People Who Died 2011: The Year In Obituaries


In memory of the people, places, and things that passed away in 2011, here’s a collection of links and streaming-video artifacts.

Dec. 27 (2010): Teena Marie (singer, songwriter)

Zach Baron: Her songs were part of the DNA of both rap and anyone who grew up in the ’80s, she was powerful enough to hold down her end of a long musical relationship with a man no less freaky than Rick James, and she took a legendarily goofy guitar-pose photo. Teena Marie called herself the “Ivory Queen of Soul” and it was an honor no one disputed.

Jan. 14: Trish Keenan (singer and musician, Broadcast)

Mike Wolf: And yet, the most memorable part of that interview came when Trish learned I had a dog. Suddenly she was asking the questions, and when she learned it was a female she leaned back and cooed in her thick Birmingham accent, “Oooh, I love the bitches!”

Jan. 28: Savalas (Williamsburg club)
Rok One (longtime resident): When Dave and James first opened it, there were only a handful of places in the region where people could go out dancing: Union Pool, Black Betty (R.I.P), Boogaloo, Stinger Bar (R.I.P.), Bembe, Royal Oak and Enids. Now there are literally hundreds of bars and “clubs” in the area, and if you think that those places aren’t directly harming or stealing business from each other, then GET REAL my dude. The neighborhood has gone from a relatively off the grid starving artist enclave, to a bustling and self-sufficient New York hot-spot, where young urban professionals migrate on the weekend to celebrate. It’s gotten pretty scary, but “it was bound to happen at some point…”

Feb. 2: The White Stripes (rock duo)

Rob Harvilla: So the White Stripes officially announced their breakup today. You are understandably depressed. Not shocked or devastated, probably—they hadn’t put out a record in four years, nor toured in about as long, nor generally much resembled an active band. And yet it’s now time to regard the staggering back catalog they left behind, and lament that they won’t be adding to it anytime soon.

March 15: Nate Dogg (singer)

Dan Weiss: Nate’s work with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Warren G was a major step in the evolution of singing on rap records—his breezily delivered (“tunefully murderous,” as Robert Christgau put it) singsong rhymes were arguably as integral to classic hip-hop as the sax breaks were to Leiber & Stoller records. His greatest and most famous collaboration found him playing Greek chorus to Warren G’s murder tale on the smash “Regulate.”

April 6: Thirty-one Grammy Awards categories
Maura Johnston: Among the most notable shifts: Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance are being brought back together after splitting for the 1990 ceremonies; Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album, Best Native American Music Album, and the much-maligned Best Hawaiian Music Album are all being shoved under the “Best Regional Roots Music Album category; and distinctions between “contemporary” and “traditional” are going away in genres like world music and jazz.

April 20: Gerard Smith (bassist, TV on the Radio)

Maura Johnston: TV on the Radio bassist Gerard Smith passed away this morning after a battle with lung cancer, according to a statement on the band’s official site. “We are very sad to announce the death of our beloved friend and bandmate, Gerard Smith, following a courageous fight against lung cancer,” read the statement. “Gerard passed away the morning of April 20th, 2011. We will miss him terribly.” Last month Smith, who had been a member of the band since 2005, announced that he would be sitting out the tour promoting the band’s new album, Nine Types Of Light, in order to battle the disease.

April 21: Paul Shaffer’s House (Bronx DIY punk venue; no relation to the Letterman bandleader)
Nick Murray: Although in retrospect it seems inevitable that the Paul Shaffer House would eventually have had to deal with some sort of police inquiry, the timing of last week’s bust remains surprising. Rather than break up an event, the officers showed up in the middle of the day—on a day that came weeks after the house’s last advertised show—and cited a handful recent noise complaints.

April 26: Poly Styrene (singer, X-Ray Spex)

Poly Styrene: I just channel my songs like a medium. Who knows why, but they just come through me, and they’re for sharing. I sing them to my friends, and if my friends like them, then I’m quite happy that they’re good songs.

May 27: Gil Scott-Heron (poet, singer, songwriter)

Greg Tate: Gil knew he wasn’t bigger than hip-hop—he knew he was just better. Like Jimi was better than heavy metal, Coltrane better than bebop, Malcolm better than the Nation of Islam, Marley better than the King James Bible. Better as in deeper—emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, politically, ancestrally, hell, probably even genetically. Mama was a Harlem opera singer; papa was a Jamaican footballer (rendering rolling stone redundant); grandmama played the blues records in Tennessee. So grit shit and mother wit Gil had in abundance, and like any Aries Man worth his saltiness he capped it off with flavor, finesse and a funky gypsy attitude.

June 4: Martin Rushent (producer, the Human League)

Martin Rushent: In [the early ’80s], making electronic music was a big job, particularly the way that I was doing it. To get the sounds I wanted, I was layering synths — I might have 24 synths playing one synth line, all programmed, all analogue and all drifting out of tune. It used to take hours and hours and hours, and I don’t know how we ever got through it.

June 11: Seth Putnam (singer, Anal Cunt)

Jess Harvell: Over eight albums [with Anal Cunt], Putnam subjected just about everyone on Earth to his “comedy” of hate: women, gays, African-Americans, AIDS victims, the parents of suicides, rape victims, Rene Auberjonois, his fans, other metal bands, art school kids, himself. He made Tyler, the Creator look like both a total piker and a Louis-Ferdinand Céline-grade genius.

June 12: Carl Gardner (singer, the Coasters) / Aug. 21: Jerry Leiber (songwriter)

Michaelangelo Matos: The Coasters’ singles, all told, rival The Honeymooners and The Dick Van Dyke Show: Leiber was one of the shrewdest lyricists in history, and he set up situations that had a TV-level closeness and broadness, perfect for the emerging teenage audience. But teenagers weren’t what Leiber and Stoller aimed for at first. Meeting as teenagers in L.A., they were Jews obsessed with black culture—not the first, certainly not the last, but definitely among the most impactful. They wrote R&B songs that sounded like R&B songs, free with wordplay and attitude. Nothing sounded forced, and everything moved.

June 18: Clarence Clemons (saxophonist, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band)

Michaelangelo Matos: No one else could have made “Rosalita” sound like the band was keeping up with him instead of the other way around—he’s there at every hairpin turn. Structurally, “Born to Run” is completely different: Clarence leaps in, solo space clearly delineated to him, and he makes everything he can of it. He played sax the way Prince plays guitar: generously, using all the tricks he can pull out for their sheer entertainment value, yet you don’t question his sincerity for a second.

July 8: Betty Ford (first lady, rehab pioneer)
Michaelangelo Matos: If not for Betty Ford, every episode of VH1’s Behind the Music would be about 15 minutes shorter, there would be no Bands Reunited because half the people in them would be dead, Ozzy Osbourne would not have changed television forever by letting a camera crew film his family (because he would probably be dead), Johnny Cash would not have worked with Rick Rubin (because he would probably be dead), and modern therapy-speak would likely be a lot less casually flung about.

July 18: Mars Bar (notorious dive)

Maura Johnston: Last night the Mars Bar, the East Village dive that had been on the chopping block for quite a while thanks to one of those noxious “luxury” highrises coming to its location the corner of Second Avenue and First Street, closed up shop. (The official reason for the timing of the close: A DOH inspection that unearthed “approximately 850 fruit flies in various areas of the restaurant and in a bottle of alcohol.” Well.)

July 23: Amy Winehouse (singer, songwriter)

Maura Johnston: When she was on, Winehouse had few peers—she wasn’t an octave-jumper like other big divas of the moment, but her contralto had a snap to it that enriched even the simplest syllables with a full spectrum of emotion. Back To Black was filled with aching songs like “Love Is A Losing Game” and “You Know I’m No Good” that chronicled mutually detrimental relationships and the people who stayed in them, for whatever reasons they had.

July 26: Frank Foster (jazz saxophonist)

Jozen Cummings: Foster most appreciated the big band format; he’d even organized his own 12-piece band during his senior year of high school. He led the 18-piece band Loud Minority until 1986, when—two years after Basie passed away—he took the reins of the Count Basie Orchestra. Under Foster’s leadership, the Count Basie “ghost band” set the standard for posthumous jazz orchestras formed in honor of their founders.

Aug. 11: Jani Lane (singer, Warrant)

Maura Johnston: The members of Warrant had poster-boy good looks (my bedroom wall in high school can attest to this) and extremely hooky songwriting, which probably made them even more vulnerable to falling out of favor once the darker, more sullen bands of the grunge and modern rock uprising gained primacy in the marketplace. (Lane once discussed the sinking feeling in his stomach he had when he saw that the poster of his band in the Columbia Records offices had been replaced by one touting Alice In Chains.)

Aug. 22: Nickolas Ashford (songwriter, singer)

Chris Molanphy: Clearly [Marvin] Gaye and [Tammi] Terrell benefited from their innate sense of male-female dynamics, so amply displayed in a still-unequaled string of late ’60s vocal duets, from “Your Precious Love” to “You’re All I Need to Get By.” But even the smaller soul stars who recorded Ashford-Simpson compositions were given, not just sparkling melodies, but the ring of truth as expressed in conversation. Listen to the medium-sized 1974 hit by the Dynamic Superiors, “Shoe Shoe Shine,” which kicks off with the brilliant lines, “First of all, let’s get one thing straight/ All the things you desire/ Will have to come late.” This was lyrical dialogue of the first order, the equal of Smokey Robinson in immediacy.

Sept. 13: DJ Medhi (DJ, producer)

Puja Patel: Since the news spread this morning, the dance community has turned to Twitter to share thoughts and memories of their friend and peer. Some remember an act of kindness or his willingness to chat with fans; others remember his high-energy sets and sense of humor; still others recall how he loved to dance. The latter was apparent from his live sets, where he could always be seen having as much fun as his audience—a quality that’s become harder and harder to find.

Sept. 22: Absolutely Kosher Records (indie-rock label)

David Raposa: It was never an indie institution on the level of Merge or Dischord, but that doesn’t make the end of Absolutely Kosher Records any less bittersweet. The label released one of the last solo Mountain Goats albums (The Coroner’s Gambit), some Xiu Xiu discs, that live record by one-and-done wonders Life Without Buildings, and the most recent full-length from Kubrickian indie-rockers The Wrens. But over his label’s 13-year existence, AK founder Cory Brown has shared a decidedly individualistic idea of what “indie rock” could be; the aforementioned lineup of bands only scratches the surface of what his label had to offer.

Sept. 29: Sylvia Robinson (singer, founder of Sugar Hill Records)

From The Big Payback by Dan Charnas: “Pillow Talk” by Sylvia ended up going to number one on Billboard‘s soul singles chart and number three on the pop chart in 1973… Removed from her studio cocoon and suddenly thrust onstage alone at age thirty-six, Sylvia seemed uncomfortable. On Soul Train, she was beautiful and stylish—bell bottoms, a long braid, and a yellow muffy cap—but she was nearly tongue-tied as Don Cornelius asked her about her praiseworthy production career.

Oct. 5: Steve Jobs (founder, Apple)
Rosie Gray: The deification of recently deceased Steve Jobs continues apace. A 1982 portrait of the Apple chief by Diana Walker is now being displayed on the first floor of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian.

Oct. 6: Bert Jansch (guitarist)
Andy Beta: Jansch’s name might not resonate much with classic-rock fans, but it’s safe to say that the genre bears his fingerprint, due in no small part to the influence he wielded on its biggest stars. The two most obvious disciples of Jansch’s strong, indelible picking style are Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Neil Young; both appropriated some of Jansch’s earliest recordings in finding their own voice.

Nov. 7: “Smokin'” Joe Frazier (boxer, singer)
Maura Johnston: While he didn’t have the best voice, he produced a smattering of recordings that melded funk, soul, and prodigious references to the fact that his main career involved wearing boxing gloves and avoiding others’ punches. (His band? The Knockouts, of course.)

Nov. 8: Heavy D (rapper, record executive)

Phillip Mlynar: Heavy D’s skill is the underappreciated part of his musical career. He held his own not just in the monolithic presence of Biggie, but also when sparring with the revered likes of Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, C.L. Smooth and Q-Tip on “Don’t Curse.” He was possessed with a jovial, likable timbre, but he was also fleet and skillful with his syllables, a talent other rappers clearly appreciated; he also etched out a sideline ghost-writing rhymes for his cousin Pete Rock and Queen Latifah.

Nov. 14: Laura Kennedy (bassist, Bush Tetras)

Maura Johnston: Kennedy played bass in the Bush Tetras, and her bouncing basslines were crucial to the band’s melding of funk, punk, and razor-wire guitars.

Nov. 22: Paul Motian (jazz drummer)

K. Leander Williams: The drummer’s annual residencies at the Vanguard opposite tenor saxist Joe Lovano and electric guitarist Bill Frisell—two talents he’d plucked from obscurity well before their names were big enough to share his on the marquee—were just one of the places to hear how his contemporaneity and traditionalism fed each other.