Remembering the musicians who passed in 2020
By Peter Alexander Dec. 30 at 5:50 p.m.
Here is my annual remembrance of musicians that we the living lost in the past year. Rather than grief that they have left us, I invite you to experience gratitude that they were here in the first place. We should reflect upon the blessings that each and every one of them bestowed on the rest of us.
As always, my list is often quite personal. I may not include those that you will miss the most, and you are always welcome to add your own memories in the comments.
Jan. 1: Jaap Schröder, Dutch violinist and conductor who was a historical performance pioneer, first as a member of Concerto Amsterdam with Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen, later as director and concertmaster of the Academy of Ancient Music, 94
Jan. 2: Joan Benson, clavichordist who once studied at Interlochen with Percy Grainger, and later in Europe with Olivier Messiaen, taught at Stanford and Oregon, and as an early advocate of the music of CPE Bach was one of the first artists to record on the clavichord, 94
Jan. 15: Bruno Nettl, distinguished ethnomusicologist and one of the original members of the Society for Ethnomusicology, professor and later professor emeritus at the University of Illinois from 1964 until his death and the recipient of many honors and honorary degrees, 89
Jan. 16: Barry Tuckwell, Australian horn player who spent most of his professional life in England, including 13 years as first horn of the London Symphony Orchestra, which he left in 1968 to pursue a career as soloist and conductor, 88
Feb. 1: Peter Serkin, pianist descended from the eminent pianist Rudolf Serkin and the legendary violinist Adolf Busch, who early found the heritage a burden but later founded the chamber group Tashi and was known for his thoughtful performances of contemporary music, 72
Feb. 9: Mirella Freni, beloved Italian prima donna who sang mostly lyric soprano roles around the world for nearly 50 years, won her first vocal competition at the age of 12, started with the lighter roles, made Mimì in La Bohème her signature part in which she made her 1963 Metropolitan Opera debut, and was most recently active as a teacher, 84
Feb. 10: Lyle Mays, jazz keyboard player who was the driving force and principle composer of the Pat Metheny Group, and a winner of 11 Grammy Awards, 66
Feb. 11: Joseph Shabalala, founder and director of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who brought Zulu music to world prominence, especially through their collaboration with Paul Simon on his album “Graceland” and their own Grammy-winning album “Shaka Zulu,” 78
Feb. 29: Bill/William O. Smith, clarinetist and composer who (as Bill) had a career as a jazz player who collaborated extensively with Dave Brubeck, and (as William O.) performed and composed ground-breaking, virtuosic new music for clarinet and developed advanced techniques for the instrument, 93
March 6: McCoy Tyner, jazz pianist who was one of the leading figures of modern jazz in the 1960s and played in John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet, 81
March 6: Elinor Ross, a soprano remembered for a spectacular debut at the Metropolitan Opera, stepping in for Birgit Nilsson in Turandot in 1970, and a career cut short nine years later by Bell’s palsy, having sung many other roles at the Met, 93
March 9: Anton Coppola, an opera conductor who sang in the US premiere of Turandot and later wrote an ending for Puccini’s last opera, wrote his own opera Sacco and Vanzetti at the suggestion of his son, the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and conducted with opera companies in New York, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa, 102
March 11: Charles Wuorinen, fiercely 12-tone composer of works for major orchestras and operas on Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Seas of Stories and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 at the age of 31, and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, 81
March 14: Doriot Anthony Dwyer, who became only the second woman to hold a principal chair in a major U.S Orchestra in 1952 when she was appointed principal flutist of the Boston Symphony, a position she held for nearly 40 years, 98
March 20: Kenny Rogers, the legendary genre-spanning country/pop singer who, over a career spanning six decades, sold more than 100 million records, including 21 no. 1 country hits, two of which were also no. 1 pop hits, and numerous songs on the pop top-40 chart, 81
March 22: Eric Weissberg, multi-instrumental bluegrass musician best known for his 1973 recording “Dueling Banjos,” which made it to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, and who was also a highly successful session musician who worked with John Denver, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Herbie Mann and others, 80
March 24, Edward Tarr, musicologist and trumpet player who discovered and edited for performance many unknown works, and whose research and elegant performances helped lead the revival of the natural trumpet in Baroque music, 83
March 29: Krzysztof Penderecki, Polish composer and conductor whose music defied categorization, first known for his Threnody ‘For the Victims of Hiroshima’, also the composer of eight symphonies, four operas, the Polish Requiem, St. Luke Passion and other choral works, and whose music appeared in films including The Exorcist and The Shining, 86
April 1: Ellis Marsalis, supremely influential jazz musician from New Orleans who helped bring about the late 20th-century jazz revival, both through his own work and through the impact and artistry of his four sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (sax), Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drums); from the complications of the coronavirus, 85
April 7: John Prine, country/folk singer discovered by Kris Kristofferson in 1970, known for hard-hitting songs of desperation and loneliness, like “Sam Stone” about a drug-addicted Vietnam War veteran, and “Angel from Montgomery”; from the complications of the coronavirus, 73
April 8: Nicholas Temperley, English-American musical scholar and long-time professor of musicology at the University of Illinois, known for his research in British music, especially of the Victorian age, 87
April 22: Peter Jonas, impresario who led the English National Opera in London 1985–93 and the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich 1993–2006, known for encouraging directors and designers to create productions that were surprising and innovative, 73
April 27: Lynn Harrell, Texas-born cellist who joined the Cleveland Orchestra at 18 and served as principal cellist for seven years prior to launching a major international solo career in 1971, winner of the Avery Fisher Prize and a Grammy Award, and an influential teacher at several institutions including Juilliard and the Royal Academy of Music, 76
April 29: Martin Lovett, cellist and last living member of the legendary Amadeus Quartet, which remarkably retained its four founding members throughout a 40-year career (1947–87), due to complications fromCOVID-19, 93
May 3: Rosalind Elias, the youngest of 13 children who was able to pursue her dream of singing opera, including more than 50 roles and 687 performances with the Metropolitan Opera between 1965 and 1996, and made her Broadway debut in 2011 at the age of 81, in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, 81
May 7: John Macurdy, bass whose career of 38 years and 1001 performances at the Metropolitan opera encompassed 62 roles, from Sarastro in The Magic Flute to world premieres, singing at the farewell concert at the Old Met in 1966 and the opening of the New Met in Lincoln Center later the same year, 91
May 9: Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard, the flamboyant, supercharged rock star whose whoops and wild energy transformed rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s with “Tutti Frutti” and other hits, and who continued to perform, with interruptions, until 2012, and influenced almost everyone who came after him, from the Beatles to Freddie Mercury to Prince, 87
May 13: Gabriel Bacquier, French baritone, known for his performances of French opera and song as well as major Italian-language roles from Mozart to Puccini, who had performed world wide, 95
May 19: Bert Bial, long-time contrabassoonist and de facto official photographer of the New York Philharmonic, whose countless unstaged photos, many taken from his chair in the orchestra, among other memorable subjects showed members of the orchestra, Leonard Bernstein with Dmitry Shostakovich and Michael Jackson, Zubin Mehta with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, and many guest soloists, 93
May 25: Joel Revzen, a staff conductor at the Metropolitan Opera and former conductor of the Minnesota Chorale and the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and assistant conductor of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, due to complications from COIVD-19, 74
June 18: Vera Lynn, English singer known during World War II as the “Forces’ Sweetheart,” beloved of British troops and Britons at home and known particularly for “We’ll Meet Again” and “(There’s Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover,” 103
July 6: Ennio Morricone, Italian composer of film scores for spaghetti westerns, most notably Sergio Leone’s so-called “Dollars Trilogy” that featured the universally recognized ocarina-colored theme song, but also hundreds of other films by a long list of directors, winner of an Oscar for lifetime achievement and numerous other international awards, 91
July 6: Charlie Daniels, country/rock fiddler, singer, songwriter and leader of the Charlie Daniels Band, known for hits including No. 1 country single “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and for politics that swung from an early hippie outlook (“Long-Haired Country Boy”) to a later avidly right-wing stance (“A Few More Rednecks”), 83
July 9: Gabriella Tucci, Italian soprano who was a mainstay at major opera houses around the world, including 13 seasons at the Metropolitan opera, who sang dramatic roles including Aida and Tosca, as well as coloratura roles, 90
July 28: Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, known as Bent Fabric, Danish composer of the instrumental hit “Alley Cat,” better known at home as the composer of music for more than 70 films and TV shows, as well as music for ballet and theater, 95
Aug. 2: Leon Fleisher, the remarkable American pianist who rose to fame as a highly acclaimed artist until focal dystonia in his right hand —potentially caused by over practicing—forced him to play with the left hand alone, until he regained the use of his right hand 30 years later, and who taught masterclasses until his very final days, 92
Aug. 11: Trini Lopez, American singer/guitarist who combined Latin, American folk and rockabilly styles in a number of top hits in the 1960s, and who continued to record albums until 2011, from complications of Covid-19, 83
Aug. 14: Julian Bream, widely heralded English guitar and lute player who expanded the guitar repertoire backward in time by taking up the lute, and forward in time by commissioning new works from major composers, and out into the classical era with his transcriptions of Bach, Schubert and other composers, 87
Aug. 7: Constance Weldon, who became the first woman tuba player in a major orchestra when she joined the Boston Pops in 1955, served as acting principal of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra while studying in the Netherlands, and later played with the Kansas City Philharmonic and taught at the University of Miami, 88
Sept. 16: Stanley Crouch, jazz and social critic who linked jazz and democracy, and whose life encompassed the 1965 Watts race riots, several years as a Black nationalist, work as a newspaper columnist and a novelist, helping to launch Jazz at Lincoln Center, and ultimately winning a MacArthur Foundation award, 74
Sept. 28: Maynard Solomon, musicologist and record producer, founder in 1950 of pioneering Vanguard Records, known for signing blacklisted performers including Paul Robeson and The Weavers during the McCarthy era, and the author of influential if controversial biographies of Beethoven and Mozart that were both admired and criticized for their Freudian analyses of their subjects, 90
Oct. 6: Eddie Van Halen, lead guitarist and co-founder of the self-titled rock band Van Halen, who was known for his exuberant and dazzling guitar style that made him one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, and who was No. 1 on the Guitar World Magazine’s 2012 list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” 65
Oct. 19: Spencer Davis, leader and rhythm guitarist of the Spencer Davis Group, author of several big hits of the ‘60s including “Gimme some Lovin,’” who discovered and introduced Steve Winwood, and whose music was most popular in England, 81
Oct. 21: Viola Smith, who went from drummer with the Schmitz Sisters Family Orchestra of Wisconsin to the “hep girl” of the swing era, overcoming considerable prejudice against women drummers in the jazz world of the 1930s and ‘40s, later performing in the “Kit Kat Band” jazz quartet in Cabaret on Broadway, 107
Nov. 25: Camilla Wicks, a child violin prodigy in the 1940s who successfully became a major virtuoso at a time when most serious violinists were men, she became a recognized soloist, took a break in the late ‘50s to raise five children, and later became a respected teacher, 92
Dec. 12: Charley Pride, the first great Black star of Country Music, winner of the CMA entertainer of the year award in 1971, with 51 records in the country Top 10, of Covid-19, 86
NB: Edited to add links to performances by some of the named musicians Dec. 30 and 31.
Thanks, Peter!! And sadly, Claude Bolling died about 38 hours ago at age 90…….
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks to everyone who has posted here. Claude Bolling was too late to make this year’s list, but that is an sad loss—much to be grateful for, much to lament.
Thank you for this, Peter. With all the chaos this year, there are a number of artists that I had forgotten, or simply didn’t know, had passed! Many wonderful memories!
Thank you for this year-end summary and your ongoing work to keep us all informed. Hope we all have a happier new year!
Thanks for this update on who we lost in 2020. I watch your site and enjoy your comments.