Musical artists we lost in 2021

Remembering those we lost over the past year

By Peter Alexander Dec. 30 at 2:15 p.m.

Below is my annual remembrance of musicians that we the living lost over the past year. Let us take a moment to feel gratitude for each one who touched us individually and collectively over their lives and careers. This list is of course not compprehensive. As always, it is quite personal. I may not include those whom you will miss most, and if so I invite you to add your own memories in the comments. 

Gerry Marsden

Jan. 3: Gerry Marsden, lead singer, guitarist and founder of Gerry & the Pacemakers, a Merseybeat group that was created in Liverpool, UK, in the 1950s and disbanded in 1966, and whose version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” became the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club, 78

Jan. 6: Osian Ellis, Welsh harpist with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Melos Ensemble, who had a close musical partnership with Benjamin Britten, 92

Jan. 14: Elijah Moshinsky, celebrated Australian opera director who staged many productions at the Royal Opera House in London, as well as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Scottish Opera, Opera Australia, Teatro all Scala and the Wiener Staatsoper, among others, 75

Sammy Nestico

Jan. 17: Phil Spector, renowned music producer who developed the “wall of sound,” producer of recordings by the Ronettes, Ike & Tina Tuner, and the Beatles “Let It Be” album; while serving a 19-year sentence for murder, 81

Jan. 17: Sammy Nestico, prolific American composer and arranger for Count Basie, the U.S. Air Force and Marine bands in Washington, D.C., and trombonist for the Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa and other big bands, 96

Mary Wilson

Feb. 8: Mary Wilson, founding member and linchpin of The Supremes, one of the greatest and most influential of the Motown groups, from their first hit in 1963 and in all of their 12 No. 1 hits, 76

Feb. 9: Chick Corea, a virtuoso keyboard player who had great impact on the world of jazz, through both his creativity and his enjoyment of performing, and who worked with jazz artists from Stan Getz to Miles Davis before forming his own electric band, “Return to Forever,” 79

March 2: Bunny Wailer, born Neville Livingston, one of the original members of the esteemed and highly influential Wailers trio with Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, with whom he grew up as a near-stepbrother, and who won the Grammy for best Reggae Album three times, 73

Bunny Wailer

March 9: James Levine, one of the most admired conductors of the late 20th and early 21st centuries who over a 47-year tenure built the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera into one of the world’s best, until he was sidelined by health issues and fired after a long history of sexual improprieties caught up with him; loved by opera singers and Met audiences alike; also music director of the Chicago Symphony’s Ravinia Festival 1973–93, the Munich Philharmonic 1999–2004, and the Boston Symphony 2004–11; followed by accounts of abuse of younger men dating back to his student years, he was suspended and then fired by the Met when those accounts became public and subject to investigation, 77

March 13: Kenneth Cooper, harpsichordist and musical scholar, founder of the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, known for performing Baroque music with flair and creativity, 79

Christa Ludwig

April 7: Wayne Peterson, composer, professional jazz musician and professor of composition at San Francisco State University for more than 30 years who won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in composition, sparking a controversy because the Pulitzer committee had rejected the recommendation of the music jury, 93

April 24: Christa Ludwig, German mezzo-soprano known for both insightful opera and intimate art-song performances; loved by her fans and often called the greatest mezzo of her time, her diverse roles included Dorabella in Così fan tutte, Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro and Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, 93

April 26: Al Schmitt, multiple Grammy-winning recording engineer who produced recordings by Jefferson Airplane, Al Jarreau and Eddie Fischer, among others, and recorded Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, and other artists over a span of 60 years, 91

Martin Bookspan

April 28: Paul Kellogg, a creative and imaginative opera impresario who led the Glimmerglass Opera from 1979—with no previous administrative experience—until 2006, and later the New York City Opera from 1996 until 2007, 84

April 29: Martin Bookspan, the voice of radio broadcasts of the Boston Symphony and the New York Philharmonic and announcer for “Live from Lincoln Center,” also an announcer for a soap opera and the author of books on music, among other careers, 94

Gianna Rolandi

June 20: Gianna Rolandi, American coloratura soprano known for her performances as Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and the title roles of Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, among other roles, during a career mostly centered on the New York City Opera, 68

June 20: Jeanne Lamon, violinist and for 33 years director of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra of Toronto, which became an international center for Baroque performance and brought their multi-media performance “Tales of Two Cities: the Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House” to Macky Auditorium in March 2019, 71

June 21: Mimi Stern-Wolfe, for many years a fixture of musical life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan who presented an annual concert of music by composers lost to AIDS, the founder of Downtown Music Productions, which presented concerts of music by women, music of the Holocaust, and other performances exploring lesser known realms, 84

June 26: Frederic Rzewski, composer of 36 variations on the Chilean protest song The People United will Never be Defeated, one of the great piano pieces of the past century, and himself a virtuoso pianist, known for his leftwing political convictions as well as his numerous musical works, 83

Frederic Rzewski

July 1: Louis Andriessen, Dutch composer influenced by Stravinsky, American minimalism and bebop, whose output included film music, two operas and other stage works, and what he called “big symphonic works . . . using the materials of the vernacular,” 82

July 9: Gil Wechsler, the first resident lighting designer at the Metropolitan Opera whose lighting designs were featured in more than 100 Met productions from 1977 until 1996, including some of the most lavish shows in the company’s history, 79

Jean Kraft. Photo by Douglas Merriam

July 15: Jean Kraft, American mezzo-soprano who sang 784 performances at the Metropolitan Opera from 1970 to 1989, including 11 telecasts and more than 75 radio broadcasts, in addition to performances at the Santa Fe Opera, Central City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera and Vienna State Opera, 94

July 17: Graham Vick, British opera director known for his efforts to reach new audiences, through diverse casting and use of non-traditional performing spaces, and his founding of Birmingham Opera, where he gave performances in English and kept ticket prices low, but who also directed productions at Glyndebourne, the Met, and other major houses, 67

July 20: Jerry Granelli, jazz drummer from Halifax, Nova Scotia , who was the last surviving member of the Vince Guaraldi Trio that recorded the music for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and who as a session drummer played with jazz artists including Bill Evans and Bill Frisell, and also with Sly Stone, the Kingston Trio and the Grateful Dead, 80

Igor Oistrakh

Aug. 14: Igor Oistrakh, Russian violinist who performed and recorded extensively in the West throughout the Cold War, a member of the Oistrakh violin dynasty along with his father, David, and son, Valery, 90

August 14: Hugh Wood, British composer of symphonic, chamber and vocal works, largely unknown outside Great Britain, where he was well respected and received many commissions, 89

August 14: R. Murray Schafer, Canadian composer known for his concept of the soundscape and a leader in the field of acoustic ecology, founder of the World Soundscape Project, 88

August 21: Don Everly, the last surviving member of the Everly Brothers vocal duo who hit peak teen stardom in the late 1950s with hits including “Wake Up Little Susie” and ”Cathy’s Clown,” but were eclipsed in the early ‘60s by the Beatles and the other mega-groups of that decade, leading to a dramatic onstage breakup in 1973, 84

August 24: Charlie Watts, for more than 50 years the solid, un-flamboyant and jazz-inflected drummer of the Rolling Stones, who as a trained graphic artist also designed some of the Stone’s album covers, 80

Charlie Watts

Sept. 2: Mikis Theodorakis, Greek composer known internationally for his film music, including scores for Zorba the Greek, Z and Serpico, who also fought a war of resistance against the Greek military junta that took power in 1967, leading to his arrest and temporary banishment from Greece, 96

Paddy Maloney

Sept. 30: Carlisle Floyd, composer-librettist from the South best known for his opera Susannah, which transferred the Biblical tale of Susannah and the elders to Tennessee, and other operatic tales of Americana, long time faculty member at Florida State University in Tallahassee, 95

Oct. 1: Raymond Gniewek, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 43 years, a position to which he was appointed in 1957 at the age of 25, and who was instrumental in the orchestra’s rise to a first-class ensemble, 89

Oct. 12: Paddy Maloney, Irish musician, composer and producer, founder of the traditional Irish folk group The Chieftains, noted as a player of the uilleann pipes and the tin whistle, whose career spanned nearly 60 years and included collaborations with musicians as diverse as Sir James Galway, Chet Atkins, Mick Jagger, Sinéad O’Connor, and Van Morrison, 83

Edita Gruberova

Oct. 18: Edita Gruberova, Slovak-born coloratura soprano who debuted at the Wiener Staatsoper in 1970 as the Queen of the Night, a role in which she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1977; also known for other coloratura roles during a career that lasted until 2001 with performances at Gyndebourne, the Bayerische Staatsoper, and La Scala, 74

Oct. 21: Bernard Haitink, chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orchestra for 27 years who also conducted the London Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Dresden Staatkapelle, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, among others, at Glyndebourne and other opera companies, and made more than 450 recordings, 92

Slide Hampton

Nov. 11: Graeme Edge, drummer and co-founder of The Moody Blues who fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll as a boy, author of many of the group’s “Spoken word poems” attached to songs including “Knights in White Satin,” one of the songs for which they were best known, 80.

Nov. 20: Slide Hampton, jazz trombonist, composer ,arranger and Grammy-award winner who started playing trombone in his father’s band, then played with Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson, among others, and led “The World of Trombones,” a band of up to nine trombones and a drummer; 89

Stephen Sondheim

November 26: Stephen Sondheim, one of the very few genuine titans of the Broadway stage of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, composer and lyricist who learned at the feet of family friend Oscar Hammerstein, broke onto Broadway with lyrics for West Side Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959) and then pointed to his future path writing music and lyrics for the Tony-Award winning A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962); in the following decades he provided music and lyrics for an astonishingly varied series of shows, including Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Pacific Overtures (1976), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1987); in the course of this career he collaborated with some of Broadway’s best, including director Hal Prince, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick and playwright/director/librettist James Lapine; 91

NOTE: Links to performances have been added after the original posting of this article.

3 thoughts on “Musical artists we lost in 2021

  1. Thank you for this – I had missed many, and forgotten some. What a sad year for music. Jennifer Heglin

    Sent from Mail for Windows

    • I met two of them, Elijah Moshinski and Jean Kraft. The only one I got to know at all was Kraft, who a delightful, down-to-earth person and a thorough professional. I consider knowing her one of my privileges in music.

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