2015 saw the loss of many legendary and talented black musicians.
- Andrae Crouch: Died of a heart attack on January 8th at the age of 72. This Grammy winner best known for his Gospel hits was a celebrated singer, songwriter, and pastor who served in Los Angeles and performed with stars like Michael Jackson, Quincey Jones, Diana Ross, and Elton John.
- Percy Sledge: Passed away on April 14th from liver cancer at the age of 74. The soul singer was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 thanks largely in part to his 1966 hit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which topped the US and UK charts for two weeks.
- Ben E. King: The “Stand by Me” singer died on April 30th at the age of 76. The R&B legend got his start in the 1950s with the band The Drifters, with whom he sang lead vocals on iconic classics like “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “There Goes My Baby,” and “This Magic Moment.”
- Errol Brown: Hot Chocolate lead singer passed away from liver cancer on May 6th at the age of 71. The crooner topped charts with singles like “You Sexy Thing” and “Every 1’s a Winner” in the 1970s and ’80s.
- B.B. King: The Blues legend died on May 14th at the age of 89. Known for bringing the blues into the mainstream, the expert guitarist and king of blues got his start in music after hitchhiking to Memphis in 1947. He landed a job as a disc jockey for radio station WDIA-AM, where he settled on his nickname, “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which was eventually shortened to “B.B.”In 1948, he got his big break playing on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program. By 1951, his record, Three O’Clock Blues, was at the top of the charts. Over his career, King garnered dozens of awards and honors, ranging from his 30 Grammy nominations to a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. He won his first Grammy for the song, “The Thrill is Gone.”
- Ortheia Barnes-Kennerly: The R&B and jazz singer passed away from heart failure on May 15th at the age of 70 years (May was a tough month).Although a star in her own right, Ortheia spent much of her career touring with and opening for some of Motown’s biggest acts, including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Gladys Knight. Her friend, bass player Ralphe Armstrong said that if Aretha Franklin was the Queen of Soul, “Ortheia was the empress.”
- Ornette Coleman: The jazz great died on June 11th at the age of 85 from cardiac arrest. The alto saxophonist was a legend for his innovative style. His 1960 album, Free Jazz, was an experimental landmark that featured two quartets on two separate stereo channels of the LP. That meant the listener could hear two different groups playing jazz at the same time. In 2007, Coleman won a Pulitzer Prize for the album Sound Grammar.
- MC Supreme: The rapper was killed o June 13th at the age of 47 in Malibu, CA, when a drunk driver hit his parked car on the shoulder of the Pacific Coast Highway.
- Wendell Holmes: The blues musician passed away on June 19th from complications due to pulmonary hypertension at the age of 71. Holmes was an accomplished guitarist, pianist, and singer who released 12 albums as part of The Holmes Brothers– a family band that included his siblings Sherman and Willie. During their career, the brothers played with greats like Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, and Willie Nelson, and became legends in their own rights for their unique mix of blues, soul, gospel, country, and R&B.
- Natalie Cole: The R&B singer passed died of congestive heart failure on December 31st at the age of 65. The daughter of Nat King Cole, Natalie rose to musical success in the mid–1970s as an R&B artist with the hits This Will Be, Inseparable, and Our Love. In the 1990s she performed some of her late father’s hits.
As 2015 has come to a close, I will leave you with one tune from a non-black musician that we lost in 2015, Jim Ed Brown. When the sun says hello the mountain, we shall meet again.