Every year, the music industry mourns the loss of various artists who we have sadly lost. Although this list is not exhaustive, the following are 10 of the most significant musical talents whom we said goodbye to in the year 2023; In Memoriam;
In Memoriam; Tina Turner – 1939 – 2023
In May, the world lost one of the most influential singers of recent decades in Tina Turner.
Real name Anna Bullock, she first joined the music industry playing alongside future husband Ike Turner in The Kings of Rhythm although the world was not introduced to her until 1960. The duo of her and IKe would have a successful run together through the ‘60s and ‘70s, gaining a reputation – like Tina would in later life – for energetic, must-see live sets.
Just as famous as their musical partnership was their troubled marriage. Ike reportedly beat Turner on several occasions. Tina commented in 1981 that she was “insanely afraid” of her husband, adding in her autobiography: “I wasn’t just running away from Ike, I was running towards a new life.” Tina ran away in 1976 with just 36 cents in her pocket.
Building herself back after working as a cleaner to get by, she bounced back in what Rolling Stone has dubbed “pop’s greatest comeback.” In 1984, her hit “What’s Love Got To Do With It” became a US number one single, her only Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper. She continued with great acclaim throughout the rest of the decade with hits “Private Dancer” and “The Best”. In a record-setting performance in Brazil, she played to an unprecedented 180,000 fans.
She continued to remain relevant through the decades, singing “GoldenEye”, the single from the 1995 James Bond film of the same name. After charting alongside Kygo in 2020, she became the first – and to date only – artist to have a top 40 hit across seven consecutive decades.
Throughout her life, she received many honours including two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, being the only female artists to win Grammys in pop, rock, and R&B, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In Memoriam; David Crosby – 1941 – 2023
David Crosby first garnered exposure in 1965 when The Byrds topped the Billboard Hot 100 with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” and later “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, commercialised the folk-rock sound. Tracks such as “Eight Miles High” showed the group’s simultaneous cultivation of the psychedelic, California sound.
Already a symbol of hippie counterculture, the group further saw a boost when receiving great media attention after being reported to have been called “the best band in America” by The Beatles. Their work has also been cited as an influence on The Beatles’ move to more experimental music in the form of Rubber Soul.
Although The Byrds were never able to rekindle the same success, Crosby was able to with his new project, the supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash. Like The Byrds, the band made the guitar sound a central component alongside close-knit vocal harmonies.
Sometimes accompanied by Neil Young, Crosby, alongside Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills and The Hollies Graham Nash, played both Woodstock and Altamont whilst their debut album started on the chart for over two years. Further popularity came with songs “Our House”, “Teach Your Children” and “Ohio”, which made them a progressive voice of the era.
Even after, Crosby was able to stay in the public limelight. Crosby worked with artists such as Elton John, Art Garfunkel, and Phil Collins and was also outspoken politically on matters such as the Vietnam War and President Trump.
After the news of the death, long-time partner and co-writer Graham Nash wrote: “David was fearless in life and in music. He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world. He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy.”
In Memoriam; Randy Meisner – 1946 – 2023
On July 26th, former Eagles member Randy Meisner died due to complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was described in a statement by the band as “an integral part of The Eagles and instrumental in the early success of the band.”
Meisner co-founded the group in 1971 alongside Bernie Leadon, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey.
Arguably the biggest contribution he made to the band was co-writing and singing the lead on the band’s first million-seller, “Take It To The Limit”. In addition, he provided backing vocals on some of the band’s earliest hit singles, such as “Take It Easy”, and “Lyin’ Eyes” as well as Billboard number ones “Best of My Life”, “One of These Nights”, and “New Kid In Town”.
However, when embarking on the Hotel California tour, issues arose. Meisner’s health was worsened whilst he also came into conflict with Glenn Frey after being unable to perform competently. The Guardian wrote: “A shy Nebraskan torn between fame and family life, Meisner had been ill and homesick during the Hotel California tour and was reluctant to have the spotlight.” By 1977, Meisner was dropped from the group.
Meisner explained he could have tripled his money, but “when it got to the point of sanity or money, I thought I’d rather have sanity.”
When The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Randy was too inducted, with his successor Timothy B. Schmidt thanking him for “paving the way” for him.
Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh later lamented that “Randy never knew how great he was.”
In Memoriam; Jeff Beck – 1944 – 2023
On the advice of Jimmy Page, The Yardbirds recruited a youthful Jeff Back in 1965 to fill the void left by departing guitarist Eric Clapton. During Beck’s 20-month stint, he mastered revolutionary guitar effects such as the use of a fuzz box and guitar feedback, as demonstrated on his debut single “Heart Full of Soul”. A number two-peaking single (at one point kept off number one by The Byrds), it would be the first of four UK top 10 hits for the band.
The band would soon adopt a dual guitar sound when Page joined the band; the new formation recorded just two songs. After just one album, Beck was out of the group. Author Katherine Charlton noted that Beck’s “performances were inconsistent…He would even miss concerts, choosing instead to be with his girlfriend.”
When inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the band, Beck joked: “Somebody told me I should be proud tonight, but I’m not – because they kicked me out. They did! Fuck them!”
After The Yardbird days ended, Beck formed The Jeff Beck Group, which included a line-up of future household names such as Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood.
Additionally, he embarked on a critically acclaimed solo career. Making largely instrumental tracks focussing on his immense guitar work from 1975, he was resentful that his 1967 hit “Hi Ho Silver Lining” would be his most known single. He explained many years later: “I just hated it. It’s just a bit embarrassing.”
Beck has 8 Grammys and a top five placement on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists on his resume. Once described as being “as innovative as Jimmy Page, as tasteful as Eric Clapton, and nearly as visionary as Jimi Hendrix,” Beck has left a guitaring legend few could match.
In Memoriam; Harry Belafonte – 1927 – 2023
In April, the world lost Harry Belafonte, who sadly died aged 96 from congestive heart failure.
Musically, Belafonte is perhaps best known for his Calypso album. The first LP to sell over one million copies, it brought the mento sound to a mainstream audience whilst breaking down race barriers in the industry. Featuring his signature track, “Day-O (Banana Boat Song)”, the album stayed at the number one position for a whopping 31 weeks.
His musical success too translated into a career in television and film. The 1957 film Island in the Sun thrust him to stardom whilst it met southern opposition for its interracial relationship storyline at a time when only 4% of Americans supported interracial marriage. Airing his own show, he became the first black producer in television and by 1959 was the highest-paid black performer in history.
The son of Jamaican immigrants, he became a large voice in the Civil Rights movement. A key part of the March on Washington, he fought racism in various forms throughout his life from ending apartheid to bailing out suppressed black voters. He explained: “when a Black voice is raised in protest to oppression, those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.”
He too was the brains behind the charity relief project USA For Africa, rubbing shoulders with Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, and Paul Simon whilst raising an estimated $60 million. He later worked with organisations such as UNICEF and the ACLU.
He later became outspoken politically, calling George Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” and comparing Donald Trump to Hitler.
After becoming the oldest living Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee in 2022, his 2023 passing was mourned by voices from various industries, from Tim Cook to Barack Obama to Tony Bennett. The latter added: “he fought for social justice and equality and never, ever gave up…he will be deeply missed by myself and so many for all he contributed to the world.”
In Memoriam; Tony Bennett – 1927 – 2023
Like Belafonte, Bennett also died aged 96, was a Democrat, and a supporter of the Civil Rights movement and was anti-apartheid. Once described by Frank Sinatra as “the best singer in the business,” Bennett enjoyed musical acclaim across eight decades.
In 1951, Bennett’s “Because of You” shot to number one, selling over a million copies. A crooning pop star, he would show his musical dexterity with his third chart-topper “Rags To Riches”, a more upbeat track with a swing, big band sound. In 1955, he had his first UK hit, with “Stranger in Paradise”, aided by the popularity of Kismet.
In 1962, he recorded his signature tune, “I Left My Heart in San Fransisco”.
Unfortunately, Bennett’s career started flagging in the early-mid 1960s as his style seemed increasingly passe compared to the increasingly commercial rock sound. In 1970, he recorded an ill-fated commercial album featuring covers of contemporary compositions which made him “physically sick.”
Bennett underwent a career revival in the 1980s. His pop culture profile increased with performances on Glastonbury and The Simpsons, the first celebrity to guest star as themself. The New York Times commented that: “Tony Bennett has not just bridged the generation gap, he has demolished it.”
Over the following decades, he worked with various younger talents such as Michael Bublé, John Mayer, and Lady Gaga – the latter of whom he collaborated with in 2014 on the album Cheek to Cheek. Topping the Billboard album charts, Bennett became the oldest living act to hit number one.
Fighting through an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2016, he would set a Guinness World Record for the oldest artist to release an album of new material, doing so at 95. He would subsequently become the second-oldest winner of a Grammy Award later that year.
Throughout his career, he would record 70 albums, won 19 Grammys (including a 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award), and performed for 11 presidents. As his website states: “No one in popular American music has recorded for so long and at such a high level of excellence than Tony Bennett.”
In Memoriam; Shane MacGowen – 1957 – 2023
On November 30th, the world lost Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan. Described by Irish president Michael D. Higgins as “one of music’s greatest lyricists,” the date was tragically fitting considering MacGowan’s synonymity with the Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York”.
A single from the band’s most successful album If I Should Fall from Grace with God, the single was the biggest hit the cult band would ever have. After two years of meticulous work, The Pogues and Kirsty MacCool released the track in 1987.
It has since been described by the UK Official Charts Company as “one of the most popular songs never to have reached the top of the chart.” Indeed, it hit the runner-up spot upon release, held off the top by The Pet Shop Boys. It has remained extremely popular since, topping many lists of fan-favourite Christmas records. Additionally, it has entered the UK top 20 on 20 occasions, charting within the top 40 every year since 2005.
Although he has remained critical of the track in more recent years, he conceded that it has become their “Bohemian Rhapsody”, when talking with friend Gerry Adams for the Crock of Gold documentary.
Aside from that, MacGowan has become noted for the hindering effects of his personal demons. Starting drinking at age five and getting hooked on Guinness, Shane became addicted to various drugs throughout his musical career, his heroine habit making him an unreliable bandleader. Often slurring his words, his teeth became distinguished as a symbol of the man. He also suffered a series of injuries over the years, being wheelchair-bound at the time of passing, aged 65.
To the Irish populous and across the world, Shane will be remembered as a proud Irishman, raised in the traditional Irish backdrop and a poetic voice for the downtrodden. In the words of The New York Times, Shane was “a master songsmith whose lyrics painted vivid portraits of the underbelly of Irish immigrant life.”
In Memoriam; Sinead O’Connor – 1966 – 2023
Another Irish icon lost this year was Sinead O’Connor, who passed away in July with no known cause of death.
Her best-known work, a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”, was an international chart-topper, as was its album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Matched with its simple yet iconic music video, it has consistently been referred to as one of the greatest singles of all time.
Despite the immense success of the track, Sinead has become perhaps more popular for her outspoken views and political activism. In early life, she voiced support for the IRA whilst later in life, she converted to Islam.
The most famous incident occurred on Saturday Night Live in 1992. After an acapella performance of Bob Marley’s “War”, she tore apart a photo of Pope John Paul II in protest at widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church. In return, she was banned from NBC for life, had her records steamrolled outside her studio, and savaged by the press, with New York’s Newsday running the headline: “No hair, no taste.”
She explained her actions as speaking out for “countless millions of children whose families and nations were torn apart for money in the name of Jesus Christ.” She was later vindicated when, in 2001, the Pope offered a public apology for sexual abuse within the institution.
For her vocal denunciation of abuse as well as racism and anti-abortion fundamentalist, O’Connor was mourned by many, with Smiths frontman Morrisey commenting on her “courage to speak when everyone else stayed safely silent.”
In Memoriam; Burt Bacharach – 1928 – 2023
In February, the world lost Burt Bacharach, described by writer William Farina as “a composer whose venerable name can be linked with just about every other prominent musical artist of his era.”
Composing 73 US and 52 top 40 hits across several decades, Bacharach is perhaps most noted for his songwriting partnership with Hal David, with whom he penned many of Dionne Warwick’s signature tracks, such as “Anyone Who Had A Heart”, “Walk On By”, and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”.
Their first big hit was “The Story of My Life” in 1957, a Marty Robbins top 20 and later Michael Holliday UK number one. From then on, Bacharach scored several US chart-toppers, working in the 60s and 70s with various musicians, including Aretha Franklin, The Carpenters, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield, and Tom Jones.
Burt too worked on film scores for What’s New, Pussycat?, Casino Royale, and Alfie on top of a successful Broadway career.
In the 1980s, he made a comeback, winning the Oscar for Best Original Song with the number one single “Arthur’s Song (Best You Can Do” sung by Christopher Cross. In 1986, he scored two chart-toppers with “That’s What Friends Are For” and “On My Own”.
In the 90s, his most high-profile collaboration was with Elvis Costello whilst he stayed relevant through his cameo appearances in the Austin Powers franchise. Burt was also noted for his marriages, his spouses including Angie Dickinson and Carol Bayer Sager. In 2008, he accepted the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, hailed as music’s “greatest living composer.”
In Memoriam; Gordon Lightfoot – 1938 – 2023
Bob Dylan once said of Gordon Lightfoot: “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.” It’s high praise for Lightfoot and that’s not even mentioning the legends who have covered his works, such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
Now a Canadian icon, Lightfoot cut his teeth with such contemporaries as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen.
Lightfoot soon became one of the most important folk-rock musicians of the era, writing songs on topics such as longing and loss. Many of his tracks were autobiographical, such as his popular “If You Could Read My Mind”, a song about the breakdown of his marriage. He once explained: “I simply write the songs about where I am and where I’m from,” he said. “I take situations and write poems about them.”
In 1965, Marty Robbins cover of his “Ribbon of Darkness” topped the US Country chart whilst Lightfoot’s greater commercial success was “Sundown”, a 1974 US Billboard Hot 100 number one.
Lightfoot was rewarded with many honours in his later life. With 400 songs in his repertoire, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2012. Also that year, he was presented with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
After his death of natural causes aged 84, amongst those who paid tribute was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A tribute Lightfoot did live to see was in the Guess Who song “Lightfoot”, where he is described as “an artist painting Sistine masterpieces.”
Rest in Peace, all. The immense contributions of all are hard to calculate, and Distortion would like to celebrate the people and personalities who have brought such musical prowess to the world.