Now that we made it into the New Year, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. We survived 2016, the year when #worstyearever was trending and memes were asking, “Y U No end soon”. Between acts of terrorism, bizarre political coups, and civil rights violations in 2016, 2017 doesn’t have to try very hard to earn a better reputation than its predecessor. All it could do is cut down on the number of musicians who die within its months, and we’d be happy.
We said goodbye to an astonishingly long list of artists in 2016, which made the year even harder for fans of music to tolerate. Some, like Leonard Cohen, didn’t come as a huge surprise, while others, like the announcements of Prince’s passing, blindsided most of the world. Whether or not we expected their deaths, the loss of the following artists was a devastating addition to the year.
Leonard Cohen — After an illustrious career that spanned the better part of 50 years, the Canadian poet, singer-songwriter, and painter passed away. To many of his fans, news of his passing wasn’t totally unexpected. The previous June saw the passing of his lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen. Just before she died he wrote to her that he would, “follow [her] very soon”. Tribute concerts were held in Toronto and his hometown of Montreal, as well as all over the world.
David Bowie — The world said goodbye to the Starman on the 10th of January after he lost his battle with liver cancer, just two days after the release of Blackstar, his final album. All over the world, fans celebrated his body of work with explosive parades and tribute concerts. In New Orleans, Arcade Fire led a musical procession down Bourbon Street, while fans organized a block party in Bowie’s hometown of Brixton. His death also inspired millions of budding musicians to take up music lessons.
Phife Dawg — One of the original members of the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, MC Phife Dawg (né Malik Izaak Taylor) passed away in March of 2016 due to complications to diabetes. He and the rest of Tribe are considered the smartest rap band to come out of the 80s and have been attributed with inspiring such popular acts as Kanye West, The Roots, and Common. His “self-deprecating swagger”, due partly to his 5’3” frame, helped Tribe dispel the toxic masculinity inherent in a lot of late 80s rap.
Prince — In a tragic turn of events, Prince passed away in April of an accidental drug overdose as he recovered from the flu. It came as a shock to hear of his passing as he was in the middle of a tour supporting his last album, Hit n Run Phase Two. The tour was sold out, with fans anticipating old and new favourites played on some of the world’s best selection of guitars. Known for his wild, outlandish guitars, Prince toured with a number of eye-catching instruments, including his purple guitar custom-made to fit the shape of his symbol. Following his death, there was an outpouring of fan support, including a flower vigil at his home in Minnesota.
These four names make up just a tiny collection of the artists we lost last year. The true number is, quite frankly, too depressing to list, with well-loved musicians spanning every genre leaving us. The important part is that we still have their music. Their careers have inspired millions of budding musicians all over the world to play together and keep their memories alive in their songs. As we keep their songs, we can only hope that the rest of our favorite artists survive 2017.