1996 Music Obituaries

Compiled by George Graham

And so we come to another of our year-end traditions, listing some of the significant figures in the music world who passed away during the year, and there were quite a few, especially in the world of jazz, where we lost: vocalist extrordinaire Ella Fitzgerald; baritone saxophonist, composer and arranger Gerry Mulligan; Mercer Ellington, the trumpet playing son of Duke Ellington who led his father's band after Duke Ellington passed away in 1975, and who was responsible for composing some of the Ellington band's well-known compositions; Jimmy Rowles, a fine pianist and composer; guitarist Ike Isaacs, best known for hiw work with the innovative vocal group Lambert Hendricks and Ross; pianist Don Grolnick, whose career spanned both jazz and pop, including arranging and producing James Taylor; band leader Ray Weston whose career ranged from the golden days of radio to comedy recordings with his wife Jo Stafford of purposely off-key singing; multi-instrumentalist and composer Eddie Harris, an early innovator in electrifying jazz; and organist Bill Doggett, a jazz band leader who had a big early rock & R&B hit with the tune Honky Tonk, parts 1 & 2. We also lost two influential non-musicians long associated with jazz, Voice of America worldwide jazz broadcaster Willis Conover, who was often called the "voice of jazz;" and record producer Bob Thiele, a remarkably versatile studio artist who is the only man to have produced albums by both John Coltrane, including most of Coltrane's most significant releases for Impulse Records, and Lawrence Welk.

From the rock world, we lost Chas Chandler, original drummer with The Animals; drummer John Panozzo, a founding member of Styx; Kevin Gilbert, a member of Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club band; Jonathan Melvoin of the Smashing Pumpkins; Don Murray, a drummer who was a founder of the Crossfires, who later became the Turtles; Mel Taylor, for more than 30 years the drummer with the Ventures; and Walter Hyatt, who perished in the ValuJet disaster, a founder of the Texas folk-rock group Uncle Walt's Band. Also another record producer, David Briggs, known for his long association with Neil Young.

From the blues world, we note the passing of Johnny "Guitar" Watson, fretman and composer; William Clarke, one of the great up-and-coming blues harmonica men; pianist Roosevent "Booba" Barnes; and Walter "Brownie" McGhee, acoustic blues innovator long known for his partnership with the late Sonny Terry.

From country and bluegrass, during 1996 we lost Minnie Pearl, comedienne and singer who was long a fixture on the Grand Ole Opry; Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music; John Duffey, bluegrass mandolinist and founder of the Seldon Scene; Patsy Montana, country yodeller extrordinaire; and singer Faron Young, whose career spanned the 1950s through the 1990s, who died tragically at his own hand.

Other significant figures who died during 1996 include song and dance man Gene Kelly, and band leader Les Baxter, whose 1950s exotic instrumentals were the staples of hi-fi cocktail parties no doubt laid the groundwork for the dabblings with world music that are a big part of the New Age scene these days. The year brought the well-publicized death of rapper Tupac Shakur. We also lost classical composer and ASCAP president Morton Gould, and near the end of the year, two lyricists who created words we all know: Irving Caesar, who died December 17 at the age of 101 penned the lyrics for Tea for Two, Swanee, and Sometimes I'm Happy. And we lost another writer named Irving, Irving Gordon, a composer and lyricist whose work includes the song Unforgettable, the Nat King Cole hit, the lyrics to Prelude to a Kiss, the Ellington standard. As perhaps his most memorable entry into the public consciousness, Irving Gordon wrote Abbot and Costello's famous "Who's on First" routine.

(c) Copyright 1997 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.

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