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African American music icons who died in 2013

Donald Byrd was a talented trumpet player who also helped other musicians including Herbie Hancock. A connoisseur of music education, he taught at Howard University and other prominent schools.
Donald Byrd was a talented trumpet player who also helped other musicians including Herbie Hancock. A connoisseur of music education, he taught at Howard University and other prominent schools.

June is Black Music Month and its dedication cannot be wholly expressed due to the monumental talent, creativity, effect and inventive contribution blacks have given to America in this category. Not only have African Americans and other global black ethnic groups given their style, technique and culture of music to America, the music blacks have created in the United States and abroad has been manifested, copied and fabricated for other artists outside of the race. Many would not have made it in the music business if they had not emulated black music.

The influence blacks have come from their original creations of soul, rhythm and blues, ska, reggae, rock and roll, funk, pop, go-go, disco, gospel, rap (hip-hop), zydeco and jazz – music that remains popular today in all parts of the world. Blacks in America literally have established most of the music in America.

Below are six people who died in 2013 who contributed as icons in black music.

George Duke (January 12, 1946 – August 5, 2013). George Duke was known as a jazz and funk musician who died in Los Angeles at the age of 67. USA Today gave this caption of his death –

A pioneer in the funk and R&B genres, he had been battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia, according to his label Concord Music Group, which confirmed his death.

Duke was known for playing the synthesizer and piano but played other instruments as well. Duke fans remember his albums and songs such as “Reach For It,” Dukey Stick,” “Sweet Baby,” and “I Want You For Myself.” Duke was a great musician in concert and always had the crowd jumping when his “funk phase” took over. He also paired with jazz/fusion artist Stanley Clarke (they made three “project” albums); and other artists that included Jean Luc Ponty, Billy Cobham, Frank Zappa, Flora Purim, Marcus Miller and Jill Scott.

Bobby “Blue” Bland (January 27, 1930 – June 23, 2013). Bobby Bland (Robert Calvin Brooks), was 83 years old. He died from a long illness at his home in Germantown, Tenn.

From –

Bobby 'Blue' Bland, who has died aged 83, was among the great storytellers of blues and soul music. In songs such as I Pity the Fool, Cry Cry Cry and Who Will the Next Fool Be, he created tempestuous arias of love, betrayal and resignation, set against roiling, dramatic orchestrations, and left the listener drained but awed.

Bland in his younger years hung out with blues guitarist B.B. King and singers Junior Parker and Johnny Ace. Despite being illiterate all his life (according to Wikipedia) Bland had a successful career as a blues singer and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. He was also inducted into the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. Each year Bland and his lifelong pal B.B. King performed in Washington, D.C.

News sources revealed after Bland’s death “Rodd Bland said his father had recently learned that the blues singer and harmonica player James Cotton was his half-brother.”

Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II (December 9, 1932 – February 4, 2013). “I met him in the 11th grade in Detroit,” he said. “I skipped school one day to see Dizzy Gillespie, and that’s where I met Coltrane. Coltrane and Jimmy Heath just joined the band, and I brought my trumpet, and he was sitting at the piano downstairs waiting to join Dizzy’s band. He had his saxophone across his lap, and he looked at me and he said, ‘You want to play?’

“So he played piano, and I soloed. I never thought that six years later we would be recording together, and that we would be doing all of this stuff. The point is that you never know what happens in life.”

The New York Times presented this piece in what Donald Byrd stated when he met jazz icon John Coltrane.

Byrd was a dynamic musician and known for his trumpet ability and early bebop sound. He played as early as 1955 when jazz icons like Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk and Art Blakely were popular. He also influenced musician Herbie Hancock, in which Wikipedia reported Hancock stated the following –

"He was the first person to let me be a permanent member of an internationally known band. He has always nurtured and encouraged young musicians. He's a born educator, it seems to be in his blood, and he really tried to encourage the development of creativity."

Byrd was also a great influence in music education and taught at several universities, including Howard University. He helped form the group The Blackbyrds, a popular group from Howard who made numerous hits including “Rock Creek Park,” “Walking in Rhythm,” and “Flying High.” The group reformed in 2012 and celebrated Byrd when he died (age 80) at The Arc in Washington, D.C in April.

Leroy Bonner (March 14, 1943 – January 26, 2013). Bonner was a founder of the popular 70’s group the Ohio Players and many of their songs are still being played today. Known in the band as “Sugarfoot,” Bonner was also the lead singer and a talented guitarist. He and the group made hits such as “Funky Worm,” “Fire,” “Love Rollercoaster” and “Skin Tight.” Hard core fans can recollect cuts such as “Heaven Must be Like This,” “Who’d She Coo,” “Fopp” and “I Want to be Free.”

The band is also remembered for their sexy, provocative covers on albums like “Honey,” “Fire” and “Contradiction;” always presenting a beautiful black model in a suggestive pose.

The Dayton Daily News reported this on Bonner’s death –

Bonner, 69, who helped make Dayton the Land of Funk, died Saturday following a battle with cancer in Trotwood, according to an “Official Family Annoucement” posted Sunday on his Facebook page. Bonner, whose career spanned 56 years, died just shy of his 70th birthday, according to the post. “While his family, friends, colleagues, and fans mourn his passing they celebrate fondly his memory, music and legacy,” the posting stated.

Richie Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013). Havens was mostly known as a folk singer and guitarist but he was also a songwriter and sang rhythm and blues. He recorded over 20 albums and was best known for his opening at Woodstock for his song “Freedom.” Wikipedia reported his Woodstock performance as this –

Havens as a live performer earned widespread notice. His Woodstock appearance in 1969 catapulted him into stardom and was a major turning point in his career. As the festival's first performer, he held the crowd for nearly three hours. In part, Havens was told to continue playing, because many artists scheduled to perform after him were delayed in reaching the festival location with highways at a virtual standstill. He was called back for several encores. Having run out of tunes, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual Motherless Child that became Freedom. The subsequent Woodstock movie release helped Havens reach a worldwide audience. He also appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival in late August 1969.

Havens was an avid environmentalist, advocated for Native Americans, did commercials and was rediscovered by the younger generation before his death. Many of his songs filtered issues ongoing today.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Richie Havens died of a heart attack at age 72 in Jersey City, N.J. Below is a video of his performance at Woodstock.

Sheila Stewart (February 28, 1969 – October 24, 2013). Stewart was a Radio One radio, television and print media personality who died last October. Here is the announcement of her death from the organization –

SILVER SPRING, MD, OCTOBER 24, 2013 – Radio One announced today that a traffic accident in Atlanta, GA claimed the life of one its employees, Sheila Stewart. Sheila had been News & Community Affairs Director for Radio One Washington, D.C. Stations (93.9) WKYS-FM; (Praise 104.1) WPRS-FM; (1450)-WOL-AM); 1340-(WYCB-AM) and (102.3) WMMJ-FM.

“The Radio One family is deeply saddened at the untimely passing of our employee and we extend our sincere condolences to her family and friends,” remarked Cathy Hughes, Founder and Chairperson Radio One, Inc. “A talented colleague, Sheila’s contributions will long be felt by her Radio One family and the lives she touched through her various charitable connections and community organizations.”

Stewart was immensely involved in the Washington, D.C. community. She was a graduate of Benedict College and her media work spanned over 20 years. Stewart was a recipient of many awards, an author and an adjunct professor.

According to Washington, D.C. news station NBC4 Stewart had relocated to Atlanta, Ga. and was on her way to work when the tragedy took place –

She was driving westbound on Interstate 20 when her Mercedes Benz came to a full stop for an unknown reason, according to DeKalb County police. She was struck from behind by a westbound box truck.

Stewart was pronounced dead at an area hospital. No one else was injured.
Stewart, who worked for D.C.'s Radio One stations, had been staying with her sister and working from Atlanta at the time of her death. also revealed “Sheila Stewart was also a former Miss Black South Carolina 1st Runner-Up; Miss Benedict Homecoming Queen and a proud member of the prestigious Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.”

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