Many musical voices fell silent in 2015. We lost soul singers and opera stars, blues and folk guitarists, saxophonists and percussionists, plus composers, conductors, producers, and other visionaries. Explore their musical legacies here.
Feb. 22, 1964 — Oct. 28, 2015
Her name was not the stuff of bright marquees, but through the U.K. dance-music explosion beginning in the 1990s, this electronic-soul singer was the featured voice on massive club tracks and at live shows by the likes of Goldie, Moby and Satoshi Tomiie.
March 9, 1930 — June 11, 2015
When he first showed up, he broke so many rules of jazz that people questioned his sanity. Slowly, as the beautiful, unbound melodies introduced by his knife-edged saxophone remained in liquid currency, we realized that he had rewritten the rulebook.
July 1, 1942 — Jan. 8, 2015
With new gospel classics like "Soon and Very Soon" and "Through It All," this singer, pianist and choir leader infused his compositions with the spirit of modern sounds, bringing gospel music into a new era — and influencing pop stars from Michael Jackson to Madonna.
Dec. 19, 1920 — Jan. 2, 2015
He didn't quite clear five feet, but this beloved mentor to both George Jones and Brad Paisley, known for comical songs and winning stagecraft, filled the Grand Ole Opry with charm, cheer and the shine of his rhinestone-studded suits for more than six decades.
July 11, 1925 — Dec. 8, 2015
As one of the first African-Americans to enjoy an international opera career, this coloratura from Atlanta, Ga. could spin high-flying roulades with the best of them, in roles like Gilda in Rigoletto, with which she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1956.
June 2, 1930 — July 26, 2015
He was a legendary percussionist at the Boston Symphony Orchestra — but Firth also became a household name to drummers around the globe. As an entrepreneur who made drumsticks, mallets brushes and other gear, he built a company whose equipment outfits performers like Charlie Watts and Questlove.
May 2, 1946 — Feb. 16, 2015
Half a century before Beyoncé claimed the word "feminist" as part of a pop star's vocabulary, New Jersey native Gore taught teenagers about women's liberation with her gutsy performance of the anthem "You Don't Own Me" — the crown jewel among her many hits, from "It's My Party" to "Maybe I Know."
March 2, 1923 — March 1, 2015
A winner of four Grammys, this producer, essayist, album notes writer and journalist called himself a "catalyst" for jazz artists — and his output as a producer included collaborations with Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Heath and scores of other jazz luminaries.
Dec. 24, 1945 — Dec. 28, 2015
No one was or is or can be like Lemmy. His voice rattled like bullets in a barrel and his bass throttled whisky-soaked, revved-up rock 'n' roll. After a brief tenure in Hawkwind (including the band's best album, Space Ritual), he founded Motörhead and gave us the outcast's motto, permanently tattooed on our bodies and in our hearts: "Born to Lose, Live to Win."
Ben E. King
Sept. 28, 1938 — April 30, 2015
It's inevitable that people will best remember King for "Stand By Me," his 1961 smash that became one of soul's most popular secular spirituals. Yet he was also one of the lead singers of the great Drifters, with whom he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sept. 16, 1925 — May 14, 2015
He took the blues from his native Mississippi north to Chicago — and his smooth voice and keening guitar bridged generations and cultures. King was on a mission to make his music heard, and he kept performing almost to the end. Along the way, he helped renew interest in a vital American art form.
July 18, 1927 — Dec. 19, 2015
When the New York Philharmonic needed a complete overhaul in the early 1990s, they called on an unlikely leader from East Germany: Masur. Best known for his command of canonical composers like Beethoven and Brahms, he also commissioned some 40 new works for the New Yorkers.
June 10, 1954 — Nov. 1, 2015
This Bay Area conguero was one of a few who redefined the role of the congas when they were mixed with rock music in the early 1970s. And for almost 40 years, his sound and his ever-present smile were an important part of the Santana band during countless shows around the globe.
Aug. 8, 1944 — March 26, 2015
His playing stands out from the rest of the British guitarists who came to prominence in the 1960s. Classically trained, Renbourn took that study — and a love of Renaissance music — and applied it to the electric guitar he often played with Pentangle. But his solo acoustic work can make your jaw drop.
Jan. 12, 1944 — Nov. 23, 2015
"All the squares, go home!" That was the rallying cry of this trumpeter, singer and co-founder of the pivotal funk band Sly & the Family Stone — a groundbreaking artist in an era when being a female, and African-American, horn player in a major band was a singular achievement.
Doudou N'diaye Rose
July 28, 1930 — Aug. 19, 2015
This master drummer (once named a "living human treasure" by UNESCO) sustained and nurtured local percussion traditions in his native Senegal — but also found common ground playing with such global talents as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Peter Gabriel and The Rolling Stones.
Nov. 22, 1925 — June 21, 2015
He once said, "I have simultaneously had seven full-time careers in music." That just about sums up this Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, conductor and educator who bridged classical music and jazz — and collaborated with colleagues ranging from Miles Davis to Frank Zappa.
Nov. 5, 1936 — Aug. 4, 2015
When people talk about "real" country music in 2015, they're almost always invoking the sophisticated, emotionally nuanced hits this songwriter and producer devised, from Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" to George Jones's "The Grand Tour." Nobody set heartache to strings with as much finesse.
Nov. 25, 1940 — April 14, 2015
This Alabama native embodied the Muscle Shoals sound. His ability to blend pain and hope within one musical phrase — the quality that made his hit "When a Man Loves a Woman" one of soul's central texts — made his the ideal voice for the crossroads of country and soul.
Sept. 21, 1927 — Jan. 19, 2015
Nonfiction wins again: A man named Swingle (pictured bottom left) married J.S. Bach with scat singing. He won five Grammys and inspired both a monument of postmodernism — Sinfonia, composer Luciano Berio's mashup of Mahler and Samuel Beckett — and the sound of Glee.
Dec. 14, 1920 — Feb. 21, 2015
One of the most beloved musicians in jazz, the trumpeter was also one of its most recorded, performing with the big bands of Basie, Ellington and the Tonight Show. Then teaching became his pride, and his joy attracted many disciples including Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Wynton Marsalis.
Jan. 14, 1938 — Nov. 9, 2015
Songwriter, pianist extraordinaire and generous raconteur, Toussaint was the true soul of New Orleans. His songs – "It's Raining," "Working In a Coal Mine," "Yes We Can Can," "Southern Nights" and dozens more — shaped the sound that brought the city into the modern era.
Oct. 29, 1926 — July 10, 2015
With a penetrating fusion of steel and power, the Canadian tenor's voice was often hailed as one of the greatest of the 20th century, delivering conspicuous intensity to Wagner's heroes or misunderstood outsiders like Britten's Peter Grimes.
Oct. 27, 1967 — Dec. 3, 2015
Though he first came to prominence during grunge's heyday as a member of Stone Temple Pilots, this charismatic lead singer, and one of American alternative rock's few showmen, transcended the era. In the 21st century, he fronted the hard-rock supergroup Velvet Revolver and became a successful solo artist.
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And on this final day of the year, let's recall some musicians we lost in 2015.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
There were many, from soul singer Ben E. King to operatic tenor Jon Vickers.
INSKEEP: And from composer and scholar Gunther Schuller to jazz great Ornette Coleman.
MONTAGNE: Let's hear some of their voices and their music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME BACK")
ANDRAE CROUCH AND THE DISCIPLES: (Singing) Take me back.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY ME")
BEN E. KING: (Singing) So darlin', darlin', stand by me, oh, stand by me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "JUMPIN' IN THE FUTURE," "DIE WALKURE: ACT I, SCENE III, WINTERSTURME WICHEN DEM WONNEMOND")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE L AND N DON'T STOP HERE ANYMORE")
JEAN RITCHIE: (Singing) And the L&N don't stop here anymore.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "THE PELICAN," "FIDDLIN' AROUND," "JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE," "SOUTHERN COMFORT," "WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN")
PERCY SLEDGE: (Singing) When a man loves a woman can't keep his mind on nothing else.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "LONELY WOMAN," "IT'S MY PARTY")
LESLIE GORE: (Singing) It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROSE GARDEN")
LYNN ANDERSON: (Singing) I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "ROSE," "EROS")
ROD MCKUEN: I need mostly love. Everything else must find its place.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "VIOLETS FOR YOUR FURS," "KISSES SWEETER THAN WINE")
THE WEAVERS: (Singing) Kisses sweeter than wine.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUGUE NO. 2 IN C MINOR")
THE SWINGLE SINGERS: (Vocalizing).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONGS, "BRUSHES AND BRASS," "ROUNDABOUT," "ACE OF SPADES")
MOTORHEAD: (Singing) If you like to gamble, I'll tell you how I'm your man, you'll win some, lose some, it's all the same to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCE TO THE MUSIC")
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE: (Singing) Get up and dance to the music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET LITTLE ANGEL")
INSKEEP: Wow, the sound of Lucille, B.B. King's guitar, closing out our tribute to some of the musicians we lost in 2015. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.