Mistress of the Mix: The Year The Music Died


It was the summer of 1988. I was 21, and was working three part-time jobs over the summer before starting my senior year in college. I was single (a rare moment in Val history as all my lifelong girlfriends will attest), mini-skirts were in again, and I was wearing out the cassette deck in my Datsun 710 station wagon with one tape that I listened to over and over again that whole summer.

George Michael. Faith.

Even today, every time I think of George Michael, the vision I have is my memory of driving that ugly little green car from one of my two radio station jobs to my shift waiting tables at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. I can even tell you what I was probably wearing. Sunglasses, a spandex tank and a black and white polka dotted mini-skirt with knee length leggings. That was the uniform of 1988. And - like almost every single car ride during that un-airconditioned summer - I had my window rolled down while I sang at the top of my lungs.

I loved every single song on that cassette tape. I still have it somewhere, packed away in a box of memorabilia from my youth. And now, with George Michael's death on Christmas, that's all he is now. A memory. But a really, really good one.

The list of iconic music figures that have passed away this past year is so extensive that it's a little overwhelming. It may have ended with George Michael, but it started with David Bowie, and I was crushed. Then death took Glenn Frey, the man who wrote "Hotel California." Early in the Spring we lost one of our own, Merle Haggard, and that same month Prince was gone. So many brilliant songwriters gone already, that it seemed like a slap in the face when Leonard Cohen, who wrote "Hallelujah," passed away at 82. But death wasn't finished. She finally claimed soul singer Sharon Jones, who told Rolling Stone earlier this year "I have Cancer; Cancer doesn't have me." And now, finally it does. I consider myself one of the lucky few who got to sit in the front row at the Cascade Theatre to experience her amazing death defying attitude just a little over a year ago. That woman danced like Tina Turner while belting out song after song. She kicked her heels off. Her earring flew off into the audience. And the whole time I was just floored, knowing that she had been told just six weeks earlier that her cancer had returned, and she was going through chemo. That woman never let Cancer define who she was.

Cancer took so many of the great artists we lost this year: Bowie, Joey Feek, Buckwheat Zydeco, Leonard Cohen (who actually died in his sleep after experiencing a fall, but cancer was a major contributing factor says the family), and Greg Lake. Lake was one third of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Another third, Keith Emerson, also passed away this year by self-inflicted gunshot, the only music icon known to intentionally end his life this year.

Rather than stretching for ways to wax on poetically about how so many talented musicians died, I offer this list, and an accompanying playlist of their amazing songs. I'm also including Sir George Martin, the iconic producer of The Beatles. He died this year at the age of 90, and contributed so much to the recorded sound of John, Paul, George & Ringo that I thought it would be a crime not to include his genius in this list of people we lost in 2016.

They're calling 2016 "The Year The Music Died." But it's not. The musicians - amazing musicians, all of them - may have died, but their music is a legacy that lives on. We should all be so lucky to leave such a legacy.

Jan 10 - David Bowie, cancer, 69.
Jan 17 - Glenn Frey, The Eagles, complications from surgery to treat arthritis, 67.
Jan 28 - Paul Kantner, Jefferson Airplane & Jefferson Starship, heart attack, 74.
Feb 04 - Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire, Parkinsons Disease, 74.
Mar 04 - Joey Feek, Joey & Rory, cervical cancer, 40.
Mar 08 - Sir George Martin, Beatles Producer, unknown, 90.
Mar 11 - Keith Emerson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, self-inflicted gunshot, 71.
Mar 23 - Phife Dawg, Tribe Called Quest, complications from Diabetes, 45.
Apr 06 - Merle Haggard, complications from Pneumonia, 79.
Apr 21 - Prince, Fentanyl overdose, 57.
Oct 23 - Pete Burns, Dead Or Alive, heart attack, 57.
Sep 24 - Buckwheat Zydeco,cancer, 68.
Nov 10 - Leonard Cohen, cancer & fall in home, 82.
Nov 13 - Leon Russell, complications from heart surgery, 74.
Nov 18 - Sharon Jones, cancer, 60.
Dec 07 - Greg Lake, Emerson Lake & Palmer, cancer, 69.
Dec 25 - George Michael, heart failure, 53.

I offer this playlist of songs from the musicians listed above, but if you can think of others worthy of this list, please let me know in the comments below, or list your own favorite songs from these incredible icons we lost this year.


Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

24 Responses

  1. cheyenne says:

    Being much older the day my music died was in 1959.  Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and the Big Bopper all in one tragic accident.  Freshman year in high school.  I have been to the Surf Club in Clear Lake where they played their last concert and every where in the hotels and other stops newspaper articles about the accident are framed and hanging on walls.  While I have the records they made what I always think about is how much future music was never made because they died so young.  Their songs are classics that dominate Karaoke parties and the back drop for many movies.  La Bamba, Chantilly Lace, and That’ll Be The Day.

    • Valerie Ing says:

      I ponder that all the time in regards to Mozart (who died in his thirties) and John Lennon. Even though they were prolific songwriters during their time on earth, they had so much more in them that never had the chance to come out.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Buddy Holly, in particular, was a groundbreaker whose music probably would have continued to evolve in amazing ways through the 60s because his musical interests varied widely.  Dead at 22—such a shame.  He was such an influence on Lennon and McCartney that they named their band “The Beatles,” after Holly’s band, “The Crickets.”  Lennon was fantastic at imitating Holly’s hiccuping vocal style, doing so on occasion right up to his last recordings, and McCartney still owns the publishing rights to Holly’s catalogue.

      And of course, seminal outlaw country artist Waylon Jennings played bass in The Crickets, and gave up his seat on the ill-fated airplane to The Big Bopper.

      • cheyenne says:

        Ironically, when I visited the Surf Club, Waylon Jennings son was playing there.  I have a picture some where with his name on the marquee.

  2. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    “Faith” is one of those perfectly crafted pop songs that only comes around every few years and just jumps off the radio into your lap.  For me, the rockabilly* guitar break makes the song complete.  “Faith” reminds me of “Hey Ya” by Outkast…I’m still waiting for someone in this 21st century to write a better hit pop song than that Andre 3000’s song.  Shake it like a polaroid picture.

    *Speaking of great pop songs with rockabilly influence: Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

  3. Barbara Rice Barbara Rice says:

    Signe Anderson was one of the original Jefferson Airplane; she sang on their first album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.” She quit to raise her family and that was when Grace Slick joined the band.  Signe died the same day as Paul Kantner.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Grace Slick was a Signe Anderson doppelgänger—Paul Kantner must have had a type.

    • Valerie Ing says:

      I didn’t know this! Thanks for alerting me! I should’ve played Chauffeur Blues instead. I think I’ll add it on to the playlist. I also didn’t realize she was from Oregon (I should be ashamed of myself….but I was never a huge Jefferson Airplane/Starship fan).


  4. Caroline says:

    Ziggy Stardust for David Bowie and for Paul Kantner — a song he actually wrote (not just performed) called “Today.” It’s on the Surrealistic Pillow album and its highly under appreciated IMO. Of course Somebody to Love is one of my personal faves — but then again– you know that 😉

  5. Tom Diskin says:

    Well now perhaps to put this in perspective, you should have called this “The Year the Musicians Died”.  The music certainly hasn’t as it will live on and on!  Bach died in 1750 and his music is as strong as ever!

    • Valerie Ing says:

      Exactly, Tom! Speaking of classical music, there were a lot of classical music luminaries that passed this year as well, including conductors Sir Neville Marriner, George Boulez, Ulf Soderblom, cellists Heinrich Schiff and Nikolas Harnoncourt, flutist Aurele Nicolet, composers Einojuhani Rautavaara, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and pianist Edmund Battersby.

  6. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    Another who passed in 2016:  Texas folkie Guy Clark (L.A. Freeway, Desperados Under the Eaves, Dublin Blues).   I just heard his song “My Favorite Picture of You”—a sweet/bittersweet song about his late wife Susanna Clark.  It reminded me that he probably wasn’t a big enough star to make Val’s list.  I understand, Val, but I’d stand on your coffee table in my cowboy boots and argue that he’s more deserving than Pete Burns.

    Wife Susanna was an accomplished artist, too—songwriter and painter.  She not only wrote the song “Easy From Now On” for Emmylou Harris, and a line from that song became the title of Harris’s album, “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town.”  Clark also painted the iconic album cover.

    • Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

      A friend introduced me to Guy Clark in 1979, while I was living in Texas. To this day, his “Let Him Roll” can give me chills–he had a wonderful ability to remind us how sadness and beauty are so often intertwined. He was far from a household name, true, but he had a big influence on songwriters in that big broad genre we now call “Americana.”

      “Desperados Under the Eaves” was written and performed by Warren Zevon; you meant “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” I’m sure.

      Hot damn. I caught a mistake made by Steve. I think I won’t gloat too much, though, since he knows the difference between “meme” and “mime” without having to look it up.

      • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

        Ya got me, Hal.  And I thought only my short-term memory was starting to go.  

        Spot on regarding Guy Clark’s particular skills.


  7. Sally Wells says:

    Singers Jan and Dean went to my high school, but didn’t become well known until later.  In addition, Nancy Sinatra attended the same high school and her Dad came each year and put on an Assembly.  For Grad Night, Frank footed the bill for himself, Nelson Riddle and the Orchestra, Louie Prima and Keely Smith and…Sammy Davis Jr. who stayed the entire night and played every instrument in the orchestra.  Oddly, we didn’t realize how special that all was!

    • Valerie Ing says:

      Now THAT is a cool story, and a cool memory!

    • K. Beck says:

      I went to high school in Stockton, CA. The U of the Pacific is in Stockton. Dave Brubeck attended UOP. One summer (after he became famous) he and his band came to my HS campus and performed a free outdoor concert. We were all let out of class to attend. There were two pages in our year book dedicated to the performance. Like you, I did not realize how special that was. I was just happy to get out of my classes that day!

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        And you’re probably aware that Dave Brubeck couldn’t read music.

        • cheyenne says:

          From what I’ve heard is that Frank Sinatra couldn’t read music either.

          • Valerie Ing says:

            That makes 3 of us! I faked my piano teacher out for 3 years, by being very observant with a keen ear. She was horrified when she realized what had happened. Also, I got a fan phone call from Dave Brubeck once while I was playing music from his professor Darius Milhaud. Brubeck was driving through while on his way to Napa (this was about 9 years ago). The phone rang, a voice said, “Mr Brubeck is on the phone for you, can you please hold?” OF COURSE I’LL HOLD!!!!! I recognized his sweet, gentle tone immediately. One of my favorite moments ever.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Our alumnus concert was by Craig Chaquico, the lead guitarist for Jefferson Starship at the time.  I was an Airplane fan, but not a Starship fan (to put it politely—at the time I would have put it, “they suck”), so I skipped it.

      If Shae Celine of Medford to our north had been in his line-up back then—she hadn’t been born yet—my 18-year-old self would have been in the front row.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *