Artists That Died in 2011

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While we're always saddened by the passing of blues talents that leave behind a lifetime of great music and mourning fans, it seems like 2011 had more than its share of artist deaths. Although blues legends like Honeyboy Edwards, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and Pinetop Perkins enjoyed lengthy, acclaimed careers, too many young blues artists also left us this year. We honor these bluesmen and women, obscure and well-known alike, with this list of blues artists that died in 2011.

Aashid Himons
Aashid HimonsArchie "Aashid" Himons, an integral part of Nashville's non-country music scene for better than three decades, passed away on Saturday, March 19, 2011 after a brief illness. Himons was 68 years old at the time of his death. A musical innovator that fused traditional country blues with reggae and world music during the late 1970s, Aashid, as he is known to his many fans, is best known for his popular "blu-reggae" band Afrikan Dreamland, which put Himons' myriad of musical influences into play in creating an energetic and unique sound.

Big Jack Johnson
We're sad to report on the death of Mississippi bluesman Big Jack Johnson on Monday, March 14th, 2011 after a long battle with health issues. Johnson was 70 years old. We held back on publicizing the story until after we received verification; several Internet outlets were reporting on Johnson's death several days before it actually happened. Johnson was one of the last practitioners of a truly Delta-inspired style of the blues. Influenced by guitarists like B.B. King and Albert King, Johnson also found inspiration listening to country music via the Grand Ole Opry on WSM radio out of Nashville. Johnson was also an accomplished bass guitar and mandolin player.

Bobby Robinson
Producer, record label owner, and musical pioneer Bobby Robinson passed away on Friday, January 7, 2011 after a lengthy illness;  Robinson was 93 years old. Robinson is best-known to music fans as the visionary producer and label owner whose Fire, Fury, Enjoy, and Red Robin record labels produced a flurry of recordings during the 1950s and '60s that would shape and influence blues, R&B, early rock 'n' roll, and soul music for a generation to follow.

Clarence Clemons
Saxophonist Clarence Clemons, known around the world to millions of Bruce Springsteen fans as "The Big Man" of E Street Band fame, passed away on Saturday, June 18, 2011 from complications of a stroke he had suffered earlier in the week. Clemons was 69 years old. While not a blues artist, per se, Clemons' influence on sax players in the blues and R&B worlds is undeniable. As a member of the E Street Band behind Springsteen, Clemons' horn was an integral part of Springsteen's music, adding a bit of soul and the grit of urban blues to the singer's street-smart lyrics. Clemons also enjoyed a lengthy solo career, issuing four albums and scoring a 1985 hit in his duet with Jackson Browne, "You're A Friend Of Mine."

Coco Robicheaux
Louisiana blues legend Coco Robicheaux, originator of the style known as "hoodoo blues," passed away on Friday night, November 25, 2011 at the age of 64 years. Robicheaux had collapsed at the Apple Barrel club in New Orleans, and was later pronounced dead upon arriving at the Tulane University Medical Center. Robicheaux was a mainstay of the New Orleans music scene since a teenager. Robicheaux was a familiar figure in the clubs of Frenchman Street in New Orleans, performing frequently and just hanging around when he wasn't onstage. Robicheaux appeared eight straight years at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and was also a regular performer since 1995 at the French Quarter Festival.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards
Word has reached us of the death of the last of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen, David "Honeyboy" Edwards. According to a front page post on his website, the beloved blues artist passed away quietly in his sleep in the early morning hours of Monday, August 29th, 2011. At 96 years old, Edwards was the last of the original Mississippi Delta bluesmen, and a direct link to fellow Delta legend Robert Johnson. As a youth, Edwards also traveled with, learned from, and performed alongside such giants as Charley Patton, Big Joe Williams, and Tommy Johnson.

Doyle Bramhall
Blurt magazine, Rolling Stone, and other publications are reporting on the death of Texas blues legend Doyle Bramhall. The veteran blues band leader, drummer, and songwriter passed away on Saturday, November 12, 2011 at his Alpine, Texas home, reportedly from heart failure after suffering a bout of pneumonia. Through the years, Bramhall performed with a number of illustrious musicians, from Marcia Ball and Lou Ann Barton to Lightnin' Hopkins, Chris Duarte and Jennifer Warnes, among others. An integral part of the thriving Austin, Texas blues scene for over 40 years, Doyle Bramhall was a talented musician and songwriter.

Earl Gilliam
The Houston Chronicle newspaper is reporting that blues pianist Earl Gilliam passed away on Wednesday, October 20, 2011 from advanced lung disease. Gilliam was 81 years old. An integral part of the long-thriving Houston, Texas blues scene for almost 50 years, Gilliam was a self-taught pianist. Over the years, Gilliam would become known as Houston's premiere blues pianist, and he performed alongside such greats as Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert King, Albert Collins, and Joe "Guitar" Hughes, among many others. Gilliam also lead his own band, performing frequently in Houston clubs throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and he was still performing after suffering a collapsed lung in 2008.

Eddie Kirkland
Bluesman Eddie Kirkland was killed in an auto accident on Sunday morning, February 27, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. Kirkland was 87 years old at the time of his death. During the 1960s, Kirkland was bandleader for a number of R&B stars of the era, including Little Richard, Otis Redding, Ruth Brown, and Ben E. King. While working as a sideman and bandleader, Kirkland also established a critically-acclaimed solo career. At the time of his death, Kirkland had continued to tour for eight to ten months each year, bringing his unique blend of blues, soul, and R&B to audiences across the country and worldwide.

Fred Sanders, Jr.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper is reporting the death of beloved local bluesman Fred Sanders Jr, who passed away on Saturday, January 15, 2010 a week after suffering a stroke. Sanders had also been battling cancer for several years; he was 71 years old at the time of his death, but had continued performing and teaching guitar until he was hospitalized for the stroke. A talented instrumentalist that could perform in just about any style, Sanders was a big-hearted man who freely gave his time to mentor younger musicians in the ways of the blues.

Gary Moore
The Internet was buzzing last night with news of the death of British blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore. We have since confirmed that Moore passed away on Sunday, February 6, 2011 at the age of 58 while on vacation in Spain. While it is thought that Moore died of a heart attack, Spanish authorities have ordered an autopsy to confirm the cause of death. Influenced by artists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and especially his mentor Peter Green, Moore made a splash as a guitar hero at a very young age. Throughout his lengthy career, Moore's solo work would veer from hard rock to heavy metal, and back to the blues, which always remained his first love.

George "Mojo" Buford
Blues harpist George "Mojo" Buford, best known for his work as part of the great Muddy Waters' band, passed away on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 in a Minneapolis hospital after suffering from various health issues since the summer. Buford was 81 years old. Buford first played with Waters in 1959 as a replacement for the departing Little Walter. A few years later, however, the talented blues harpist moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota to form his own band. He would re-join Waters' band in 1967 after James Cotton left, and played with the Chicago blues legend during the early 1970s. Buford also enjoyed a modicum of success as a solo performer.

Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron, a pioneering talent in the fields of R&B and jazz music, and considered by many to be the "Godfather of Rap," died on Friday, May 27, 2011 of unknown causes. Scott-Heron had recently returned home to New York City after a brief European trip and took ill, passing away at St. Luke's Hospital. While not a blues musician in the strictest of terms, Scott-Heron's influence on all facets of African-American creative expression cannot be downplayed. In the end, Scott-Heron called his heady brew of blues, jazz, and soul simply "bluesology," and left it at that. It's a fitting epitaph for a pioneering writer and performer.

Hubert Sumlin
Chicago blues legend Hubert Sumlin – longtime Howlin' Wolf guitarist and acclaimed solo artist – passed away today, December 4, 2011 at the age of 80 years old. The beloved elder statesman of the blues reportedly died of heart failure while in a Wayne, New Jersey hospital. As a solo artist, Sumlin won a Blues Music Award for his 2004 album About Them Shoes, which included guest appearances from friends and admirers like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Levon Helm, Bob Margolin, and others. The guitarist was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008.

John-Alex Mason
The Gazette newspaper, out of Colorado Springs, Colorado is reporting on the tragic death of blues guitarist John-Alex Mason on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at the young age of 35 years old. Mason had gone into the hospital for an out-patient procedure to remove cancerous tissue, and passed away from complications after the surgery. Mason was a familiar figure at blues festivals across the United States and Canada, performing both solo and with a four-piece band.

Keef Hartley
The Lancashire Evening Post newspaper is reporting that British blues pioneer Keef Hartley passed away on Saturday, November 26, 2011 at the age of 67 years old. Hartley's cause of death has yet to be established. Hartley is a little-known but integral member of the British blues and blues-rock scene of the 1960s, joining John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the mid-1960s and appearing on several Mayall albums before forming his own Keef Hartley Band in 1968. The Keef Hartley Band released five albums of brilliant blues-and-jazz-influenced rock 'n' roll in three years.

Lacy Gibson
From our friends at Alligator Records comes word of the passing of beloved Chicago bluesman Lacy Gibson. The singer and guitarist died on Monday, April 11, 2011 of a heart attack. Gibson made a name for himself during the 1960s as a session player, lending his talents to recordings by artists like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Magic Slim, among others. Through the years, Gibson performed with some of the giants of Chicago blues, including Son Seals, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Billy Boy Arnold, and others as well as with Sun Ra. Gibson's jazz-influenced style lent itself to complimenting the different styles of the artists he played with, while his robust voice brought authority to his own performances.

Marvin Sease
Soul-blues singer Marvin Sease, a popular performer who mixed blues, soul, and gospel in the creation of his unique sound, passed away on Tuesday, February 8, 2011 in Vicksburg, Mississippi of pneumonia. Sease was a week short of his 65th birthday. Between 1987 and 2002, Sease would record a number of moderately-selling and often explicit albums for Polygram and, later, Jive Records, cementing his reputation as a "ladies man," a status reinforced by the distaff audience to be found at his typically sold-out concerts.

Pinetop Perkins
Blues legend Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins passed away on March 21, 2011 in his Austin, Texas home. The blues pianist was 97 years old and died from heart failure. The beloved artist had just finished up one of the most successful years in a career littered with milestones. Joined At The Hip, the 2010 album that he recorded with his friend and former Muddy Waters bandmate Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, earned the pair a Grammy® Award – Perkins' third – for "Best Traditional Blues Album" as well as a Blues Music Award nomination, and Perkins continued to perform live almost until his death.

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
It's with great sadness that we have to report on the death of blues great Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Smith passed away on the morning of September 16, 2011 at his Chicago home, suffering from a stroke. The Chicago blues giant was 75 years old. Fortune smiled on the young musician when he sat in for Muddy Waters Band drummer Francis Clay and was later asked to join the band; Smith would play behind Waters from 1961 through 1964. Leaving Waters' employ, Smith hooked up with a number of other former Waters' employees, including the great Pinetop Perkins and Calvin "Fuzz" Jones as the Legendary Blues Band. This outfit recorded four acclaimed albums during the 1980s and received several Grammy® nominations.


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