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2016 – The Year the Music Died

February 24, 2017

No one can argue that 2016 was not a year of ups and downs. The entertainment industry was hit hard with loss all year long as some of the most memorable performers passed away. Musical icons who influenced us all, trailblazers who defined genres, and young performers who were sculpting their careers – 2016 didn’t make distinctions; it took them all.

The world lost founding members of The Eagles, Jefferson Airplane, Earth, Wind & Fire, A Tribe Called Quest, Dead or Alive, Wham!, and two out of the three members of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But it wasn’t just the groups that got hit; David Bowie, Sonny James, Merle Haggard, Prince, Juan Gabriel, Kashif, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, and Debbie Reynolds all fell victim to what many are referring to as “The Year the Music Died.”

Three huge losses were spread throughout the year … maybe just to knock us back down once we’d gotten up again. David Bowie. Prince. George Michael. With these losses, we didn’t just lose people who changed music – we lost people who changed the world. We lost people who questioned the status quo and brought us new ideas and new viewpoints. We lost people who knew with absolute certainty who they were as people and as performers and were never afraid to tell the world. We lost people who didn’t care what society thought about sexual identity or gender rules or how they “should act,” they made their own definitions and we loved them all the more.

It would be impossible to say that any particular death was most impactful, but for each of the musicians who passed – someone in the world lost their favorite performer that day.

Though they may be gone, they will live on forever through their music, their legacy, and their fans. Bowie released Blackstar just days before he passed and the week after, ten of his albums were on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Malik Taylor passed just months before the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here, Thank You For Your Service, which went to #1 on the Billboard 200. Juan Gabriel had the top three Latin albums sold in the U.S. in 2016. And Prince had no new music released in 2016 but sold over 2.2 million albums and had the highest sales volume of the year.1

The monumental losses have also led to a new niche radio format. Radio Dead, started by UK broadcaster Steve Penk. Penk “developed the radio station format as an uplifting positive tribute to all these wonderful artists who are sadly no longer with us.”2 The format keeps the musicians and their music alive even though they’re not here anymore to hear it.

They may be gone but they’ll be remembered forever.
For a full list of artists and music industry professionals who passed click here

-Annie Bukowski, Research Specialist

1. Nielsen Audio, Nielsen Music Year-End Report U.S. 2016
2. “Radio Dead: new radio station only plays artists who are no longer with us” Jane Clinton, iNews, Sept 13, 2016