Our tribute to the iconic musicians who passed away in 2016

The Sweet Hereafter: Honoring Musicians who Passed in 2016

Vendini Festivals, Music

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s a perfect time to stop and remember the great musicians who passed this year. It seems like whenever one of them passes away, people inevitably say something like “I’ll bet he’s jamming with Jimi Hendrix in heaven now”. Sadly, 2016 was particularly cruel, with no less than 33 world-class musicians leaving this world. Which got us to thinking that if everyone was going to jam with Jimi, that stage might get a little too crowded. Clearly, the passing of that many legends doesn’t warrant a jam session. It demands a festival. With that in mind, we came up with poster for what may be the best lineup of all time. And if you’re bummed about missing out on this one, just remember you’re lucky to be alive.

Sweet Hereafter Festival Poster commemorating the musicians who passed in 2016

George Michael

Singer, Songwriter
June 25, 1963–Dec. 25, 2016

He’s now known as a humanitarian, a genius of pop music and inventor of the 5 o’clock shadow, but back in 1987 many people considered George Michael to be a musical lightweight. He’d had massive hits with his previous group Wham!, but his public image was that of a teeny-bopper pop idol, complete with feathered hair. So it was a genuine shock when he went solo with his album “Faith.” Gone were the tiny white short-shorts and “Choose Life” t-shirts. George Michael was now wearing boots, denim and a leather motorcycle jacket that said “revenge.” Free from the conventions of Wham!, Michael finally got to show the world the depth of his musicality. “Faith” is a near-perfect album, which people don’t realize he produced and wrote almost entirely by himself (he co-wrote only one song, “Look at Your Hands,” with David Austin). He also played almost every instrument on the record, putting to rest the notion that Andrew Ridgely, his partner in Wham!, had been the talent behind their early success. George Michael went on to make more platinum records and eventually became a historical figure in the LGBT community when he came out as a gay man in 1998.

George Michael, “Father Figure”

Greg Lake

Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist | King Crimson / Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Nov. 10, 1947–Dec. 7, 2016

Co-founder of two influential rock bands, Greg Lake was a gifted musician who always wanted a show that was bigger, better and more spectacular. In 2013, he reminisced about Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s touring entourage that included “140 people on the road with 11 tractor trailers.” As the lead singer and bassist on King Crimson’s debut album “In the Court of the Crimson King,” Lake crafted enduring classics such as “21st Century Schizoid Man” that formed the blueprint for an entirely new genre of music, prog rock.

Sharon Jones

Lead Singer | Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
May 4, 1956–Nov. 18, 2016

Ms. Jones didn’t release her first album until the age of 40, but maybe that was for the best. Her life experience until then included working as a corrections officer in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail and singing backup on other people’s records. Those are exactly the kinds of experiences that give a soul singer something to draw from. So, in 2002 when she dropped her first record, “Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings,” it didn’t sound like a debut album at all. It sounded raw, commanding and experienced. Because she was raw, commanding and experienced. It may have taken the world a little too long to catch on to Sharon Jones, but she was well worth the wait.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings featuring Prince – “When I Come Home”

Leon Russell

Pianist, Singer, Songwriter
April 2, 1942–Nov. 13, 2016

A musician’s musician, Leon Russell was arguably the most sought-after session player of the 1960’s. During those years, he recorded with Eric Clapton, The Beach Boys (that’s him on “Pet Sounds”), Elton John, Ray Charles and dozens more. Now stop to consider those last two names for a moment. Elton John and Ray Charles, two of the greatest musicians ever to touch the keys, asked him to play piano on their records. Russell stepped out of the background and into the spotlight in the 1970’s when he launched a massively successful career as a solo artist (while still occasionally lending his considerable talents to friends like Bob Dylan and George Harrison).

Leon Russell & Friends – “A Song for You”

Victor Bailey

March 27, 1960–Nov. 11, 2016

There’s a belief among musicians that people from Philly are naturally gifted with an ear for harmony. Victor Bailey proved that to be true every time his picked up his bass. He rose to fame in 1982 when he took the most daunting gig in the history of the bass guitar—replacing Jaco Pastorius in the jazz fusion group Weather Report. Rather than trying to copy Jaco’s style, Bailey brought his own sensibilities to the group, including that famous Philly ear for harmony. He went on to play with other jazz greats like Sonny Rollins, but eventually the pop world came calling and Bailey found himself touring and recording with artists including Lady Gaga, Madonna and Sting (himself no slouch on the bass).

Leonard Cohen

Singer, Songwriter, Poet
Sept. 21, 1934–Nov. 7, 2016

If Leonard Cohen had never released a single album, we’d be mourning him as one of the finest poets of his generation. Thankfully, Leonard Cohen did deviate from his original creative path as a poet and novelist. Instead, he focused his career on making music so personal and unique that no one but him could have written it. Arch, sexy and sardonic, the songs of Leonard Cohen were masterpieces of love and despair written by a true intellectual, for intellectuals.

Leonard Cohen performs “Suzanne” (from “Live at The Isle of Wight 1970”)

Bobby Vee

April 30, 1943–Oct. 24, 2016

Born Robert Thomas Velline, Bobby Vee was a teenage pop idol—essentially the Justin Bieber of the early 1960s. While Bieber got his start as a YouTube phenom, Bobby Vee began his career in a much grimmer, and much more incredible, fashion. On February 3, 1959 (aka “The Day the Music Died”), a plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed on the way to their gig in the small town of Moorhead, Minnesota, killing everyone on board. When the news struck, Bobby Vee, then just 15 years old, hastily assembled a band and volunteered to perform in Buddy Holly’s vacant slot. Incredibly, his offer was accepted. It turned out to be his big break—he was signed to a recording contract almost immediately and before the end of the year he was a superstar.

Pete Burns

Lead Singer | Dead or Alive
Aug. 5, 1959–Oct. 23, 2016

He was one of pop music’s first stars to completely reject the public’s preconceived notions of gender. Throughout his career, first as a singer and later as a TV presenter in his native England, Burns refused to answer questions that asked if he was gay, bi, trans or anything else related to his sexual identity. His enigmatic posture forced people to ask themselves why it mattered to them, or why it even mattered at all.

Rod Temperton

Songwriter, Keyboardist
Oct. 9, 1949–September/October 2016

Temperton wasn’t a household name in the United States, but his songs are among the most famous of all time. As a writer, he was the genius behind a slew of hits written for the likes of Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer. His first group, Heatwave, has him to thank for penning their hit singles “Boogie Nights” and “Always and Forever.” But it’s the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, who has Temperton to thank for “Thriller,” “Off the Wall,” and “Rock with You.” He was a great genius of songwriting and arguably the funkiest Englishman ever to grace the Earth.

How long with Rod Temperton’s music be remembered? Always and forever.

Trisco Pearson

Singer | Force M.D.’s
1962–Sept. 16, 2016

New York’s Force M.D.’s were pioneers of New Jack Swing, the genre that ushered in artists like Babyface, Bell Biv DeVoe and Bobby Brown. The group’s big break came when their song “Tender Love” was featured as the love theme from the 1985 film Krush Groove. The song was an instant classic; unabashedly romantic and, yes, incredibly tender. Trisco Pearson may have left this world, but people will be slow-dancing to “Tender Love” at weddings for the next hundred years.

Getting tender with Trisco Pearson and Force M.D.’s

Prince Buster

May 24, 1938–Sept. 8, 2016

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Prince Buster (aka Cecil Bustamente Campbell) was one of the earliest pioneers of Ska. His songs provided the foundation for an entire genre and were covered by some of its greatest artists, including Madness and The Specials. The musical legacy of the tiny island of Jamaica is famously, enormously outsized. Prince Buster was truly one of its giants.

“Enjoy Yourself” with Prince Buster

Juan Gabriel

Singer, Songwriter
Jan. 7, 1950–Aug. 28, 2016

The Mexican singer Alberto Aguilera Valadez, better known as Juan Gabriel, left the world a massive discography that spans back to 1971. Over the course of his career Gabriel sold more than 30 million albums worldwide. In 2016, he had both the highest-grossing Latin tour and best-selling Latin album of the year. Flamboyant and romantic, Juan Gabriel was one of Mexico’s most beloved entertainers.

Scotty Moore

Guitarist | Elvis Presley
Dec. 27, 1931–June 28, 2016

When Elvis Presley made his television debut in 1956, he introduced the world to rock n’ roll. Most people focused on the King’s suggestive dancing, but millions of musicians were paying attention to something else entirely. Anybody who played an instrument wondered how his band was making that sound. That sound was coming from the guy standing right behind the King, and his name was Scotty Moore. Up until that moment, he had been an occasional session player and recording engineer. But on June 5, 1956, Scotty Moore officially became the world’s first rock n’ roll guitar hero.

Scotty Moore (with some singer) performing “That’s All Right Mama”

Bernie Worrell

Keyboardist | Parliament-Funkadelic
April 19, 1944–June 24, 2016

Funk music has a weird history, to say the least. Weirdness, in fact, is one of its hallmarks. And there is no weirder band ever to grace this planet than the mighty Parliament-Funkadelic. So, it might surprise some people to learn that P-Funk’s mad genius on the keys cut his chops at two very un-funky institutions—the Juilliard School and New England Conservatory of Music. Worrell was a child prodigy and wrote his first concerto at the tender age of eight. Which makes you wonder what kind of music Mozart would have made if he was a funky brother in the 1970s.

Thomas Fekete

Guitarist | Surfer Blood
July 1, 1989–May 30, 2016

As a founding member of the Florida-based indie rock band Surfer Blood, Fekete was at the forefront of the band’s early success. During Fekete’s time in Surfer Blood, he played on three studio albums and toured extensively, getting the opportunity to play with some of his musical heroes including the Pixies. His time here was short, but he spent it living his dream.

Nick Menza

Drummer | Megadeth
July 23, 1964–May 21, 2016

Music was always in Nick Menza’s blood. His father was renowned jazz saxophonist Don Menza, who for a period played with another notable drummer, Buddy Rich. Nick made a living as a session drummer in a variety of genres, from R&B to gospel to funk. That was until 1989 when Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine tapped Menza to join the band as a full time member. His first record with Megadeth, “Rust in Peace” is considered a masterpiece. Menza spent the next 10 years making records with the group, a period many fans consider to be the golden era of the band.


June 7, 1958–April­ 21, 2016

Arguably the single greatest musical performer of all time, it’s impossible to overstate the talent and impact of Prince Rogers Nelson. He could dance like Michael, shred like Jimi and soul-shout like James. He had the skills to rank with the greatest men of modern music, but it was the bold embrace of his feminine identity that makes him so unique in musical history. As a recording artist, he had platinum hits in three different decades. As a live performer, he was simply the best in the world. There will never be another Prince.

In case you forgot, he was also one of the best guitarists in the world

Merle Haggard

Singer, Musician, Prison Escapee
April 6, 1937–April 6, 2016

He was known to many as the “Okie from Muskogee,” but in reality Merle Haggard was a California boy, born and bred. Don’t get the wrong idea, though—he didn’t spend his formative years surfing or doing yoga. Merle Haggard was a real outlaw, a barroom brawler from Bakersfield who drank too hard and loved even harder. He once escaped a county jail and was sent to San Quentin for two years for his troubles. This might have scandalized other performers, but America loves an outlaw and Merle was America’s Outlaw. In 1972, Ronald Reagan (then the governor of California) issued an unconditional pardon to Haggard for all the crimes he had, or may have, committed in the past. In 1973, President Richard Nixon had him perform for his wife’s birthday in the White House. His musical legacy is great, but his life itself is the stuff of legend.

Watch this escaped convict/armed robber entertain the President and First Lady. Only in America!

Phife Dawg

Rapper | A Tribe Called Quest
Nov. 20, 1970–March 22, 2016

Call him what you want: Phife Dawg, The Phifer, The Five-Footer or Malik Taylor—he will forever be known as the one of the co-founders of the legendary group A Tribe Called Quest. Phife appears on every single Tribe album including 2016’s “We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service.” After the group signed with Jive Records, they released their game-changing debut record “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.” A Tribe Called Quest quickly earned a following within the alternative hip-hop community due to their playful rapping, strange humor and laid back jazz rhythms. In the process, the group created a movement, and his influence continues to be felt to this day.

Keith Emerson

Songwriter, Keyboardist, Composer | Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Nov. 2, 1944–March 11, 2016

Keith Emerson was an incredibly accomplished musician whose devotion to music electrified arenas worldwide. Emerson, along with Greg Lake and Carl Palmer formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1970. The Englishmen incorporated complex arrangements with influences rooted in jazz and classical music. As one of the first prog rockers of the new decade, ELP broke new ground in what is now called “symphonic rock.” Simply put, Keith Emerson was one of the greatest keyboardist of all time.

Sir George Martin

Record Producer | The Beatles
Jan. 3, 1926–March 8, 2016

Paul McCartney has said that “if anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle, it was George.” The expertise that Martin injected into many Beatle recordings is one of the reasons why they are remembered as the greatest rock group ever. Martin’s contributions to songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” were lifted by his pioneering record production techniques, while string heavy tracks like “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yesterday” were elevated by his classical background. George Martin set the standard for what record production could accomplish in the hands of genius.

Maurice White

Singer, Songwriter | Earth, Wind & Fire
Dec. 19, 1941–Feb. 4, 2016

The disco craze filled clubs and bars all over the country with fiery dance anthems made for movin’ and groovin’. Singer, songwriter, bandleader and funk master Maurice White wrote many smash hits for Earth, Wind & Fire including “Shining Star,” “Sing a Song” and “September.” It’s impossible to imagine going to a wedding and not dancing to at least a few Earth, Wind & Fire songs. We have Maurice White to thank for that.

Paul Kantner

Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist | Jefferson Airplane / Jefferson Starship
March 17, 1941–Jan. 28, 2016

Jefferson Airplane’s music, including the anthems “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” was a crucial part of the soundtrack of the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. Paul Kantner’s performed those psychedelic hits with his band at both the Monterey Pop and Woodstock festivals. Following the disbandment of Airplane, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship and continued making music until his passing. In 1996, Kantner was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his bandmates from Jefferson Airplane.

Glenn Frey

Singer, Songwriter, Guitarist | Eagles
Nov. 6, 1948–Jan. 18, 2016

Founding Eagles member Glenn Frey began his career as a part of Linda Ronstadt’s backing band in 1970. That same year, Frey met drummer Don Henley and quickly formed a new group with Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon. The original incarnation of the Eagles achieved instant success from the Frey penned single “Take It Easy.” From then on, the band has become one of the world’s best-selling acts ever, selling more than 150 million records worldwide.

David Bowie

Jan. 8, 1947­–Jan. 10, 2016

He was rock n roll’s first true artist, and perhaps it’s unlikeliest superstar. When Bowie first shot to stardom he was performing as a character, an alien called Ziggy Stardust. Just as soon as audiences decided they loved Ziggy, he killed him off in concert and never resurrected him. Instead, Bowie went on to reinvent himself time and again, taking unprecedented risks with his career that no musician before him would have dared. Incredibly, he was able to bring his audience with him every time. He followed up “Diamond Dogs”—one of the greatest glam rock albums ever—with “Young Americans,” a straight-up soul record that he co-wrote with Luther Vandross and John Lennon. He then moved to Germany and made experimental records with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno (in the process, pioneering the use of synthesizers in music). After that, he shifted gears completely and recorded “Let’s Dance” with Nile Rodgers, perhaps the most sophisticated pop record ever made. What’s truly amazing is that Bowie didn’t just have the courage to work in different genres, it was that he was so great in all of them. His influence and his artistry tower above any other single individual in the history of rock.

David Bowie performs “Five Years”

Lemmy Kilmister

Singer, Bassist | Motörhead
Dec. 24, 1945–Dec. 28, 2015

The Motörhead frontman known as Lemmy (born Ian Fraser Kilmister) passed away at the very end of 2015 but the celebration of his wild life was remembered throughout 2016. Since 1975, the music of Motorhead has left its footprint on metal, punk and hard rock with Lemmy leading the way at every turn. Remember to play “Ace of Spades” as loud as you can this holiday season.

Motörhead vs. The Young Ones

Post written by Anthony Gordon and Jonathan Reynoso.
Poster designed by Joan Bowlen.