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Musicians we lost in 2016

Too many musicians were taken in 2016. It seemed that fate sought to take down our Redwoods. Those that were tallest and closest to the sun.

But the enduring thing about music is that it endures. Past the fragile forms of our bodies. Their music lasts as long as we keep playing and singing it. And if you ever long to hear the voice of any of these musicians, just press play. They will always exist in our heads and our hearts.

Here, we remember some of those that we lost in 2016.


David Bowie

2016 was initially looking to be a pretty good year for David Bowie with him releasing a new album—Blackstar—on his birthday, a total surprise to all but his inner circle.  The album gained widespread acclaim upon release but then news of his death spread rapidly just two days later, shocking the world, again, to all but his closest confidantes. Digging into the album and the video for Lazarus, it wasn’t hard to see this album as what it was intended to be: a swan song, a goodbye for his fans worldwide, young and old. He knew his time was fleeting and released one of the best albums of his career. And while his untimely passing saddened many Bowie fans—including me—it gave us a collective chance to revisit his massive catalog, spanning six decades, going down the Bowie wormhole, so to speak.  He hopped personae and genres with admirable precision. While he did not always stick the landing, he always gave it his all.

He was like a pied piper to anyone his music touched, which was nearly universal, pretty much everyone has a favorite Bowie song. He was one of last great musical innovators and his death was one of the biggest musical losses of 2016. Rest in peace, David Bowie.  -Ken Sumka


When the news broke that Prince had passed away, it hit me very hard.  His music was the soundtrack of my youth.  He showed mainstream media that black music is more than R&B and hip hop. Prince made sure that the world knew that Rock n Roll is black music. He showed black youth like myself that is was okay to be different and not to fit into the stereotypes and labels defined by the mainstream media. He also challenged the role of black masculinity through his music, his fashion and his performances.

Beyond music, Prince was an activist. He supported organizations like Black Lives Matter, where he recorded the song “Baltimore” dedicated to the movement. He also supported initiatives to get black youth to learn to code with his #YesWeCode program.   He also championed is hometown of the Twin Cities by supporting local artists and hosting parties at Paisley Park.  Prince was truly a modern renaissance man and he will not be forgotten.  I paid tribute to him by getting a tattoo of his iconic symbol on my right forearm. Rest in Power Prince Rogers Nelson.    -Tarik AKA The Architect

He knew his time was fleeting and released one of the best albums of his career.

Phife Dawg

Malik Izaak "Phife Dawg" Taylor was a key player in the soundtrack to my youth.  Growing up, I listened to Punk Rock and Hip Hop, and when it came to Hip Hop, A Tribe Called Quest has had more spins in my life than ani other artists.  Phife was the perfect Yin to Q-Tip's Yang.  His timeless flow, still comes correct on the posthumous release of "We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service".  As a Hip Hop DJ, I know I can always cut out the sound whenever Mailk's verse is about to hit, and the audience always does the rest for me. His classic one-liners are legendary in Hip Hop...


“Now here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am / Tell your mother, tell your father, send a telegram” 

“Yo, microphone check one, two, what is this? / The five foot assassin with the roughneck business” 

“Heyo, Bo knows this, and Bo knows that / But Bo don’t know jack, ’cause Bo can’t rap” 

He will forever be quoted in the book of Hip Hop's greatests.


R.I.P. Phife, aka Phife Dawg, aka The Phifer, aka Phife Diggy, aka The Five-Foot Assassin, aka The Five-Footer, aka Malik The Five-Foot Freak, aka The Funky Diabetic, aka Dynomutt, aka Mutty Ranks, aka The Trini-Gladiator, aka Don Juice   -Jordan Lee

Leonard Cohen

This one we were ready for and it still cut like a knife. He released his final album, "You Want It Darker" just weeks before his death. In it he sang, “I’m ready my Lord,” up to God, or spirit, or ego, or to whomever that higher power is that Cohen wrestled with throughout his life. In a letter that he wrote to his muse, Marianne, just two days before she passed away he wrote, “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.” And in an interview with The New Yorker Cohen said very plainly, “I am ready to die.”

Even knowing all of that, the news still hurt. Leonard Cohen began his signing career at 33 years old. Prompting a record executive to say, “Aren’t you a little old for this?” From his very first album Cohen was an old sage, embarking tender words of wisdom and love. His music seemed only to fit better with time. His feelings towards love, intimacy, loneliness, and mortality are as he is…eternal.   -Justin Barney

Thank you Miss Jones for the great memories and all the gorgeous, powerful music.

Sharon Jones

I will never forget the first time I saw the powerhouse that was Sharon Jones. It was October of 2005, I was still a DJ over at 91.7fm WMSE and “How Do I Let A Good Man Down” was in my regular rotation of the songs I played. So when we heard she was coming to Onopa Brewing Co in Riverwest (formerly Stonefly and now Company Brewing) we jumped at the chance to check out the show.  My friends were fans of the records too and we knew it would be a good time. What an understatement.

The first thing I remember thinking when she took the stage is oooh…she’s tiny and how fantastic it was that such a powerhouse of a voice came in such a petite package.  From the very first song, she commanded that stage and everyone in the room was feeling it. It was clear that she loved music and performing. It was infectious. She gave 150% that night. Dancing, singing….coming into the crowd to dance with us. She sang cover songs that were originally sung by men and made them her own. Powerful stuff. I remember leaving the show that night with a super big smile and sweaty as hell from all the dancing. It was that first live experience with Sharon Jones that made me a HUGE fan and kept me coming back to every show after that I could, always excited to bring friends that had never seen her live before.

Fast forward, a decade later after 5 more albums, a beautifully heartbreaking documentary and too many live shows to count…. news broke that her cancer returned. I was sure that an unstoppable force like Sharon could overcome all the odds..again. Sadly though…I was wrong. Thank you Miss Jones for the great memories and all the gorgeous, powerful music.

Leon Russell

You name it, Leon Russell has probably done it. With a career spanning 60 years, Leon Russell produced, wrote, played, sang, collaborated, inspired.... And he did it all very, very well.

Born in the early 40s, Claude Russell’s love for music started at a young age, playing nightclubs and bars before he could legally drink-- In fact, he actually got his stage name, “Leon” off a fake ID he was using at the time. And after his passing at age 74, Russell not only had worked with and inspired greats like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Elton John, Tina Turner (….the list goes on and on), but was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, recorded more than 400 songs, has six gold records to his credit, and recorded 33 albums.

Russell has inspired so many people that have shaped our music scene over the past 50 years, there’s no question his legacy will live on for many years.

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