There are some artists who transcend time and some who transcend their physical presence on the earthly plane. These artists died too soon and in ways so completely unexpected that we mourn their loss to this day.
These were the tremendous, iconic talents who in their varying ways, touched millions with their creative gifts.
We celebrate them, this and every Black Music Month. Here, we pay tribute to their lives and their work, while sharing a thought from those who knew them, admired them, or worked closely with them, or, in one moving quote, we let the artist speak for themselves.
These incredible artists are ones we still truly miss.
Sunrise: April 2, 1939
Sunset: April 1, 1984 Age: 44
“There’s no sound like Marvin Gaye: the way he sang so softly, almost gently — but also with so much power. That came straight from the heart. Everything in his life — everything that he thought and felt — affected his singing.
The first time I was really introduced to Marvin Gaye was the What’s Going On album, and I fell in love. It was so moving to hear him talk so desperately about the state of the world, on top of all that brilliant musicality. One of my favorite things he did was to follow the strings with his voice, or double things that the instruments are doing. There’s such a simple, subtle lushness to it that adds this whole other layer to the music.
These days we have Pro Tools and a thousand tracks, and you can do different vocals on every track. But back then you really had to innovate, like the way Marvin answered himself in songs, or all that really distant backing work, where his voice is all the way in the back and echoing. It’s haunting; he delivered every single song with such clarity that it gave me chills.”
Singer/songwriter Alicia Keys, Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers (Gaye was #6)
Sunrise: April 20, 1951
Sunset: July 1, 2005 Age: 54
“He was one of the greatest voices that ever sang a song. He was one of the sweetest men I have ever known. And he was one of the best friends I have ever had. I’m so happy that his legacy will live on forever. … Luther was one of a kind and will never be forgotten. I miss him more than words could ever say.”
Singer Patti Labelle at the Essence Festival July 1, 2005
Sunrise: March 5, 1956
Sunset: December 26 ,2010 (Age: 54)
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Teena. She took me in when I was around 16. I was just a musician on the street. I was living from pillar to post. She took me in, she gave me a bedroom, she fed me, she cooked for me, she took care of me. She gave me instruments to play, she took me to all her recording sessions. She took me to concerts, she nurtured me and helped me to become who I am.”
“I’ve never really talked much about it in depth, but I would not be here. She changed my life, not only as an artist, but as a person who truly loved me for who I was. We’d been out of contact for the last few years, but I just want to say, Teena, that I will always love and respect you. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you, Father, for the life of Teena Marie. Teena Marie was a treasure, was a genius. Composer, arranger, singer, musician, unique, underrated by far.”
Lenny Kravitz (Via YouTube, December 27, 2010)
Sunrise: August 29, 1958
Sunset: June 25, 2009 Age: 50
“Michael Jackson went into orbit and never came down. Though it ended way too soon, Michael’s life was beautiful. Sure there was some sad times and maybe some questionable decisions on his part, but Michael Jackson accomplished everything he dreamed of.”
“The more I think about Michael and talk about Michael the more I think that ‘King of Pop’ is not good enough. I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”
Motown founder Berry Gordy, at Michael Jackson memorial service July 7, 2009
Sunrise: August 9, 1963
Sunset: February 11, 2012 Age: 48
“Whitney, if you could hear me now, I would tell you, you weren’t just good enough, you were great. You sang the whole damn song without a band. You made the picture what it was. A lot of leading men could’ve played my part … but you, Whitney, I truly believe you were the only one who could’ve played Rachel Marron at that time. You weren’t just pretty, you were as beautiful as a woman could be.
And people didn’t just like you Whitney, they loved you. To you, Bobbi Kristina, and to all those young girls who are dreaming that dream, thinking that maybe they aren’t good enough, I think Whitney would tell you, guard your bodies, And guard the precious miracle of your own life. Then sing your hearts out. Off you go Whitney, off you go. Escorted by an army of angels to your heavenly father. When you sing before him, don’t you worry. You’ll be good enough.”
Actor and The Bodyguard co-star, Kevin Costner at Whitney Houston’s homegoing service February 18, 2012