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: June 7, 1958
Sunset: April 21, 2016 Age: 57
“I looked up to him like everybody did. I didn’t know him that well, but the times that we hung out were fun and very memorable and often funny. He was very generous with his advice, and he was very generous with his access.
He fostered a community among artists. He used to have these parties where we would go over to his house, and there would be all these musicians that I admired, and they’d just do these jam sessions in the basement. Everybody at the party was playing something. I think when he died there was the icon dying, but then there was this pillar in the community of people dying.”
Dave Chappelle, Rolling Stone 2017
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
Sunrise: July 13, 1966
Sunset: November 10, 2006 Age 40
“All of us at Atlantic are shocked and deeply saddened by his untimely death. He was one of the greatest voices of our time, who sang with unmatched soulfulness and power, as well as a tremendously gifted composer and an accomplished producer. Above all, he was an exceptional human being whose warmth and grace inspired us all.
Gerald has been a member of our family for two decades, both with the group LeVert and as a solo artist, and he will be greatly missed by everyone who had the pleasure and privilege of working with him through the years. This is a tremendous loss for the music community and for his millions of fans.”
Atlantic Records official statement after Gerald Levert’s’ death, 2006
LISA “LEFT EYE” LOPES:
Sunrise: May 27, 1971
Sunset: April 25, 2002 Age: 30
“I believe in transformation. I do believe that there is an afterlife. We all share the same space, so no matter what form you may be in — here or not here, you may be dust. We still share the same space. We’re all around. When someone passes away, look up. A new star is born.”
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, The Last Days of Left Eye
Sunrise: June 16, 1971
Sunset: September 13, 1966 Age: 25
“Tupac influenced me the most, not by what his perceived strengths were—it was his ability to show his weaknesses. He said it was all right to cry. As tough as he was and as tough as we are, we’re still human beings. And I think the humane side of ’Pac is what was most important to me, just the vulnerability of some- body who was perceived to be so strong.
That’s what made the everyday man connect with him. He said he was scared. I felt that way, so it’s aight for me to be scared, as long as I still ride on these fools.”
Rapper/actor David Banner, XXL September 2011
Sunrise: January 16, 1979
Sunset: August 25, 2001 Age: 22
“The first time I met her, she was extremely quiet. You [weren’t] going to get a lot of words out of Aaliyah in a first meeting. It takes a lot of time for her to warm up to people overall because she had this shyness. I remember her being shocked at things I would say out loud, whether it was in interviews or when we were hanging out. She would always be gasping for air at some of the things that I would say out loud.
Whenever I was around, if I saw something, whatever it was, she would just be in shock like, ‘I can’t believe you just said that out loud.’I think it’s good for people to know the side of her outside of the music and know that her music was a great reflection of her.
Sometimes people are totally different than the image they represent, but what I love about her is that everything that you saw was really her. When the lights and the cameras were off, that same pleasant, mild-mannered, sweet personality, that’s just how she was.”
Singer Monica, Billboard.com August 24, 2011