As we continue to look back on the year in music in 2017, no retrospective would be complete without recognizing the artists that we lost this year. Fortunately, even though they may no longer be with us, their music is eternal and will survive the test of time. The following musicians each impacted audiences on a large scale and surely served as inspiration for some and will be missed by all.
Perhaps no celebrity death this year, musician or not, impacted as many people as Tom Petty’s did, serving as a testament to just how influential his music has been not only in America but worldwide. Petty succumbed to cardiac arrest just weeks shy of his 67th birthday in October, shortly after his last tour had finished. His music was and is pure Americana, often featuring simple, heart felt lyrics that had a personal touch to them combined with passionate guitar work and melodies. Starting with his first band Mudcrutch in Florida and ending with his long time backing band and friends The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty’s music spanned generations and served as inspiration to aspiring song writers everywhere. It’s hard not to even know a Petty tune as song like “Free Fallin,” “Running Down a Dream,” and “American Girl” have been thoroughly infused into popular culture, proving that his music not only spanned generations but tastes as well. Even if you weren’t a huge fan, odd’s are that there’s at least one Tom Petty song you know and like. Petty was fittingly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and leaves us with an enormous musical catalog to remember him by.
Here’s a clip from Petty’s final show at the Hollywood Bowl in September, showing that he still had plenty of speed on his fastball and, in a way, went out on top.
In terms of influencing other artists and redefining an entire musical genre, no one we lost this year had more of an impact with that than Chuck Berry who literally forged a new era of music. Taking elements of rhythm and blues, Berry combined them with frenetic guitar work and pure showmanship in serving as one of the true fathers of rock and roll. When artists like Elvis Presley and The Beatles cite you directly as an influence, something must have been done right. Songs like “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven” were unheard of at the time in the late 1950s with their rousing guitar-driven sound and Berry’s on stage showmanship. But Berry helped bring this new form of musicianship into the light and served as inspiration to entire generations of musicians who took this and ran with it. Fittingly, Berry was one of the first ever members inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it opened in 1986.
Self dubbed “the screaming eagle of soul,” Charles Bradley’s voice was synonymous with soul music and his death in September after a battle with stomach cancer was felt by many in the music industry. Bradley’s performances were known for his visual outpouring of emotion, connecting with his audience on a personal level and, of course, soul. Bradley started out his career as a James Brown impersonator and wound up as an acclaimed performer and one of the faces of the Daptone Records label. His delivery was known to evoke memories of Otis Redding and his influence has even spread to the world of hip hop where his unmistakable voice can be heard in samples.