December’s headline death probably is that of the great Cesária Évora, who emerged from the tiny West African island of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony.
But as a soul fan, percussion maestro Ralph MacDonald is my headline departure of the month. He wrote some stone-cold classics and appeared on an impressive catalogue of soul and fusion albums, including those released in their heyday by Bill Withers, George Benson, Donny Hathaway, Ashford & Simpson, Brothers Johnson, Margie Joseph, Patti Austin, Grover Washington, Maynard Ferguson, The Crusaders, Michael Franks, Eric Gale, Bob James, Herbie Mann, Earl Klugh, and Sadao Watanabe, as well as on pop albums by the likes of Billy Joel (The Stranger, 52nd Street, Innocent Man) and Paul Simon (Still Crazy…, One Trick Pony, Graceland).
The Ragovoy curse struck again. First the great songwriter died in July; then his occasional collaborator Jimmy Norman, with whom he wrote Time Is On My Side, died in November; in December singer Howard Tate, for whom Ragovoy wrote and produced several songs (including Get It While You Can, which Janis Joplin later covered, and 8 Days On The Road) passed away at 72.
Three of the world’s longest-performing artists died in December: Myra Taylor first took to the stage as a 14-year-old in 1931; she made her final performance in a career spanning 70 years on 24 July this year. Fans of The Originals will appreciate the first recording of the great Ink Spots hit I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, which featured Myra Taylor on vocals (originals fans will also enjoy Ruby and the Romantics’ Our Day Will Come, covered by Amy Winehouse on her new posthumous album) .
Johannes Heesters, who died at 108, had been a huge star in Nazi Germany and counted Nazi leaders among his friends – a stigma that followed him to his death. Hated in his native Holland, he was still hugely popular in West Germany. He still toured as a centenarian, and performed to the age of 105.
Bill Tapia, dead at 103, was a ukulele maestro. Check out his version of Stars and Stripes Forever, from just two years ago, which he introduces as having played during World War I – the audience laughs, but the guy isn’t joking. He has been performing since 1918.
Among the more bizarre deaths is that of Willie Nelson’s drummer Dan Spears, who fell outside his house and, unable to move, froze to death.
Sadly, this will be the final monthly In Memoriam. Compiling each instalment simply takes up much more time than I can afford to spend, so this is a decision I had to make – with much regret, because I don’t think anyone is doing it quite this way on the Internet.
Howard Tate, 72, soul singer, on December 2
Howard Tate – 8 Days On The Road (1971)
Bill Tapia, 103, legendary ukulele player, on December 2
Bill Tapia – Stars And Stripes
Ronald Mosley, 72, baritone and guitarist with Ruby & the Romantics, on December 3
Ruby and the Romantics – Our Day Will Come (1963)
Hubert Sumlin, 80, legendary blues guitarist (with Howlin’ Wolf), on December 4
Howlin’ Wolf – The Red Rooster (1962, as guitarist)
Hubert Sumlin – Down In The Bottom (1987)
R.J. Rosales, 37, Filipino-born Australian singer and actor, on December 4
Violetta Villas, 73, Belgian-born Polish diva, on December 5
Violetta Villas – Przyjdzie Na To Czas (1964)
Dobie Gray, 71, soul singer (Drift Away, The In-Crowd), on December 6
Dobie Gray – River Deep, Mountain High (1973)
Bob Burnett, 71, member of ’60s folk group The Highwaymen, on December 7
The Highwaymen – Universal Soldier (1964)
Dan ‘Bee’ Spears, 62, long-time bassist for Willie Nelson, on December 8
Willie Nelson – Remember Me (1975, as bassist)
Dick Sims, 60, keyboard player for Eric Clapton, Bob Seger a.o., on December 8
Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (1977, as keyboardist)
Alan Styles, Pink Floyd roadie and subject of Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast, on December 8
Pink Floyd – Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast (1970)
Myra Taylor, 94, jazz singer and actress, on December 9
Harlan Leonard and his Rockets – I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire (1940, as vocalist)
Dustin Hengst, drummer of pop-punk band Damone, on December 9
Karryl ‘Special One’ Smith, member of hip hop duo The Conscious Daughters, on December 10
The Conscious Daughters – Somthin’ To Ride To (Fonky Expidition) (1993)
Billie Jo Spears, 74, country singer, on December 14
Billie Jo Spears – Blanket On The Ground (1975)
Bob Brookmeyer, 81, jazz trombonist, on December 16
Lalo Schifrin & Bob Brookmeyer – Samba Para Dos (1963)
Slim Dunkin, 24, rapper with 1017 Brick Squad, shot dead on December 16
Cesária Évora, 70, Cape Verdean singer, on December 17
Cesária Évora – Nho Antone Escade (1999)
Cesária Évora – Cabo Verde Terra Estimada (1988)
Sean Bonniwell, 71, American guitarist and singer of ’60s rock band Music Machine, on December 17
Ralph MacDonald, 67, percussionist, songwriter and producer, on December 18
Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Where Is The Love (1972, as songwriter)
Grover Washington Jr with Bill Withers – Just The Two Of Us (1980, as songwriter)
Billy Joel – Rosalinda’s Eyes (1978, as percussionist)
Johnny Silvo, 75, folk singer and children’s TV presenter, on December 18
Clem DeRosa, 86, jazz drummer, arranger, bandleader and music educator, on December 20
David Gold, 31, singer and guitarist of Canadian death-metal band Woods of Ypres, on December 22
Johannes Heesters, 108, Dutch-born actor and singer, on December 24
Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937)
Jody Rainwater, 92, bluegrass musician (with the Foggy Mountain Boys) and radio DJ, on December 24
Jim ‘Motorhead’ Sherwood, 69, saxophone player for Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, on December 25
Frank Zappa – Conehead
Sam Rivers, 88, jazz musician and composer, on December 26
Sam Rivers – Verve (1980)
Dan Terry, 87, American jazz trumpeter and big band leader, on December 27
Kaye Stevens, 79, singer and actress (frequent guest of the Rat Pack), on December 28
Christine Rosholt, 46, jazz singer, on December 28
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