Death and ‘Lemonade’ : The Bittersweet Year in Music News – Yahoo Music

On Feb. 3, 1959, legendary early rock ‘n’ rollers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash. The tragedy became known as “The Day the Music Died.”

Fifty-seven years later, 2016 might be remembered as “The Year the Music Died.” While many other music stories made headlines this year, 2016 was sadly dominated by death. Yes, in the past, music fans have lost everyone from Elvis and John Lennon to Kurt Cobain and Tupac — but never so many important artists over one 12-month period.

Photos: Music Stars We Lost in 2016

The most significant with the deaths of David Bowie on Jan. 10, Prince on April 21, and George Michael on Christmas Day. Bowie’s death, just two days after his 69th birthday, was a gut-punch. The fact he was battling liver cancer was kept secret, only revealed following his death and the release of his final studio album, Blackstar. Prince’s demise, at 57, came as an even bigger surprise, somewhat like that of his onetime rival, Michael Jackson. He’d been battling an addiction to painkillers and was trying to get help, but it came too late. George Michael’s death, at 53, was particularly shocking. Unlike Bowie, he hadn’t had the chance to bid farewell to his fans at the time of his death with a final project, but he did have a documentary in the works on his career that is tentatively set to air on Showtime in March.

Tragically, the deaths didn’t stop there. It was almost like music fans were an amateur fighter in the ring with a UFC champ. The blows kept coming in 2016.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles died Jan. 18 at the age of 67 from complications of rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia. Paul Kantner, a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship, died on Jan. 28 of organ failure following a heart attack at the age of 74. On Feb. 3, Earth, Wind & Fire singer-songwriter Maurice White died from Parkinson’s disease. He was 74. On March 8, Beatles producer George Martin passed in his sleep at the age of 90. On April 6, country legend Merle Haggard died from complications of pneumonia at the age of 79, while relative newcomer Joey Feek of husband-and-wife country duo Joey + Rory lost her battle to cancer on March 4. She was only 40. On March 10, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Then on Dec. 7, his one-time bandmate Greg Lake, succumbed to cancer. On March 22, A Tribe Called Quest rapper Phife Dawg, born Malik Izaak Taylor, died from complications of diabetes at the age of 45. On March 30, Andy “Thunderclap” Newman of Thunderclap Newman, died at the age of 73. On June 26, Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore died at the age of 84. On Oct. 23, Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns died of cardiac arrest at age 57.

As the year was winding down and it seemed as if we couldn’t take any more, music fans were hit with four more deaths. Leonard Cohen died in his sleep on Nov. 7, after suffering a fall at night; like Bowie, he left fans with a brilliant final album, You  Want It Darker. Less than a week later, on Nov. 13, singer-songwriter and keyboard wizard Leon Russell died in his sleep at age 74. A mere two days later, jazz and blues singer/songwriter/pianist Mose Allison died of natural causes at 90. And on Nov. 18, soul sensation Sharon Jones passed at 60 after suffering a series of strokes while battling cancer.

In a final blow to the music community, on Dec. 2, 36 fans and musicians died in a warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif., including 22-year-old Cash Askew of the Bay Area band Them Are Us Too and 35-year-old Travis Hough of Ghosts of Lightning.

In between mourning those great losses, however, came some very welcome moments of relief.

Beyoncé released the controversial single and video “Formation” on Feb. 6 and a day later stole the Super Bowl halftime show from headliners Coldplay with a blistering performance. In April, she surprise-released a video album, Lemonade, as a HBO special, while the accompanying audio set topped the Billboard 200, making her the first act to have her first six studio albums top the chart. She also did bang-up business at the box office with her Formation World Tour.

Related: Best Albums of 2016: Yahoo Music Staff Picks

Taylor Swift didn’t release an album or tour in 2016, but still managed to top Forbes’s list of the highest-paid acts in music thanks to her endorsement deals with Apple and Diet Coke. She bested One Direction, Beyoncé, Adele, and Katy Perry by pulling in $170 million. Swift also remained in the news, not so much for her music, but her romances and feuds. She shook off Scottish DJ/producer/artist Calvin Harris after a little more than a year, and hooked up with actor Tom Hiddleston, but also split with him after a summer romance. A month after parting with Harris, it was revealed that she co-wrote the Harris/Rihanna hit “This Is What You Came For” under the pseudonym Nils Sjoberg. Swift also won big at the Grammys, taking home Album of the Year for 1989 and two other awards.

Related: The Biggest Music Feuds of 2016

While Swift took one of the key awards, Kendrick Lamar brought home the most hardware at the Grammys, winning five awards, including Best Rap Album, for To Pimp a Butterfly. Lamar followed that set up with the low-key compilation untitled unmastered, a collection of demos that still managed to top the Billboard 200 upon its release.

While Kendrick kept a relatively low profile, Kanye West was back with a vengeance. After a lot of hype and several changes to the title and track list, he finally released The Life of Pablo as an exclusive through Tidal, although he continued to tweak the mixes of tracks following its release. West took the album on the road with the ill-fated Saint Pablo Tour, which was first delayed following the Paris robbery of his wife Kim Kardashian West in October, and then scrapped it altogether a month later when West suffered a breakdown on the West Coast, following an onstage rant about Beyoncé, Jay Z, and his support of President-elect Donald Trump.

While Kanye battled his demons, Kesha continued to fight for her right to work as a recording artist in her legal battle with producer Dr. Luke. Yet, a year and a half after she first filed suit against the producer for sexual assault and battery, her claims were rejected by a New York judge. Following the legal defeat, she dusted herself off and made a surprise appearance during Zedd’s set at Coachella. Her saga will likely continue in 2017.

Related: The Top-Selling Albums of 2016

Lady Gaga and Madonna were two other fearless pop women making waves in the industry. Gaga started her year with a standout national anthem at the Super Bowl (she’ll return to the Super Bowl in 2017 as the halftime performer), a moving performance alongside sexual assault survivors at the Oscars, a David Bowie tribute with Nile Rodgers at the Grammys, and a Golden Globe win for her role in American Horror Story; she wrapped 2016 with the release of her most personal album to date, Joanne, and a series of frank, awareness-raising interviews about her mental health issues.

Related: Lady Gaga Talks ‘Joanne’ Album: ‘I Wanted to Do the Things That Made Me Fall in Love With Music in the First Place’

Madonna, often cited ( to Gaga’s chagrin) as Gaga’s predecessor, was named Billboard ‘s Woman of the Year, and delivered an incendiary speech at the magazine’s December ceremony, bluntly saying, “Thank you for acknowledging my ability to continue my career for 34 years in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.” Lady Gaga later praised Madonna’s speech, calling it “inspiring.”

Back to the subject of record label battles: Frank Ocean faced off with Def Jam — but unlike Kesha, he won. Amid Kanye-like hype and anticipation , Ocean first released a video album, titled Endless, exclusively through Apple Music to fulfill his contract with Def Jam Recordings — paving the way for his Blonde album to be released independently, also through Apple Music. The resulting brouhaha had Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge vowing to end exclusive deals with streaming services — a move that could be good for consumers if it proves to be true and others follow suit. For Ocean, it didn’t really matter. Freed from corporate overlords, Blonde still managed to top the charts and received nearly universal acclaim from critics for its futuristic update on R&B.

Collaborations between pop artists and DJs help continue to bring EDM to the mainstream, as DJ Snake and the Chainsmokers scored massive hits with “Let Me Love You” and “Closer,” with the help of Justin Bieber and Halsey, respectively. Another relative new act, Rae Sremmurd, rode the wave of the viral video Mannequin Challenge to top the chart with “Black Beatles,” and even inspired actual Beatle Paul McCartney to participate with his own video using the song as a soundtrack.

Related: The Best Music Memes of 2016

On the rock front, the unthinkable happened. Axl Rose and Slash got back together under the Guns N’ Roses banner and brought bassist Duff McKagan along for the ride. It wasn’t a full reunion — guitarist Izzy Stradlin was noticeably absent, though drummer Steven Adler did make a few appearances — but by most accounts it was a success, with the band headlining Coachella and the Not in This Lifetime Tour pulling in major bucks at the box office. By most accounts, the once notoriously unreliable band arrived on time and put on a professional show with no signs of the infighting that once tore GNR apart. Although Axl broke his foot during a GNR warmup date and had to use Dave Grohl’s throne for some dates, he was in good enough shape to also front AC/DC, after singer Brian Johnson was advised to stop performing live due to his deteriorating hearing.

Related: The Top Musical Comebacks of 2016

Guns N’ Roses and even AC/DC are relatively young bucks compared to the crowd that headlined this year’s inaugural Desert Trip, on the same Empire Polo field that hosts Coachella. The three-day festival that occurred during two consecutive weekends in October featured the classic rock dream lineup of 70something greats the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, the Who and Roger Waters. Some mocked the festival, calling it “Oldchella,” but promoter AEG Live happily counted the record-breaking bounty of approximately $160 million for the two weekends.

Related: 2016, The Year Senior Citizen Musicians Took Over

Led Zeppelin didn’t reunite for Desert Trip, but the band was in the news this year, defending themselves against a copyright lawsuit, brought by the estate of Randy California, that claimed “Stairway to Heaven” ripped off Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus.” Zep prevailed.

And finally, in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the presidential election, a number of stars, including Lady Gaga, Katy Petty, Beyoncé, Jay Z, Bruce Springsteen, and Jon Bon Jovi,  rallied around Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Donald Trump mostly received complaints from artists, including the Rolling Stones, Adele, Neil Young, and R.E.M., for unauthorized use of their music at his rallies. To many artists’ surprise, Trump won the election and left us wondering which musicians would play his inauguration in 2017.

Follow Craig Rosen on Twitter.



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