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Celebrating the icons of music that died this year
Celebrating the icons of music that died this year Copyright Credit: Canva
Copyright Credit: Canva
Copyright Credit: Canva

In Memoriam 2023: A look back at the music icons who died this year

By Theo Farrant
Published on Updated
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From the "Queen of Rock 'n' Roll" Tina Turner, to the iconic lead singer of The Pogues, Shane MacGowan, here are some of the musical legends that we lost this year and who will be greatly missed.

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In the backdrop of a fantastic year for music, we said goodbye to some all-time greats.

Join us as we pay homage to a few of the most notable artists and musicians who bid us farewell over the past twelve months. 

The following names are listed chronologically by the dates of their deaths.

Fred White (1955 - 2023)

Earth, Wind & Fire drummer Fred White
Earth, Wind & Fire drummer Fred WhiteGetty Images

Fred White, drummer of the legendary US soul and RnB band, Earth, Wind & Fire, died on 1 January this year, aged 67.

White was already an accomplished drummer, playing for Donny Hathaway, before he joined his brothers, Maurice and Verdine, in Earth, Wind & Fire in 1974.

Paired alongside drummer and percussionist Ralph Johnson, the band's rhythm section was tight and upbeat and set the stage for songs like “Boogie Wonderland" and “September” to become instant favourites.

Jeff Beck (1944 - 2023)

Guitarist Jeff Beck performs at the Louisiana Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans on April 29, 2011.
Guitarist Jeff Beck performs at the Louisiana Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans on April 29, 2011.Credit: Gerald Herbert/AP2011

Jeff Beck, one of rock music's most influential guitarists died on 10 January at the age of 78.

Beck rose to fame in the 1960's with the Yardbirds and went on the form the Jeff Beck band with Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart.

He became known as the guitar player's guitar player, a virtuoso who pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll; influencing generations of shredders along the way. 

Lisa Marie Presley (1968 - 2023)

Lisa Marie Presley stands next to her childhood crib at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 31, 2012.
Lisa Marie Presley stands next to her childhood crib at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 31, 2012.Credit: Lance Murphey/AP

Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of rock legend Elvis Presley and a singer-songwriter, died aged 54. 

Presley, the only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, shared her father's brooding charisma - the hooded eyes, the insolent smile, the low, sultry voice - and followed him professionally, releasing her own rock albums in the 2000s, and appearing on stage with Pat Benatar and Richard Hawley among others.

She even formed direct musical ties with her father, joining her voice to such Elvis recordings as “In the Ghetto" and “Don't Cry Daddy," a mournful ballad which had reminded him of the early death of his mother (and Lisa Marie's grandmother), Gladys Presley.

Burt Bacharach (1928 - 2023)

Composer Burt Bacharach performs in Milan, Italy on July 16, 2011.
Composer Burt Bacharach performs in Milan, Italy on July 16, 2011.Credit: Luca Bruno/AP

Burt Bacharach, the legendary composer behind the unforgettable melodies of 'Walk on By', 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose', 'I Say a Little Prayer' and dozens of other hits, died aged 94.

Over the past 70 years, only Lennon-McCartney, Carole King and a handful of others rivalled his genius for instantly catchy songs that remained performed, played and hummed long after they were written. 

He was considered one of the most important composers of 20th-century popular music, most known for his work with Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick.

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Bobby Caldwell (1951 - 2023)

Caldwell, pictured here performing onstage at the 2013 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Caldwell, pictured here performing onstage at the 2013 Soul Train Awards at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.Credit: Frank Micelotta/AP

Singer-songwriter and and multi-instrumentalist Bobby Caldwell died at the age of 71 after a long illness.

Caldwell he gained immense popularity in the 1970s and 1980s for his unique blend of R&B, soul, and jazz music, and is best known for his 1978 hit 'What You Won’t Do for Love' which reached the top 10 on Billboard and made his self-titled debut album go double platinum.

Over the years, Caldwell's music has been sampled by various hip-hop artists, from The Notorious B.I.G. to 2Pac, who have incorporating his melodies and lyrics into their own compositions. 

Ryuichi Sakamoto (1952 - 2023)

Maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto performs at Rome's Auditorium, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.
Maestro Ryuichi Sakamoto performs at Rome's Auditorium, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009.Credit: Domenico Stinellis/AP

Ryuichi Sakamoto, the world-renowned Japanese maestro and actor who composed for Hollywood hits such as 'The Last Emperor' and 'The Revenant' died aged 71.

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Sakamoto was a pioneer of electronic music in the late 1970s and founded the Yellow Magic Orchestra, also known as YMO, with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi.

He was a world-class musician, winning an Oscar and a Grammy for Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Last Emperor.'

Sakamoto was also an actor, starring in the BAFTA-winning 1983 film 'Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.'

Harry Belafonte (1927 - 2023)

Harry Belafonte attends a photo-call about the movie Sing Your Song during the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011.
Harry Belafonte attends a photo-call about the movie Sing Your Song during the International Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011.Credit: Kai-Uwe Knoth/AP2011

Harry Belafonte, who stormed the pop charts and smashed racial barriers in the 1950s with his highly personal brand of folk music, and who went on to become a major force in the civil rights movement, died aged 96.

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Belafonte was one of the first Black performers to gain a wide following on film and to sell a million records as a singer with his 1956 album 'Calypso', which was credited as popularising the Caribbean musical style.

Many know him for his signature hit 'Banana Boat Song (Day-O)', and its call of “Day-O! Daaaaay-O.” 

Andy Rourke (1964 - 2023)

The late Andy Rourke pictured in 2013.
The late Andy Rourke pictured in 2013.Getty Images

Andy Rourke, the legendary bassist, who played on The Smiths’ most famous songs including ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’ and ‘This Charming Man’, died at the age of 59.

Rourke played on all four of The Smiths’ studio albums as well as Morrissey’s solo singles after the group’s dissolution in 1987.

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After the band split in the 1980s, Rourke’s career was far from over and he was an icon in the music industry, playing with artists including Sinead O’Connor, Badly Drawn Boy, The Pretenders and in a supergroup called Freebass. 

Tina Turner (1939 - 2023)

Tina Turner is shown during an interview for NBC'TV "Friday Nite Videos" at the Essex House Hotel in New York on Sept. 14, 1984.
Tina Turner is shown during an interview for NBC'TV "Friday Nite Videos" at the Essex House Hotel in New York on Sept. 14, 1984.Credit: Richard Drew/AP1984

The world of music mourned the loss of an icon as Tina Turner, the "Queen of Rock 'n' Roll", died at the age of 83.

Turner was one of the best-loved female rock singers known for her on-stage charisma and a string of hits, selling more than 180 million albums worldwide in a career spanning seven decades.

She teamed with husband Ike Turner for a dynamic run of hit records and live shows in the 1960s and ’70s, before triumphing again, but in her own right in middle age, with the chart-topping “What’s Love Got to Do With It."

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Turner won eight Grammy Awards and was placed in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2021 as a solo artist.

Astrud Gilberto (1940 - 2023)

Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto poses in New York City on Aug. 20, 1981.
Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto poses in New York City on Aug. 20, 1981.Credit: AP Photo

Brazilian bossa nova singer, Astrud Gilberto, best known for 'The Girl from Ipanema' died aged 83.

The singer, songwriter and entertainer recorded 16 albums and became one of Brazil's brightest musical stars in the 1960s and 1970s.

Her rendition of 'The Girl From Ipanema' sold more than five million copies, and made her a worldwide voice of bossa nova. 

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It also won her a Grammy in 1965 for Record of the Year and Gilberto received nominations for best new artist and best vocal performance.

Tony Bennett (1926 - 2023)

Tony Bennett performs in concert at The American Music Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Lancaster.
Tony Bennett performs in concert at The American Music Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, in Lancaster.Credit: Owen Sweeney/2017 Invision

Tony Bennett, the eminent and timeless singer who graced a decades long career that brought him admirers such as Frank Sinatra, Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, died aged 96. 

As one of the last great saloon singers from the mid-20th century, Bennett often said his lifelong ambition was to create "a hit catalogue rather than hit records." 

He released more than 70 albums, secured 19 Grammys and enjoyed deep and lasting affection from fans and fellow artists.

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Sinéad O'Connor (1966 - 2023)

Irish singer Sinead O'Connor is seen at the Grammy Awards at New York's Radio City Music Hall, Feb. 22, 1989.
Irish singer Sinead O'Connor is seen at the Grammy Awards at New York's Radio City Music Hall, Feb. 22, 1989.Credit: AP1989

Sinéad O'Connor, the gifted Irish singer-songwriter who became a superstar in her mid-20s, died aged 56. 

Known for her shaved head and outspoken nature, O’Connor began her career singing on the streets of Dublin and soon rose to international fame, becoming a sensation in 1990 with her take on Prince’s ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U".

The song's notoriety was heightened by a promotional video featuring the grey-eyed O’Connor in an intense close-up.

Jean Knight (1943 - 2023)

Jean Knight (Mr. Big Stuff) backstage as part of Tipitina's Foundation's 11th Annual Instruments A Comin'on 30 April, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jean Knight (Mr. Big Stuff) backstage as part of Tipitina's Foundation's 11th Annual Instruments A Comin'on 30 April, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.Credit: Getty Images

Jean Knight, best known for her exuberantly funky 1971 hit single, "Mr. Big Stuff" released by Stax Records, died aged 80. 

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"Mr. Big Stuff" reached No. 2 on the pop chart (prevented from reaching the top spot by the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart") and secured a No. 1 spot on the R&B chart in 1971.

The double-platinum single earned Knight a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female, and solidified her status as an R&B and soul sensation.

Shane MacGowan (1957 - 2023)

Shane Macgowan performing on stage with The Pogues
Shane Macgowan performing on stage with The PoguesCredit: AP Photo

Shane MacGowan, the legendary figure of Irish folk and punk music, and the iconic lead singer of The Pogues, passed away at the age of 65. 

The pinnacle of his success came with The Pogues' beloved 1987 hit "Fairytale of New York," featuring the late Kirsty MacColl.

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It became a global phenomenon, reaching number two on the UK charts and establishing itself as a timeless classic of the Christmas season, alongside the likes of Slade, Mariah Carey and Wham!.

Beyond his music, MacGowan became known for his tumultuous lifestyle, marked by excessive drinking, smoking, drug use and his broken, rotten teeth.

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