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COVID-19 Takes a Terrible Toll on the Music Community

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the musical community. Some of the victims are well known and some obscure. Following is what certainly is a small sampling of those who have died. The list was compiled from stories in Billboard, The Current and Legacy.com.

The true horror of the pandemic is brought home when looking at the names of lives cut short and loved ones left behind.

Tommy DeVito: “DeVito was born on June 19, 1928 in Belleville, New Jersey, the youngest of nine children of immigrants from Italy. By age 8, he had taught himself to play guitar. He was performing with his brother Nick and Hank Majewski as the Variety Trio in the early ’50s when Valli joined the band. In 1956, the rechristened Four Lovers had enough of a hit with “Apple of My Eye” that they were invited to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.”–Variety

William Pursell: William Whitney Pursell (June 9, 1926 – September 3, 2020) was an American composer and onetime session pianist.[1] He had a brief but successful career as a pop musician before continuing on as a session player. He is best known for the top ten hit “Our Winter Love.”–Wikipedia

Trini Lopez

Trini Lopez: Mr. Lopez’s two biggest records — “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree” — had both been hits as well for the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary several years earlier. But Mr. Lopez’s versions soared even higher on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.–New York Times

Dave Greenfield: “…By now I would have seen images of punk rockers … but they looked like circus entertainers compared to [the Stranglers]. They looked too old to be punk. They looked like the sort of people you pass in the street and your mother puts her arm round you, stares at the pavement and doubles her walking speed…The point at which it all got too much was when the camera cut to Dave Greenfield – who has died from Covid-19 aged 71 – jabbing his keyboard while looking straight ahead with what seemed, beyond doubt, to be the eyes of a murderer, an effect somehow compounded by the army-surplus boiler suit he had decided to wear.–The Guardian

Nick Cordero: “…Mr. Cordero, who was born September 17, 1978, in Hamilton, Ontario, made his Broadway debut in 2012 when he stepped into the roles of Dennis and Record Company Man in the Tony-nominated musical Rock of Ages. He subsequently created the role of Cheech, the tap-dancing, theatre-loving gangster in the Woody Allen musical Bullets Over Broadway in 2014. In his review for The New York Times, Ben Brantley said, “Mr. Cordero never pushes for effect, even when he’s leading a homicidal dance number to ‘’Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do.’ And somehow, this dopey, mass-murdering thug and the actor playing him stand out as being far more endearingly earnest than anybody else.”–Playbill

Troy Sneed: “Sneed traveled throughout the United States early in his career to sing the gospel with the Georgia Mass Choir. He arranged music on their albums and appeared with the choir in 1996 film “The Preacher’s Wife,” starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.”–USA Today

DJ Mike Huckaby: “In many ways, Mike Huckaby was the glue that bound Detroit’s electronic music scenes together. Other Motor City exports may have more international name recognition—like techno innovators Juan Atkins or Derrick May or house titans Moodymann and Theo Parrish—but it would be hard to find anyone more respected and beloved by his fellow Detroiters than the soft-spoken man known as “Huck.”–Pitchfork

Fred the Godson: “Fred the Godson was born Frederick Thomas on February 22, 1985 in the South Bronx, N.Y. Fred first broke out in 2010 with Armageddon, a mixtape that heavily echoed earlier eras of New York rap with samples of the Notorious B.I.G. remix of Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” and boasted features from Busta Rhymes, Waka Flocka Flame and Cam’ron. The buzz from that tape earned Fred a spot on the 2011 XXL Freshman Class, alongside Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Mac Miller and YG.”–NPR

John Prine

John Prine: “As a songwriter, Prine was admired by Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and others, known for his ability to mine seemingly ordinary experiences — he wrote many of his classics as a mailman in Maywood, Illinois — for revelatory songs that covered the full spectrum of the human experience. There’s “Hello in There,” about the devastating loneliness of an elderly couple; “Sam Stone,” a portrait of a drug-addicted Vietnam soldier suffering from PTSD; and “Paradise,” an ode to his parents’ strip-mined hometown of Paradise, Kentucky, which became an environmental anthem. Prine tackled these subjects with empathy and humor, with an eye for “the in-between spaces,” the moments people don’t talk about, he told Rolling Stone in 2017. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan said in 2009. “Midwestern mind-trips to the nth degree.”–Rolling Stone

Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne: “He was a great musical artist in a way that’s often overlooked, less the model of a visionary outsider than that of the disciplined craftsperson, like an extraordinary furniture maker, in whose hands the unity of form and function becomes the poetry. He never seemed to covet stardom—someone else was always the frontman—but from behind the scenes, for instance providing the songs that made Tom Hanks’ fictional Beatlesque Wonders a real-world hit with “That Thing You Do!” in 1996 or Josie and the Pussycats their make-believe breakthrough in the 2001 movie, he gradually accumulated Grammy and Emmy and Oscar and Tony award nominations and wins that recognized his quiet labors.–Slate

Joe Diffie: “Though he had numerous hits under his belt, Diffie truly hit his commercial stride in 1993 with the release of “Honky Tonk Attitude,” his first platinum album. Between it and the platinum follow-up, “Third Rock From The Sun,” he scored six more Top 10 hits, including the chart-topping “Third Rock” title track and ode to rock stardom, “Bigger Than The Beatles.”–Tennessean

Matthew Seligman: “Seligman was a bassist, and he was a member of several different bands in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club, The Soft Boys, the Thompson Twins, and The Fallout Club, but it was the latter band which led him into one of the longest working relationships of his career, as it found him playing alongside Thomas Dolby. Seligman would go on to appear on more of Dolby’s albums than not, including THE GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS and THE FLAT EARTH, which is to say that, yes, he does play on “She Blinded Me with Science.” But it wasn’t merely Dolby’s work that featured performances by Seligman: you can hear his top-shelf playing on efforts by Tori Amos, Morrissey, Peter Murphy, Sinead O’Connor, Stereo MC’s, Transvision Vamp, the Waterboys, and many others.”–Rhino

Lee Konitz

Lee Konitz: “Lee Konitz was one of the most distinctive alto saxophonists in jazz since Charlie Parker (and one of the few that did not outright copy Parker’s style), pairing his individual style and voice with a strong sense of innovation.” —National Endowment for the Arts

Ellis Marsalis: “Although he gained fame and renown in the 1980s, when his sons Branford and trumpeter Wynton were the talk of the jazz world, Marsalis was widely known and beloved by jazz musicians around the globe well before that, despite his firm entrenchment in New Orleans. In part, this was because of his teaching positions at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) and several of the city’s universities, through which he mentored a generation of musicians, including Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick Jr., and Jon Batiste.”–JazzTimes

Bucky Pizzarelli: “A longtime jazz institution in the greater New York area and a lifelong resident of New Jersey, Pizzarelli was revered for the technical aplomb that enabled him to combine intricate runs, full chordal accompaniment and even his own walking bass lines. His rock-solid rhythmic footing and broad harmonic understanding were hallmarks of a warmly understated style that always drew attention to the song he was playing, rather than the playing itself.”–NPR

Wallace Roney: “Already an accomplished and recognized musician during his youth in Washington, D.C., Roney broke through to the wider world at the tail end of the 1980s’ “Young Lions” era as a sideman for two drummers: Art Blakey and Tony Williams, in both of whose bands he played. He began his own solo career in 1987, and by the early 1990s was considered a major figure in jazz. His work included 22 albums under his own name as well as more than 100 recordings as a sideman.” —JazzTimes

Alan Merrill: “Merrill went on to write “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”—an un-ironic and unabashed love ode to rock music—which became one of the defining songs of its generation and has since been covered by everyone from Joan Jett to Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. A parody version of the song, “I Love Sausage Rolls,” which was produced to raise money for charity, became the top Christmas hit in the U.K. last year.”–Marketwatch

Manu Dibango

Manu Dibango: “The musician Manu Dibango, who has died aged 86 after contracting Covid-19, covered a vast spectrum of styles, from traditional African roots music to jazz, soul, Afrobeat, reggae, gospel, French chanson, Congolese rumba, salsa and solo piano. Most importantly, he was a founding father of funk.”–The Guardian

Eddy Davis: “Beloved traditional jazz banjoist and “Manhattan Minstrel” Eddy Davis died of Covid-19 on April 7th. He contracted the virus while visiting an ER after a fall. Most recently he led The Woody Allen/Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band at the Cafe Carlyle on Mondays until the start of the quarantine in New York.”–The Syncopated Times

DJ Black N Mild (Oliver Stokes Jr.): “Stokes had been a DJ for over 25 years, and spent most of them championing the bounce sound, the raucous, oft-X-rated hip-hop offshoot popularized by artists like Big Freedia and Nicky da B, the latter of whom worked with Diplo on 2012’s Express Yourself’, which became a minor hit. Stokes was one of the first to bring the sound to New Orleans’s radio-listening public in the early ’00s. Later, he’d hosted Rhythm & Bounce, a show on that city’s WBOK, while spinning at clubs throughout the region.”–DJ

Hal Willner: “Among the artists for whom Willner produced albums were Marianne Faithfull (recently diagnosed with her own bout of COVID-19), Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed (including his final major studio release, “Ecstasy”) and Lucinda Williams.”–Variety 

Mike Longo: “As recently as 2017, Longo was leading three bands: the Mike Longo Trio, the 17-piece New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble and a sextet called the Mike Longo Funk Band. In addition to many recordings he put out as a bandleader, Longo’s discography included work with Astrud Gilberto, Lee Konitz, James Moody and Buddy Rich.”–Downbeat

Chris Trousdale: “Trousdale was also an actor who began his career on the stage at 8, doing a tour of “Les Miserables” with Ashley Tisdale and the Broadway production alongside Lea Michele. After DreamStreet’s breakup, he went on to make episodic television appearances on shows like “Shake It Up” and “Austin & Ally.”–Variety

Dulce Nunes: “Dulce Nunes seemed poised to become a movie star, with her face plastered on the cover of national magazines and a high-profile marriage to one of Brazilian cinema’s leading men. But instead she took a detour into singing, releasing a trio of popular albums in the 1960s that capitalized on the surging popularity of bossa nova.”–artdaily

Ty: “Best known for his sophomore album Upwards, which was nominated for the 2004 Mercury Prize, the rapper Ty, who has died aged 47 after contracting the coronavirus, was a mild-mannered and thoughtful performer who gained a committed following for spitting rhymes that denounced the world’s woes over funky, jazz-oriented beats.”–The Independent

Cosmas Magaya: “Raised in the rural areas of Mhondoro-Ngezi, Magaya was playing mbira in the legendary ensemble Mhuri yekwaRwizi in Harare in 1971, when a young ethnomusicologist named Paul Berliner arrived in town. Magaya became Berliner’s principle mbira teacher, and then a central character in Berliner’s seminal 1978 book The Soul of Mbira. He also performed on the Nonesuch Explorer albums of that era that served as the introduction to mbira music for so many around the world.”–Afropop Worldwide

Tanio Mendonca: “A composer and director for Mocidade Independente, considered one of Rio’s top-flight samba colleges, Mr. Mendonça lived for Carnaval. The so-called colleges are literally thousands-strong parade groups from Rio’s poor neighborhoods that every yr mount the over-the-top spectacles within the Sambadrome parade space which have helped to offer Rio’s Carnaval its fame.”–24 News Order

Cristina

Cristina: “Cristina was persuaded by her soon-to-be husband Michael Zilkha to sing on a single for his record label ZE Records. Released in 1978 and produced by John Cale, the song was a cult hit on the New York City underground scene. In 1981, she released the alternative underground Christmas song “Things Fall Apart.” Her last proper release was the 1984 album “Sleep it Off” which featured new wave pop instead of the disco sound on her past work. Produced by Don Was, the album was critically acclaimed.”–Legacy.com

Vincent Lionti: “Vincent was a graduate of Blindbrook High School and the Juilliard School of Music and was a violist for Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 32 years. He conducted the Westchester Youth Symphony and was an integral part of many other musical programs including the Westchester Camerata and the Downton Sinfonietta of White Plains.”–Legacy

David S. Boe: “Oberlin’s expansive, world-renowned collection of organs—more than 30 in all—and the conservatory’s famed emphasis on historical performance can be traced in part to Boe’s unwavering passion. His leadership, together with that of his Organ Department colleagues, resulted in the acquisition of Fairchild Chapel’s Mary McIntosh Bridge Memorial Organ (crafted by John Brombaugh, Opus 25) in 1981 and Finney Chapel’s Kay Africa Memorial Organ (C.B. Fisk, Opus 116), installed in 2001.”–Oberlin

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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