The year the music died

2016 was a year more dangerous to musicians than it was in 1959, or 1970. Find out why.

When it comes to the deaths of musical icons, 2016 may be the worst year ever.

Sunday's startling death of pop singer George Michael caps 12 wretched months in which we've already said goodbye to David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, to name just a quintet of hugely popular and influential performers.

It might be the deadliest era for pop music legends since 1970-71, when we lost Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Louis Armstrong in a sorrowful span of just 11 months.

February 3, 1959, when young rockers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash, has been called "the Day the Music Died." 2016 may become known as the Year the Music Died.

Every time we pick up the paper in 2016, it seems there is more bad news about the death of a beloved musical icon. It began Jan. 1 with Natalie Cole’s death the day before. Weeks later came the seismic shock of David Bowie’s passing. And the tragic toll of hits kept coming: The Eagles Glenn Frey, Prince, Beatles producer George Martin, Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, country legend Merle Haggard.

And that’s just the biggest names. There were many others we lost this year whose music resonated deeply for certain generations: Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore, soul singer Otis Clay, keyboardist Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, soul crooner Billy Paul, eclectic singer-songwriter Dan Hicks, A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg, Cajun musician Buckwheat Zydeco, Suicide singer Alan Vega, ’80s singer Vanity, Funkadelic and Talking Heads legend Bernie Worrell, Beastie Boys founding member John Berry, Jamaican performer Prince Buster, Sugarloaf singer Jerry Corbetta, Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns, ’50s pop-rocker Bobby Vee, jazz singer Mose Allison, “Thriller” composer Rod Temperton, and rising pop star Christina Grimmie who was shot dead at her concert.

But the music world wasn’t the only industry affected. Beloved actors like Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder passed on too. Along with boxer Muhammad Ali, Hollywood’s Golden Age actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, astronaut (first person to orbit Earth) John Glenn, and more.

Figures appear to confirm an unusual spike in high-profile deaths in 2016, with Wikipedia recording 642 notable deaths in January compared to 466 just a month earlier. As musicians of the classic rock era get older, more and more are dying of age and disease-related causes. The Wikipedia page “List of Deaths in Rock ‘N’ Roll” tallies 160 deaths of music industry figures so far in 2016. That’s up considerably from the 89 listed for 2015 and 95 in 2014!

2016 is an unusual year for music for sure. As these musicians pass on, new musicians arrive. We may have lost a lot of greats this year, but 2016 also brought us many great music as well. There’s no doubt that 2016 will be remembered as the oddest year in music history.

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