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In Memoriam: How Artists Lost in the 2010s Will Continue to Shape Music

These artists shaped the way we see music and how we will continue to make art inspired by them in the years to come.

Girl with Micro Braids

JANUARY 6, 2020

Music has taken a hit this past decade. It has lost some of its most influential voices; from David Bowie, Prince, Roy Hargrove, João Gilberto, Tom Petty and Chuck Berry to Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, and rising stars such as Juice WRLD - the music industry has suffered its fair share of losses in recent years. While the losses of these artists are tragic, it is a comfort to realize that they have left behind the beauty that they created in life. Their influence and their creativity has and will continue to inspire generations of young artists for years to come, creating a legacy of unforgettable art, long after they’re gone.

David Bowie, the Brixton-born king of glam rock, shook audiences to their core beginning in 1967, when he released his self-titled debut album, David Bowie. A record brimming with gender-bending tales (which would lead to iconic Bowie character, Ziggy Stardust), macabre lyrics and analyzations of youth culture in London in the 1960s, Bowie exploded into the music scene unafraid and daring, as he would continue in life with albums Hunky Dory, Young Americans and “Heroes.” to name only a few. Cranking out poignant tracks like “Heroes” and “Life on Mars,” Bowie also knew how to evoke a unique happiness in his music, with seductively vibrant songs such as “Golden Years,” “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.” Bowie was fearless and headstrong, his career punctuated with stunning visuals and lyrical presentation unlike anything seen in rock music before. Noted as one of the most influential artists of the century, Bowie is the reason for many of the most famous voices we hear on radio today. Before she was Lady GaGa, Stefani Germonetta was listening to him as a struggling artist and actress while living on the Lower East Side in New York City. “I always felt that his glamour was something he was using to express a message to people that was very healing for their souls,” GaGa told The Hollywood Reporter, something that she is well known for today. Other artists Bowie influenced include Marilyn Manson and The Killers, both known for their own takes on glam rock and citing that listening to Hunky Dory is what ignited their drive for music careers.

Rock music greats Chuck Berry and Tom Petty were also lost this decade. Known for their strength as singer-songwriters, as well as pioneers in rock music, the two were noted to be influential guitarists. Berry, who was crowned the “Father of Rock and Roll,” began his career in the mid-fifties and developed rhythm and blues with tracks “Johnny B. Goode” and “You Never Can Tell” (the latter of which shaped pop culture and cinema when featured in Quentin Tarantino’s famous Pulp Fiction dance sequence). Petty formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1976; Petty and his band revolutionized the beloved subgenres of heartland rock and Southern rock, earning spots alongside bands like Bruce Springsteen, Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Mellancamp. While Chuck Berry influenced countless rock and roll bands throughout the years—most notably The Rolling Stones, in which he had a close relationship with infamous guitar legend Keith Richards—Berry also touched the artistic souls of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley. It’s a domino effect—without Berry’s art, we wouldn’t have the rhythms, the lyrics, the life in the music that we have today. Similarly with Petty, he has influenced pop artists today like Taylor Swift, who told British music magazine NME that Petty “motivated thousands of guitarists to learn to play just because they wanted to be able to play ‘Free Fallin”. Count me as one of them.” Both guitarists have created a brilliant legacy of rock to help the future generations thrive; because of their music, they have not allowed rock and roll to die.

Amy Winehouse was a sudden and shocking loss in this decade; a promising young Londoner with the crooning vocals of yesteryear and a beautiful authenticity to her. With an iconic visual style and the voice of a 1940s jazz star, Winehouse took the world by storm, working with big-time music industry greats like Tony Bennett and Mark Ronson. Winehouse pumped out hit after hit, especially on her 2006 record Back To Black, which includes tracks “Rehab,” “You Know That I’m No Good” and “Tears Dry On Their Own.” Winehouse’s bluesy, ethereal vocals mixed with her jazz-infused backing instrumentation instantly shot her to stardom. When she passed at 27, the music industry was shattered and Winehouse’s music was continuously celebrated. Her love of music, as well as the sheer passion emitted every time she uttered a note, has shaped the careers of fellow UK artists, such as crooner Adele and Sam Smith.

Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin were two voices who revolutionized and paved a pathway for women in music. Both with staggeringly powerful vocals that could be recognized anywhere, they shaped the music industry to be what it is today. Franklin, who began her career in the early 1950s, came from a gospel background, as did Houston. Both women showed a passion for their craft from the time they were young. Franklin, who’s notable tracks “Respect,” “Chain of Fools” and “I Say A Little Prayer,” among others, put her on the map as one of the strongest female vocalists of the century; she has influenced musicians Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole, to name a few. Houston, similarly, cranked out hits like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “I Will Always Love You” and “How Will I Know.” Due to her ability to have a crossover appeal into popular music, she has influenced countless female African American musicians, including powerhouses Beyoncé and Mariah Carey, who now continue Houston’s legacy by influencing uprising young artists in the industry.

Despite the tragic losses of these artists in this last decade, we find something to celebrate in their absence: the art that they have left behind. Due to the passion and ambition that they had in life for music and its significance, they have created a brilliant domino effect that will continue to influence and inspire artists for not only the next decade, but centuries to come.

Aretha Franklin


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