch of New Orleans music

May 5, 1935 — April 7, 2023

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Karl Berger

German-born musician whose vibraphone and piano explored American free jazz with Don Cherry, Dave Holland and Ornette Coleman

March 30, 1935 — April 9, 2023

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Jah Shaka

Jamaican dub and reggae pioneer who brought soundsystem culture to London

c. 1948-1954 — April 12, 2023

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Remy Gabalda / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images

Ahmad Jamal

A measured maestro of the jazz piano

July 2, 1930 — April 16, 2023

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Ivan Conti

Brazilian percussionist and co-founder of the jazz-funk band Azymuth

Aug. 16, 1946 — April 17, 2023

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Mark Stewart

Singer for the experimental English post-punk band The Pop Group

Aug. 10, 1960 — April 21, 2023

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Harry Belafonte

Singer and actor who broke racial barriers and balanced activism with artistry in ways that made people around the world listen

March 1, 1927 — April 25, 2023

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Billy "The Kid" Emerson

Early rock and roll singer

Dec. 21, 1925 — April 25, 2023

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Don Sebesky

Composer and arranger who worked with Wes Montgomery, Frank Sinatra and Cyndi Lauper

Dec. 10, 1937 — April 29, 2023

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Gordon Lightfoot

Canadian folk-rock songwriter who explored loss, longing and nostalgia in songs like "If You Could Read My Mind" and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"

Nov. 11, 1938 — May 1, 2023

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Linda Lewis

British soul singer who also worked as a backing vocalist for David Bowie

Sept. 27, 1950 — May 3, 2023

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Rob Laakso

Guitarist for Swirlies and Kurt Vile & The Violators

1979 — May 4, 2023

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Chris Strachwitz

Founder of the regional and roots music label Arhoolie Records

July 1, 1931 — May 5, 2023

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Menahem Pressler

Pianist and co-founder of the Beaux Arts Trio

Dec. 16, 1923 — May 6, 2023

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Frank Kozik

Darkly funny illustrator whose work was plastered on concert posters and album covers for Melvins, Queens of the Stone Age and The Offspring

Jan. 9, 1962 — May 6, 2023

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Grace Bumbry

Trailblazing opera star who broke the color barrier as the first Black artist to perform at Germany's Bayreuth Festival

Jan 4, 1937 — May 7, 2023

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Rita Lee

Brazil's Queen of Rock was the madcap element in Os Mutantes and an essential character in the Tropicália movement

Dec. 31, 1947 — May 8, 2023

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Andy Rourke

The bassist crafted propulsive lines that brimmed with melody in The Smiths

Jan. 17, 1964 — May 19, 2023

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Pete Brown

British Beat poet who wrote lyrics for Cream

Dec. 25, 1940 — May 19, 2023

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Chas Newby

Bassist who played — briefly — with The Beatles

June 18, 1941 — May 22, 2023

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Tina Turner

A soul and rock icon known for her octave-defying voice and mesmerizing stage moves

Nov. 26, 1939 — May 24, 2023

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Bill Lee

Bassist and composer who scored his son Spike Lee's early films

July 23, 1928 — May 24, 2023

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Jack Lee

Frontman for power-pop band The Nerves who wrote "Hanging on the Telephone," popularized by Blondie

March 25, 1952 — May 26, 2023

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Reuben Wilson

Organist who helped usher in soul jazz

April 9, 1935 — May 26, 2023

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Cynthia Weil

Brill Building lyricist who helped write "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and "On Broadway"

Oct. 18, 1940 — June 1, 2023

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Kaija Saariaho

Finnish composer who offered a dazzling palette of colors in her music

Oct. 14, 1952 — June 2, 2023

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George Winston

Pianist of pastoral sceneswhose albums with Windham Hill Records helped popularize new age music

Feb. 11, 1949 — June 4, 2023

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Astrud Gilberto

Breathy Brazilian singer who turned "The Girl from Ipanema" into a global sensation

March 29, 1940 — June 5, 2023

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Blackie Onassis

Drummer for the punked-up stadium rockers Urge Overkill

Aug. 27, 1965 — June 13, 2023

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Big Pokey

Rapper and member of Houston's Screwed Up Click

Nov. 29, 1974 — June 18, 2023

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Teresa Taylor

Drummer for Butthole Surfers who had a memorable role in Richard Linklater's 1990 film Slackers

Nov. 10, 1962 — June 18, 2023

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John Waddington

Co-founding guitarist of The Pop Group

Jan. 1, 1960 — June 20, 2023

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Marco Cantile / LightRocket via Getty Images
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LightRocket via Getty Images

Peter Brötzmann

German saxophonist whose brash, tempestuous outpourings set an imposing standard for free improvisation

March 6, 1941 — June 22, 2023

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Sheldon Harnick

Broadway lyricist who wrote Fiddler on the Roof

April 30, 1924 — June 23, 2023

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Bobby Osborne

Mandolinist who expanded the idea of bluegrass in the Osborne Brothers

Dec. 7, 1931 — June 27, 2023

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Rick Froberg

Snarling vocalist and guitarist of beloved punk bands Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes and Pitchfork

Jan. 19, 1968 — June 30, 2023

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CoCo Lee

Chinese pop star, the lead in the Mandarin version of Disney's Mulan and singer of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's soaring love theme

Jan. 17, 1975 — July 5, 2023

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Peter Nero

Concert pianist and conductor of the Philly Pops

May 22, 1934 — July 6, 2023

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André Watts

Concert pianist with an old-school Romantic virtuosity who was a guiding light for young, Black classical musicians

June 20, 1946 — July 12, 2023

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Jane Birkin

English born, French-raised actress, icon and singer whose breathy hit "Je t'aime... moi non plus" with Serge Gainsbourg was banned from radio play in several countries

Dec. 14, 1946 — July 16, 2023

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João Donato

Brazilian pianist and early architect of bossa nova

Aug. 17, 1934 — July 17, 2023

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Tony Bennett

Timeless crooner whose voice epitomized the American Songbook

Aug. 3, 1926 — July 21, 2023

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Leny Andrade

The first lady of Brazilian jazz was a samba-driven improviser and a consummate nightclub artist

Jan. 25, 1943 — July 24, 2023

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Sinéad O'Connor

Irish singer whose life and howling music were committed to dissent, discontent and refusal against establishment evils

Dec. 8, 1966 — July 26, 2023

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Randy Meisner

Bassist and founding member of the Eagles

March 8, 1946 — July 25, 2023

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Erkin Koray

Guitarist who blended psychedelic rock with Turkish melodies

June 24, 1941 — Aug. 7, 2023

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DJ Casper

Creator of the "Cha Cha Slide"

May 31, 1965 — Aug. 7, 2023

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Sixto Rodriguez

Detroit singer-songwriter catapulted to sudden fame late in life, first in South Africa, and then around the world following the documentary Searching for Sugar Man

July 10, 1942 — Aug. 8, 2023

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Jamie Reid

Visual artist who designed iconic cover art for Sex Pistols records

Jan. 16, 1947 — Aug. 8, 2023

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Robbie Robertson

Lead guitarist and the primary songwriter for The Band, who helped to establish the blueprint for Americana

July 5, 1943 — Aug. 9, 2023

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Clarence Avant

Music executive and film producer who boosted the careers of Bill Withers and Michael Jackson and became a force in sports and politics

Feb. 25, 1931 — Aug. 13, 2023

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Magoo

Rapper and Timbaland collaborator

July 12, 1973 — Aug. 13, 2023

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Jerry Moss

Co-founder of A&M Records

May 8, 1935 — Aug. 15, 2023

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Renata Scotto

Italian diva known for dozens of roles at the Metropolitan Opera

Feb. 24, 1934 — Aug. 16, 2023

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Gary Young

Pavement's original drummer

May 3, 1953 — Aug. 17, 2023

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Gloria Coates

Prolific Wisconsin-born composer who made a name for herself in Europe

Oct. 10, 1933 — Aug. 19, 2023

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Sakevi Yokoyama

Vocalist for Japanese hardcore punk and metal band G.I.S.M.

Unknown — Aug. 24, 2023

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Brian McBride

One half of Stars of the Lid, a duo that warped and wondered at new pathways for ambient music

July 6, 1970 — Aug. 25, 2023

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James Casey

Saxophonist known for his work with the Trey Anastasio Band

Feb. 4, 1983 — Aug. 28, 2023

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Jack Sonni

Guitarist briefly in massively successful '80s rock band Dire Straits

Dec. 9, 1954 — Aug. 30, 2023

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Curtis Fowlkes

Trombonist who co-led The Jazz Passengers

March 19, 1950 — Aug. 31, 2023

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Jimmy Buffett

Singer-songwriter and eternal (p)resident of "Margaritaville"

Dec. 25, 1946 — Sept. 1, 2023

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Gary Wright

Founding member of blues rock band Spooky Tooth, in-demand session musician and singer of "Dream Weaver"

April 26, 1943 — Sept. 4, 2023

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Steve Harwell

Lead singer of Smash Mouth and its highly meme-able self-esteem booster "All Star"

Jan. 9, 1967 — Sept. 4, 2023

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Charles Gayle

New York saxophonist who embodied a radical yet humble expression of freedom

Feb. 28, 1939 — Sept. 5, 2023

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Richard Davis

Versatile bassist heard on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks and Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch!

April 15, 1930 — Sept. 6, 2023

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Roger Whittaker

British balladeer and whistler known for "The Last Farewell"

March 22, 1936 — Sept. 13, 2023

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Kent Stax

Drummer for D.C. hardcore band Scream

July 4, 1962 — Sept. 20, 2023

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Terry Kirkman

Singer for The Association and songwriter for the pop group's "Cherish"

Dec. 12, 1939 — Sept. 23, 2023

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James Jorden

Founder of the opera zine and website Parterre Box

Aug. 6, 1954 — Oct. 2, 2023

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Rudolph Isley

Founding member of The Isley Brothers

April 1, 1939 — Oct. 11, 2023

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Carla Bley

Prolific and expansive jazz pianist who constantly evolved

May 11, 1936 — Oct. 17, 2023

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Dwight Twilley

Power-pop singer-songwriter behind a series of minor '70s and '80s hits

June 6, 1951 — Oct. 21, 2023

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Dusty Street

Pioneering female rock DJ for KROQ and, later, SiriusXM

Oct. 19, 1946 — Oct. 21, 2023

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Steve Poponi

Guitarist for emo band Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start and co-owner of Philly's beloved Gradwell House studio

June 17, 1976 — Oct. 31, 2023

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Yuri Temirkanov

Controversial conductor for St. Petersburg Philharmonic and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Dec. 10, 1938 — Nov. 2, 2023

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R.L. Boyce

Mississippi blues guitarist who created his own Hill Country boogie style

Aug. 15, 1955 — Nov. 9, 2023

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David Del Tredici

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who wrote pieces based on Lewis Carroll's "Alice" stories

March 16, 1937 — Nov. 18, 2023

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Catherine Christer Hennix

Composer who dreamed the infinite

Jan. 25, 1948 — Nov. 19, 2023

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Mars Williams

Saxophonist for The Psychedelic Furs and The Waitresses

May 29, 1955 — Nov. 20, 2023

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Chad Allan

Original singer for Canadian rock band The Guess Who

March 29, 1943 — Nov. 21, 2023

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Jean Knight

Soul singer who made "Mr. Big Stuff" a hit

Jan. 26, 1943 — Nov. 22, 2023

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Geordie Walker

Guitarist for post-punk band Killing Joke

Dec. 18, 1958 — Nov. 26, 2023

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Scott Kempner

Guitarist for punk band The Dictators

Feb. 6, 1954 — Nov. 29, 2023

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Shane MacGowan

Irascible frontman of The Pogues and co-writer of the devastatingly beautifulChristmas ballad "Fairytale of New York"

Dec. 25, 1957 — Nov. 30, 2023

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Denny Laine

Co-founder of both The Moody Blues and Wings

Oct. 29, 1944 — Dec. 5, 2023

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Martin Davidson

Founder of the free-improvisation label Emanem Records

Feb. 11, 1942 — Dec. 9, 2023

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Essra Mohawk

Prolific songwriter and a familiar singing voice on Schoolhouse Rock!

April 23, 1948 — Dec. 11, 2023

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Travis John Dopp

Guitarist for post-hardcore band Small Brown Bike

Oct. 23, 1975 — Dec. 13, 2023

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Amp Fiddler

Detroit soul mainstay known for his work with George Clinton and Prince, a mentor to J Dilla

May 17, 1958 — Dec. 17, 2023

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Craig Stewart

Founder of the independent label Emperor Jones, early home to The American Analog Set and The Mountain Goats

Oct. 27, 1970 — Dec. 19, 2023

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Laura Lynch

Bassist, singer and founding member of The Dixie Chicks who appeared on the group's first three albums

1958 — Dec. 22, 2023

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TONY OXLEY

British percussionist foundational to free improvisation, co-founder of Incus Records

Jun. 15, 1938 — Dec. 26, 2023

*

Les McCann

An impromptu jam of "Compared to What" gave the pianist a career-defining moment at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival

Sept. 23, 1935 — Dec. 29, 2023

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Will Chase, Candice Vo Kortkamp and Greta Pittenger contributed research to support this story. Phil Harrell produced the audio at the top of the page.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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