All corners of the Western music world lost someone in 2018.
Punk lost Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks; metal lost Vinnie Paul of Pantera, Jill Janus of Huntress, Mikio Fujioka of Babymetal and Fast Eddie Clarke of Motorhead. R&B and soul lost Dennis Edwards of The Temptations, Yvonne Staples of the Staple Singers and Barbara Ann Alston of The Crystals. Hip-hop lost Craig Mack, Lovebug Starski and XXXTentacion. EDM lost Avicii. Rock lost Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane and Ed King of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
While not perfect, these artists and others we lost this year brought their talent and vision to their fans and the world of music, and we honor them for that contribution. Some were at the start of their careers, some in their prime and some were legends—but all will live on through their work.
The eight artists below are by no means a comprehensive list, and there’s no implied ranking of importance. It’s simply eight artists who meant a lot to us and who we would like to honor. If you would like to honor someone who meant a lot to you, we welcome you to do so in the comments.
Aretha Franklin. Born 1942.
Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died on Aug. 16 at 76.
Over her 57-year career, she released 38 studio albums, 32 of which charted on the Billboard 200. She performed for the Queen of England, two Popes, and at three Presidential inaugurations.
She was the first woman inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She received the Legend Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. She was a Kennedy Center Honoree and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was inducted to the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends, U.K. Music, and Rhythm and Blues halls of fame.
Her breakthrough single, 1967’s “Respect,” was a cover of a 1965 Otis Redding song. By switching the genders, she turned it into a feminist anthem, a worldview Franklin embraced. The daughter of a preacher and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., she was a lifelong champion of civil rights and women’s rights, giving money to causes and performing at protests throughout her life.
Perhaps the greatest example of her vocal talent was at the 1998 Grammy Awards. Originally scheduled to participate in a tribune to 1980’s The Blues Brothers, in which she had a memorable cameo, Aretha stepped in for legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, who had canceled after the show had begun. With no rehearsals whatsoever, she performed “Nessun Dorma” in Pavarotti’s place for a worldwide audience estimated at 1 billion.
— Daniel J. Willis
Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. Born 1981.
On May 8, Scott Hutchison, the principal songwriter of Scottish band Frightened Rabbit, delivered these haunting tweets: “Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones. I’m away now. Thanks.”
Hoping for the best but fearing the worst, friends and relatives spearheaded a search. Sadly, his body was found a few days later. Hutchison, who was 36, struggled openly with mental health and depression throughout his life. From the outset, his songs provided haunting insight into his internal strife. “What’s the blues when you’ve got the greys?” he sang on “Greys.”
Hutchison developed a deep connection with Frightened Rabbit fans and wore his heart on his sleeve in the studio. The band, including Hutchinson’s brother, Grant (drums), toured earlier this year to mark the 10th anniversary of its debut album.
— Rachel Goodman
Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. Born 1971.
Dolores O’Riordan, who rose to fame in the ‘90s as lead singer of The Cranberries, passed away at 46 years old on Jan. 15 of an overdose. O’Riordan was easily recognized by her mesmerizing voice, which traversed passionate wails and soft haunting melodies. “Dreams,” the first single off The Cranberries’ debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? was a breath of fresh air in a time when grunge was losing some of its initial spark. Her Irish lilt was as hypnotizing as it was distinct. Songs like “Linger” and the ever-popular “Zombie” firmly implanted her performances into the minds of fans.
In October, The Cranberries released a 25th anniversary reissue of their debut album. The band is also releasing one last album, In The End, which includes songs written and recorded with O’Riordan.
— Rachel Goodman
Mark E. Smith of The Fall. Born 1957.
Mark E. Smith was the frontman and only constant member in The Fall, one of the most important post-punk bands of the last century. The 60-year-old died Jan. 24 after a long battle with cancer.
Smith was known as temperamental and difficult to work with, but ask fans of The Fall, and they point out that Smith was relentless and uncompromising in pursuit of his iconoclastic vision. Smith managed to keep The Fall running for a mind-boggling 42 years, shepherding more than 60 musicians in and out of the band.
The Fall formed in the mid-’70s near Manchester, England, and Smith identified with his roots throughout his career. He harvested musicians from the local scene for a stint in his band. Over four decade, The Fall released 32 studio albums and many more live albums, singles and EPs. Fans generally agree that the late ’70s and early ’80s marked the peak of his creativity, beginning with 1979’s Dragnet and running through 1985’s This Nation’s Saving Grace.
Smith’s snide vocals are instantly recognizable, sounding like a more aggressive and off-key Johnny Rotten, but with a thicker accent. His music influenced an entire generation of underground bands from Sonic Youth and The Pixies to Pavement and LCD Soundsystem.
— David Gill
Roy Clark. Born 1933.
Roy Clark was one of the first guitar heroes. Like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen who came after him, Clark, who died last month at 85 on Nov. 15, was a guitarist whose musical antics were as performative as they were virtuosic.
Clark famously hosted Hee Haw, a country-music-themed variety TV show that boasted 30 million viewers in its heyday. In countless YouTube videos Clark can be seen shredding country and bluegrass licks with wild abandon. As a consummate performer, his playing was almost always accompanied by his comedic stage presence. His antics were replete with exaggerated facial expressions, tap-danced drum fills and his mimicry on the instrument, which he could make sound like a train or laughter.
Born in Meherrin, Virginia in 1933, Clark began playing cigar box guitars in grade school. After his discovery by country music legend Jimmy Dean—who asked him to join his band—Clark became a musical fixture on television in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, often filling in for Tonight Show host Johnny Carson during the 1970s.
— David Gill
Jóhann Jóhannsson. Born 1969.
Contemporary classical music suffered a tremendous loss on Feb. 18 when Icelandic composer and multi-instrumentalist Jóhann Jóhannsson was found dead in his Berlin apartment. The cause was ruled a cocaine overdose exacerbated by the medication he was taking to combat an illness. He was 48 years old.
His work ethic produced many influential works of orchestral, electronic and chamber music. Jóhannsson’s best-known compositions are his film scores, which include spellbinding music for cinematic treasures like 2014’s The Theory of Everything and 2016’s Arrival (for which he won a Golden Globe). His three posthumous releases are the scores for The Mercy, Mary Magdalene and Mandy.
Jóhannsson’s progression from indie rock to cinema stemmed from his adaptable and pervasive creativity. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he broke from traditional music education during high school to play in shoegaze and indie rock bands in Reykjavík. As he developed his soundscapes, he co-founded a record label, think tank and art collective called Kitchen Motors that blurred the lines between music genres and even discipline. This incubated his fascination with synthetically manipulating acoustic sounds, which eventually lead to his debut LP, Englabörn.
Reissued this year, Englabörn represented a vital crossover between ambient music and minimalist classical music. The album helped legitimize drone and electronic music within classical circles by intuitively incorporating brass and strings into organ, piano and synth. Echoes of Jóhannsson’s work can be heard in countless atmospheric film scores.
— Max Heilman
Dave Holland. Born 1948.
Judas Priest percussionist Dave Holland passed away on Jan. 16, at 69 years old, at a hospital in an autonomous community near Lugo, Spain. It might seem like a bizarre final resting space for the Northhampton-born musician, but his move involved a demotion from chart-topping groove-master to estranged convict.
Holland spent the ’70s playing in the bluesy hard-rock band Trapeze. He performed on all six of the band’s albums, earning a sizeable reputation within the British hard rock community. It was enough to get the attention of Judas Priest, who invited Holland to the band for seven of its most lucrative albums.
Holland’s performances on classics like 1980’s British Steel, 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance and 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, along with the love-hate album Turbo, helped Judas Priest rise higher than ever. But there’s more to Holland than music. Holland’s place in heavy metal history is overshadowed by the eight-year prison sentence he received for the attempted rape of a 17-year-old boy whom he was teaching drums. This irrevocable fall from grace abruptly ended his musical career and led to his exile to Spain.
“We haven’t had any contact with Dave Holland at all since we parted company with him over 15 years ago,” the band said in a news release following his death.
— Max Heilman
Mac Miller. Born 1992.
Mac Miller was just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Miller never received the credit he deserved. Until the very end, It was easy to dismiss the Pittsburgh rapper for his seemingly mindless, hedonist hip-hop on albums like Blue Side Park and Macadelic. However, Miller gradually proved to be much more than another fun-loving white hip-hop artist. Where Miller’s music lacked emotional complexity, he more than filled the void with an earnest and anthemic heart. Beneath each rowdy shout and gleeful bar, there was a person shrouded in darkness, yearning for help.
Watching Movies with the Sound Off and GO: OD AM hinted at his struggle with depression and substance abuse. It wasn’t until the release of this year’s “Swimming,” in the wake of a very public breakup, that listeners gained a deepened glimpse into Miller’s toiling headspace. With sobering admission to his own wrongdoings and reckless behavior, Miller let out all his demons for everyone to feel.
But in typical Mac Miller fashion, a sense of optimism pervaded. Unfortunately, there was far more going on inside his head than anyone knew. Mac Miller’s music was not perfect, but he was a refreshing voice; proving that even in the midst of darkness, there was room to have fun.
— Kyle J. Kohner