More info on our cover is available here. Scroll to the bottom of this post to stream a playlist featuring all the music that died this year.
For all the loss the music community endured in 2016, nothing will hurt deeper than the ones Orlando experienced in June. Just days after a St. Pete man shot and killed The Voice star Christina Grimmie at Plaza Live downtown, more than 100 shots rang out at Pulse — a gay nightclub just four miles away.
All told, 49 people — plus gunman Omar Mateen — were killed in what is now the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The hurt was palpable here in Tampa Bay, which is separated from Orlando by only 85 miles of interstate, and reverberations from the tragedy shook the globe.
In the following weeks, many things would come under scrutiny. Gun laws, club safety and the New York-born shooter’s allegiance to ISIS were all on the table, but debate was quickly out-shouted by a community and nation who rallied to give blood, raise money and provide emotional support for anyone feeling affected by the violence.
In St. Pete, the Tampa Bay Rays and 40,135 of their fans raised more than $300,000 thanks to a sold-out Pride Night. Across the Bay in New Tampa, local songwriter Jeremy Gloff donated all his tips from a shift at Cappy’s Pizza to a fund benefiting his friend and Pulse victim Jeff Rodriguez. The ‘za shop threw in 10 percent of sales, and the small gesture raised almost $4,000.
Now, six months removed from the horrific events, clubs serving all levels of gay, straight and everything in between continue to be patronized by a population that says no amount of fear will stop them from enjoying friends, family and — most of all — music.
Here’s to the sadness we feel for everyone we lost in 2016. And here’s to the idea that we’ll all never quit going out and enjoying live music no matter where it's happening.
David Bowie (Born 1947) The death that hit me the hardest was David Bowie’s passing in January. Two days after his 69th birthday, the Starman, the Alien, and legend succumbed to cancer. To say that his music, style and presence had a major influence and impact on my life is a gross understatement. Only Lou Reed has left more of a indelible imprint on my musical imagination and passion. No one looked like or sounded like Bowie before he came along. His hair, clothes, vocals, persona, his mojo... all of it was otherworldly and indescribable. Ask a Bowie fanatic what they loved most about him. The answers will be beautiful, twisted expressions of love, admiration and reverence, but all are sure to be totally different from one another.
Bowie helped me understand that it was OK to be different. While other kids were listening to FM radio dreck, David Bowie was covering and introducing me to the music of Tom Verlaine, Them, and Jacques Brel. A high school best friend and I were as fanatic about Bowie during his “Let’s Dance” phase as crazed fans were about the Beatles twenty years prior to that, and we camped out overnight to get as close as possible to our hero at a general admission show on his 1990 Sound + Vision tour. We were successful, and the night spent outside a grungy auditorium in the middle of nowhere (plus getting robbed in the process) seemed trivial in light of getting a high-five from Mr. Bowie after he played his saxophone two inches from our faces during “TVC15.”
My partner and I bonded when we met after realizing we were both devout Bowie fanatics. His music hasn’t just been turntable fodder for me; his spirit and his existence have played a major part in my personal development as a person, as a man, as a human being. Living in a word without him in it just seems strange.
When the news hit, it felt similar to the punch in the gut I got when other heroes like John Lennon, Joe Strummer and Freddie Mercury passed — but this one really stung. After being entranced by his latest work Blackstar (released two days before Bowie’s death), the elation of the album turned to horror within a matter of 48 hours. There haven’t been many days in my life that haven’t had at least one David Bowie song or album played within them. His life and his magic will forever remain, and will undoubtedly serve to inspire many more listeners and fans for years to come.
The opening riff of Bowie’s 1976 single “Suffragette City” still gets my heart racing and blood pumping like no other sound on earth... and it always will. —Gabe Echazabal
Prince (1958) There are musical artists who dabble in styles outside their comfort zone and cross genre lines from time to time, and there are those who create and define a genre all their own. Never afraid to experiment and always bold enough to conquer, there was Prince. All 5 feet 3 inches of him knew no obstacles and stood taller and prouder than all of his contemporaries. In yet another one of 2016’s crushing blows, the loss of the Purple One might hurt forever. It wasn’t just the music Prince created that made him great. His true gift was the audacity that propelled him to do what he did best.
No one else was bold and brash enough to sport Speedos, a trench coat, stiletto heels and nothing else onstage. Prince also had the musical props to back all that up. Whether strutting his stuff on the new wave dance-pop of “Delirious”, the outright funk of “Housequake” or the mellow, seductive bedroom sounds of “International Lover,” there wasn’t anything Prince couldn’t do. An outstanding lyricist and musician, a style and fashion icon, a musical innovator and (almost always forgotten about) one hell of an accomplished and soulful guitarist, there will never be another Prince. Legends like this one come about once in a lifetime. I’m just glad he chose to let his everlasting Purple light shine brightly during mine. —Gabe Echazabal
Natasha Richards (1972) The details surrounding the death of Clearwater drag queen Natasha Richards are still not certain, but what is perfectly clear are the celebrated details of a life that earned her international recognition (Miss Gay USofA 1996, First Alternate to Miss Continental in ‘95), plus fans and friends from all over the region. Watermark wrote that Richards performed at Pulse every week for nearly 10 years. Countless obituaries and social media tributes describe a woman who was almost inimitable onstage and a fast friend to nearly anyone who needed one. She used her talent to raise awareness and money for a myriad of causes including anti-bullying, discrimination and HIV/AIDS. Richards’s confidence and kindness changed the lives of so many of the lives she came across, and the community should not soon forget how important her contributions were. —Ray Roa
Rick Manners (1958) To the artists who knew him, Rick Manners was their biggest fan in the world. The retired ‘Burger died on December 5, leaving a gaping hole in the Tampa Bay music community. Every musician contacted for a CL story on Manners described a man who would do anything to help (he loaded instruments, fulfilled riders and opened his home as practice space). Manners never asked for anything in return, but he did convince a few artists to help him flesh out ideas he had managed to form into songs of his own. Instructions left in case anything happened to him included a memorial at Local 662 on Central Avenue.
On December 18 his friends and family packed the club where General Manager Nick Marcisin says Manners also helped out in any way possible. While he won’t be here to help connect all the dots in Tampa Bay’s expanding music scene, we do hope that the work he was able to accomplish will inspire others to take a dive into the music of the artists living and working in the area. —Ray Roa
Big Makk (1991) An August car crash in Seminole County prematurely took the life of Samisoni Koroitamudu. The 25-year-old better known as Big Makk was a promising young producer who played a small show at Fubar in St. Pete in 2014. He was a semi-regular in Tampa’s club scene and was set to do a set at Orlando’s Electric Daisy Carnival last month. "Big Makk was an inspiration,” Tampa DJ Charles Ku told CL after news hit the web, “someone everyone in the Florida and overall dance scene admired dearly. He was the most humble and down-to-earth human being even though everyone knew he was destined for greatness — our community lost a shining star today but thankfully he already made his mark on the world and will be remembered forever through his music." Proceeds from a posthumous LP released a month after the producer’s death benefit the family who survives him. —Ray Roa
Thomas Fekete (1988) In 2015, Thomas Fekete — founding guitarist for West Palm Beach indie-rock outfit Surfer Blood — was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer that spread from his abdomen to his lungs and spine. In May, just weeks before his birthday, his body finally gave in.
"Never was there a day that he even considered throwing in the towel. He was the kind-hearted, funny, fearless, magnetic beam of light you all knew him to be up until his very last breath," his wife, Jess Fekete, wrote on a GoFundMe page created to help with medical expenses. "Now, my beautiful angel, go find Bowie and jam." —Ray Roa
Rob Cartwright (1983) Bearded Brothers Band fiddle player Rob Cartwright died in a December crash when his motorcycle collided with the back of a four-door Suzuki. The 33-year-old was memorialized on December 18 with a music festival at Sims Park in New Port Richey, where friends remembered his relentlessly positive attitude, love for connecting with people from the stage and his endless kindness. "Rob was one of the first people I met at Blake High School. He asked me to sit with him at lunch that first week," James Collins wrote in a Facebook post. "Seems like a minor thing, but I'll never forget that feeling of acceptance from him." —Ray Roa
Phife Dawg (1970) On A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, Malik Izaak Taylor chimes in on a hook which declares that he doesn’t eat ham 'n’ eggs because they’re high in cholesterol. It’s just a classic lyric in a book full of them, but in March, the emcee better known as Phife Dawg passed away from health complications related to diabetes. The Five Foot Assassin even had a kidney removed in 2008, and while he isn’t around to enjoy the accolades surrounding ATCQ’s new album (read our thoughts on the LP here), Phife’s bandmates did honor his legacy by naming the album We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service (a title Phife chose) and letting his voice break the first track, “The Space Program,” wide open. In memoriam, the city of New York even named a street after Phife, who was born to Trinidadian immigrants in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens. —Ray Roa
Leonard Cohen (1934) The eeriest thing about Leonard Cohen’s new album, You Want It Darker (released in October), is how much he really seemed ready to die. He even mentions “Traveling Light” in what actually would be his final days. The tone wasn’t a massive departure from the rest of his output, and Darker almost plays like an intentional farewell note to fans and family. Cohen’s son Adam wrote that his dad went peacefully at home, and his manager Robert Kory said that the death was “sudden, unexpected.” Cohen, who was 82, was apparently writing until his last moments, and while the world may very well see some of that come into the fray, no one will ever be able to deliver it with the dignity that Cohen did. —Ray Roa
Sandy Pearlman (1943) The industry lost a pioneer in 2016 when Sandy Pearlman passed away in July due to complications from a cerebral hemorrhage. Known best for his work as a producer, manager and lyricist for the rock band Blue Öyster Cult, Pearlman was one of the first of his kind, having coined the phrase “heavy metal” during his time as a critic and reviewer before moving on to develop one of the most iconic rock bands of the century. He also managed metal heavyweights Black Sabbath from 1979-1983 and later in his life served as a professor of English, music, law studies and management in Montreal and Toronto. —Kelly Smith
Sharon Jones (1956) In a new documentary about her life, Miss Sharon Jones!, one got the sense that Sharon Jones knew how lucky she was to have made it as far as she did. The 60-year-old songwriter, who was still alive when the film was released over the summer, was a Rikers Island prison guard. She had been told that she was too fat, black and old to be a star. Jones, who died in November after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, defied those critics en route to forging a career in which she and Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth played a huge role in the revival of classic soul sounds.
In the film, Jones retained a sense of humor and fierce fighting spirit. She held on to that until the day she died, with the L.A. Times reporting that she jokingly blamed a November 8 stroke on Donald Trump. Roth, who was with Jones in her final days, said that she sang songs like “Amazing Grace” and “This Little Light of Mine” in those final moments. “She didn't seem anxious or scared or anything.
She just wanted to sing,” he said. “Every time there was a lull in the room she would start moaning some kind of gospel song or something and we'd very quietly come in behind her and play guitar.” —Ray Roa
Viola Beach British indie-rock band Viola Beach died in a horrifying car accident this February in Sweden when their car fell 80 feet from a bridge into a freezing canal below. Manager Terry Craig, 32, was killed along with band members Tomas Lowe, 27, Jack Dakin, 24, Kris Leonard, 19, and River Reeves, 19. The crash was a result of the driver passing through a barrier while the bridge was being raised to let a boat pass through. The tragedy resulted in controversy due to rumors that it took officials more than 30 minutes to respond to initial emergency calls. Six months after the fatal crash, the band’s first and only album reached number one on the U.K.’s top albums chart. —Kelly Smith
The Year in Music: 2016 in memoriam.
Stream and download a mixtape featuring work from the music makers, above and below, who left us this year.
Afeni Shakur (1947): Activist, Tupac's mom.
Alan Thicke (1947): Actor, composer of themes for Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life
Alan Vega (1938): Punk icon, Suicide.
Attrell Cordes (1970): Rapper, singer for P.M. Dawn.
Bankroll Fresh (1987) Atlanta rapper.
Bernie Worrell (1944): Keyboardist, Parliament Funk.
Bill Bumgardner (1981): Drummer; Lord Mantis, Indian.
Bobby Vee (1940): Singer, "Take Good Care of My Baby."
Brandon Ferrell (1984): Drummer, Municipal Waste.
Buckwheat Zydeco (1947): Brought zydeco to the mainstream.
Clarence "Blowfly" Reid (1939): Producer, singer.
Dale Griffin (1948): Drummer, Mott the Hoople.
Dan Hicks (1941): Singer, Hot Licks
David Mancuso (1944): NYC DJ, Loft founder.
Denise Matthews (1959): Prince collaborator and singer of Vanity 6.
Dennis Davis (1949): Session drummer famous for work with Bowie.
Frank Sinatra Jr. (1944): Singer, son of Frank Sr.
Fred Hellerman (1927): Folk singer, the Weavers.
Gato Barbieri (1949): Argentine jazz saxophonist.
George Martin (1926): Producer and unofficial fifth Beatle.
Giorgio Gomelsky (1934): Manager; Rolling Stones, Yardbirds.
Glenn Frey (1948): Singer, guitarist for The Eagles
James Woolley (1966): Keyboardist, Nine Inch Nails.
Jason Mackenroth (1969): Drummer, Rollins Band.
Jean-Jacques Perrey (1929): French composer, Moog enthusiast.
Jerry Heller (1940): Manager, N.W.A..
Jimmy Bain (1947) Bassist, Dio.
Joan Marie Johnson (1944): Dixie Cups, "Chapel of Love."
Joe Skyward (1959): Bassist; Sunny Day Real Estate, The Posies
John Berry (1963): Original Beastie Boy
John Morthland (1947): Rock & roll journalist.
Jon Bunch (1970) Singer; Further Seems Forever, Sense Field.
Juan "Juanga" Gabriel (1950): Mexian singer.
Keith Emerson (1944): Composer; King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Kevin Lawrence (1952): Guitarist, Rapidfire
Lee Andrews (1963): Doo-Wop singer, Questlove’s dad.
Lenny Baker (1945): Sha Na Na saxophonist.
Leon Russell (1942): Songwriter
Lewie Steinberg (1933): Bassist, Booker T. & the M.G.'s.
Lewis Merenstein (1934): Producer, Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.
Lonnie Mack (1941): Blues guitar pioneer.
Lou Pearlman (1954): Manager, *Nsync & Backstreet Boys.
Maurice White (1941): Bandleader, Earth, Wind & Fire.
Merle Haggard (1937): An actual American badass
Mic Gillette (1951) Trumpeter, Tower of Power.
Mose Allison (1927): Jazz pianist.
Natalie Cole (1950): Singer and daughter of Nat King Cole.
Nick Menza (1964): Drummer, Megadeth.
Otis Clay (1942): Gospel and R&B star.
Paul Kanter (1941) & Signe Anderson (1941): Jefferson Airplane guitarist/vocalist, singer, respectively.
Pete Burns (1959): Singer, Dead Or Alive
Pete Huttlinger (1961): Guitarist, John Denver.
Phil Chess (1921): Founder, Chess Records.
Pierre Boulez (1925): French composer, Frank Zappa collaborator.
Prince Buster (1938): Rocksteady, ska pioneer.
Rene Angelil (1942): Manager and husband to Celine Dion.
Richard Trentlage (1928): Jingle writer, "Oscar Mayer wiener"
Rob Ford (1969): Toronto mayor and reggae enthusiast.
Robert Balser (1927): Director Yellow Submarine.
Rod Temperton (1949): "Thriller" writer.
Rudy Van Gelder (1924) Engineer, Love Supreme by John Coltrane.
Scotty Moore (1931): Guitarist, Elvis guitarist.
Sean McKeough (1974): Founder, Riot Fest.
Shawty Lo (1976): "Laffy Taffy" rapper.
Steve Childers (1966): Guitarist, Black Witchery.
Steve Young (1987) Producer, Colourbox & M/A/R/R/S.
Tom Searle (1987): Bassist, Architects.
Tony Barrow (1936) Beatles publicist.
Wayne Jackson (1941): Trumpeter, Memphis Horns.