Covering African, world & roots music

NOTE: New pages are now located at

Old web pages:  Newsletter   Photos   Articles   Videos   Best of   Links

Web This website


RIP: Musical lives lost in 2008 (New Dec. 30/08)

I've split my 2008 Review into 3 pages.

On this page: Some of the great musical figures who passed away during the year. Most of the entries have links to video clips and/or obituaries or background articles on the artists. See also:

 My picks --  See also


  • Delaney Bramlett, Dec. 27 (69)
    I discovered this sad news while putting together this list. One of the great, unsung Southern music; he is claimed to have taught George Harrison how to play slide guitar (for "My Sweet Lord"), and Eric Clapton claims to have learned how to sing from Delaney. For years he was married to, and musically partnered with Bonnie Bramlett. Their biggest release was the 1970 LP, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends on Tour with Eric Clapton (photo). Here's a clip of Delaney, Bonnie, Clapton, Dave Mason and Bobby Whitlock peforming D&B's tribute to Robert Johnson, "Poor Elijah".
  • Eartha Kitt, Dec. 25 (81)
    "The most exciting woman alive", said Orson Welles.  Ironically the woman known for sultry "Santa Baby" passed away on Christmas Day. See her also in a video  singing "C'est si bon"; NY Times obituary

  • Odetta, Dec. 3 (77)
  • Miriam Makeba, Nov. 10 (76)
    Two great voices for justice. See my notes & video clips here.
  • Byron Lee, Nov. 4 (73)
    Jamaican ska pioneer; founder of the Dragonaires
  • Yma Sumac, Nov. 1 (86)
    The "Peruvian Songbird" had a 5-octave range ("the length of a piano keyboard"), and claimed to be descended from the last Incan emperor. She was an exotic singing, Broadway and film star in the U.S. in the 1950's and 60's. See her in this short, but rare video clip
  • Levi Stubbs, Oct. 17 (72)
    Lead singer of the Four Tops. The liner notes on a Motown collection said of his voice, "Heartache had never seemed so irresistible or so danceable, raising masculine vulnerability to a new level of pop acceptance".' An obituary in the (U.K.) Guardian, described the song that was his and the group's greatest moment ("Reach Out, I'll Be There" - 1966) as "a tumultuous example of romantic devotion
  • Alton Ellis, Oct. 10 (70)
    Jamaican ska/rock steady star
  • Michael P. Smith, Sep. 25 (71)
    New Orleans photographer and keeper of its musical and cultural history. See a biography here, and some of his photos here.
  • Earl Palmer, Sep. 19 (83)
    "The most recorded drummer in history", he began in New Orleans playing behind Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Little Richard. In 1957, he moved to L.A. where he became "the" rock & roll session drummer through the 60's and 70's, backing, among many others, Eddie Cochrane, Johnny Otis, Etta James, Ray Charles, the Righteous Brothers, Sam Cooke... as well as playing on TV themes like The Flintstones, Mission: Impossible and Hawaiian Eye

    Writer Ned Sublette, in a wonderful appreciation of Palmer for Offbeat, wrote that Palmer was "one of the most influential musicians New Orleans ever produced, and he probably did more than any other single person to invent rock ’n’ roll drumming
  • Nappy Brown, Sep 20 (78)
    R&B singer from the 40's & 50s. He made a comeback in the 80's, and his final album was nominated for a 2007 a Blues Music Award. Here's him performing in September that year with Bob Margolin (Muddy Waters guitarist).
  • Jerry Reid, Aug 31 (71)
    Singer ("Guitar Man" and the amazingly funky "Amos Moses") and occasional actor (Smokey and the Bandit).
  • Jerry Wexler, Aug 15 (91)
    Truly a giant of R&B, rock & roll and pop, he produced or co-produced, among many others, Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, Solomon Burke, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan. See my notes on his passing here.
  • Isaac Hayes, Aug 10 (65)
  • Wendo Kolosoy, Jul 28 (83)
    One of the great figures in Congolese music, his career spanned 60 years, yet he did not perform for decades, refusing to perform, as musicians were expected to, in support of the dictator, Mobutu. After Mobutu's overthrow, he again became a star and a national hero. Here is an obituary from the UK Guardian. This is the trailer for a (French language) documentary on Kolosoy, On the Rumba River.
  • Ira B Tucker, Jun 24 (83). Lead singer of the gospel group, Dixie Hummingbirds, who, ironically are this year (2008) celebrating their 80th anniversary. Here's Ira talking about the group, and here is the trailer for an upcoming documentary on the group.
  • Bo Diddley Jun 2 (79)
    A true original, and one who never got his due. Here he is, alive and rocking. That's "The Duchess" on second lead guitar.
  • Sonny Okosun, May 24 (61)
    Nigerian musician, freedom fighter and evangelist. Here is an obituary from World Music Central; and here is one of his classic songs, "Fire in Soweto"
  • Eddy Arnold, May 8, (89)
    Country star. Here's a clip of him doing his hit, "Make the World Go Away", introduced by Minnie Pearl.
  • "Cachao" Lopez, Mar. 22 (89). Cuban bassist, called "the inventor of the mambo". Here's the New York Times obituary, and this is an excerpt from the 2008 documentary, Cachao: Uno Más.
  • Jeff Healey, Mar. 2 (41). Great Toronto blues and jazz musician and DJ died of the rare form of cancer, retinoblastoma, that had blinded him as a child. Here's a video clip of him doing "Roadhouse Blues" live in Germany in 1989.
  • Willie P. Bennett, Feb. 15 (56). A fixture on the Canadian folk circuit, playing both solo and with Fred Eaglesmith. Few singers are honoured by having another group named after one of their songs. (I can think of the Rolling Stones, and...). Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden and Tom Wilson formed Blackie and the Rodeo Kings in 1996, naming themselves after Willie P's song. (Photo from Hugh's Room, Aug. 2005).

  • Freddie Bell, Feb 10, (76). He and his group the Bellboys were among the early white musicians to cover black R&B songs in the 1950's. His first record was a cover of Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog", a version that was much toned down from the original, with suitably altered lyrics. However, it was their version that Elvis Presley heard while both acts were playing Las Vegas in 1956, and his record was based on that. "Hound Dog"'s co-writer Jerry Lieber said that Presley "always covered songs the way he heard them first. He had rotten taste. Not that it ever hurt him." You can hear Bell's version of "Hound Dog" on his MySpace page. (For comparison, here's a 1965 performance by Big Mama (with Buddy Guy), and Elvis, live in Tupelo Mississippi in 1957).
  • John Stewart, Jan 19 (68). Original member of the Kingston Trio, later a solo performer -- he recorded over 45 solo albums, one of which, California Bloodlines was named by Rolling Stone as one of the 200 best albums of all time. His songs were recorded by a number of singers, the biggest seller of which was the Monkees' "Daydream Believer". Here's a video clip of his very non-Kingston Trio, non-Monkees sounding 1979 hit "Gold", backed by Fleetwood Mac.
  • Andy Palacio, Jan 19, (47). One of the year's great losses. His 2007 album Wátina topped many lists of the best world music albums of the year. After a lengthy performing career in Belize, that recording suddenly made him a world star. His accomplishments weren't just restricted to performing and recording, but his energy and dedication to the Garifuna culture of Central America gained international respect. In a wonderful video interview from July 2007 done in San Francisco, He never talks about himself, just about the Garifuna people and culture. Interestingly, he notes that there is no word for "music" in Garifuna... just "song", which is why he says "voice" is the most important instrument.

    I'm thankful that I saw him perform once, in July 2007 at Harbourfront Centre -- one of the best shows of that year (photo). See my "Best of 2007" page for more about Andy.

See my other 2008 review pages: My picksCD picks by others