Many musical voices fell silent in 2015. We lost soul singers and opera stars, blues and folk guitarists, saxophonists and percussionists, plus composers, conductors, producers, and other visionaries. Explore their musical legacies here.
Feb. 22, 1964 — Oct. 28, 2015
Her name was not the stuff of bright marquees, but through the U.K. dance-music explosion beginning in the 1990s, this electronic-soul singer was the featured voice on massive club tracks and at live shows by the likes of Goldie, Moby and Satoshi Tomiie.
When he first showed up, he broke so many rules of jazz that people questioned his sanity. Slowly, as the beautiful, unbound melodies introduced by his knife-edged saxophone remained in liquid currency, we realized that he had rewritten the rulebook.
He didn't quite clear five feet, but this beloved mentor to both George Jones and Brad Paisley, known for comical songs and winning stagecraft, filled the Grand Ole Opry with charm, cheer and the shine of his rhinestone-studded suits for more than six decades.
As one of the first African-Americans to enjoy an international opera career, this coloratura from Atlanta, Ga. could spin high-flying roulades with the best of them, in roles like Gilda in Rigoletto, with which she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1956.
He was a legendary percussionist at the Boston Symphony Orchestra — but Firth also became a household name to drummers around the globe. As an entrepreneur who made drumsticks, mallets brushes and other gear, he built a company whose equipment outfits performers like Charlie Watts and Questlove.
Vic Firth - Stravinsky: Rite of Spring - 'Sacrificial Dance'
Half a century before Beyoncé claimed the word "feminist" as part of a pop star's vocabulary, New Jersey native Gore taught teenagers about women's liberation with her gutsy performance of the anthem "You Don't Own Me" — the crown jewel among her many hits, from "It's My Party" to "Maybe I Know."
No one was or is or can be like Lemmy. His voice rattled like bullets in a barrel and his bass throttled whisky-soaked, revved-up rock 'n' roll. After a brief tenure in Hawkwind (including the band's best album, Space Ritual), he founded Motörhead and gave us the outcast's motto, permanently tattooed on our bodies and in our hearts: "Born to Lose, Live to Win."
It's inevitable that people will best remember King for "Stand By Me," his 1961 smash that became one of soul's most popular secular spirituals. Yet he was also one of the lead singers of the great Drifters, with whom he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He took the blues from his native Mississippi north to Chicago — and his smooth voice and keening guitar bridged generations and cultures. King was on a mission to make his music heard, and he kept performing almost to the end. Along the way, he helped renew interest in a vital American art form.
When the New York Philharmonic needed a complete overhaul in the early 1990s, they called on an unlikely leader from East Germany: Masur. Best known for his command of canonical composers like Beethoven and Brahms, he also commissioned some 40 new works for the New Yorkers.
Kurt Masur - Dvorak: Symphony No. 8, III. Allegretto
This Bay Area conguero was one of a few who redefined the role of the congas when they were mixed with rock music in the early 1970s. And for almost 40 years, his sound and his ever-present smile were an important part of the Santana band during countless shows around the globe.
His playing stands out from the rest of the British guitarists who came to prominence in the 1960s. Classically trained, Renbourn took that study — and a love of Renaissance music — and applied it to the electric guitar he often played with Pentangle. But his solo acoustic work can make your jaw drop.
"All the squares, go home!" That was the rallying cry of this trumpeter, singer and co-founder of the pivotal funk band Sly & the Family Stone — a groundbreaking artist in an era when being a female, and African-American, horn player in a major band was a singular achievement.
He once said, "I have simultaneously had seven full-time careers in music." That just about sums up this Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, conductor and educator who bridged classical music and jazz — and collaborated with colleagues ranging from Miles Davis to Frank Zappa.
Gunther Schuller: 'Of Reminiscences and Reflections'
When people talk about "real" country music in 2015, they're almost always invoking the sophisticated, emotionally nuanced hits this songwriter and producer devised, from Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" to George Jones's "The Grand Tour." Nobody set heartache to strings with as much finesse.
This Alabama native embodied the Muscle Shoals sound. His ability to blend pain and hope within one musical phrase — the quality that made his hit "When a Man Loves a Woman" one of soul's central texts — made his the ideal voice for the crossroads of country and soul.
Nonfiction wins again: A man named Swingle (pictured bottom left) married J.S. Bach with scat singing. He won five Grammys and inspired both a monument of postmodernism — Sinfonia, composer Luciano Berio's mashup of Mahler and Samuel Beckett — and the sound of Glee.
Ward Swingle - J.S. Bach: 'Fugue in C minor' (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II)
One of the most beloved musicians in jazz, the trumpeter was also one of its most recorded, performing with the big bands of Basie, Ellington and the Tonight Show. Then teaching became his pride, and his joy attracted many disciples including Miles Davis, Quincy Jones and Wynton Marsalis.
Songwriter, pianist extraordinaire and generous raconteur, Toussaint was the true soul of New Orleans. His songs – "It's Raining," "Working In a Coal Mine," "Yes We Can Can," "Southern Nights" and dozens more — shaped the sound that brought the city into the modern era.
With a penetrating fusion of steel and power, the Canadian tenor's voice was often hailed as one of the greatest of the 20th century, delivering conspicuous intensity to Wagner's heroes or misunderstood outsiders like Britten's Peter Grimes.
Jon Vickers - Britten: Peter Grimes - 'Now the Great Bear and Pleiades'
Though he first came to prominence during grunge's heyday as a member of Stone Temple Pilots, this charismatic lead singer, and one of American alternative rock's few showmen, transcended the era. In the 21st century, he fronted the hard-rock supergroup Velvet Revolver and became a successful solo artist.