Category Archives: Obituaries

Bluegrass Maestro Ralph Stanley Dies at 89

Ralph Stanley - National Heritage Fellow Portrait by Tom Pich
Ralph Stanley – National Heritage Fellow Portrait by Tom Pich


Acclaimed bluegrass banjo player and vocalist Ralph Stanley, “Dr. Ralph,” passed away at his home in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.

Ralph Edmund Stanley was born February 25, 1927 in Big Spraddle, Virginia. He learned ballads and how to play banjo from his mother. Her repertory included traditional narrative songs and 19th-century hymns sung a cappella.

After graduating high school and serving in the United States Army, he joined older brother Carter to form the Clinch Mountain Boys. They started performing on local radio stations and at regional venues.

After Columbia Records signed them, they become known as The Stanley Brothers and went on to record such classics as “Angel Band,” “Little Maggie” and their highly popular song, “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Ralph Stanley developed a unique style of playing the banjo that became known as “Stanley style.” The Stanley Brothers became one of the most popular brother acts in country music history.



In 1976, Stanley received an honorary doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee and became known as “Dr. Ralph Stanley.”

In 1984, Ralph Stanley was the recipient of the “National Heritage Award.” In 1992 Ralph Stanley was inducted into the” International Bluegrass Music Hall Of Honor”. In 2000 he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

Ralph Stanley was introduced to a new generation of fans thanks to his stirring a cappella hymn “O Death” from the hit Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” movie soundtrack. The album was a bestselling hit. In 2002 Ralph Stanley received his first ever Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance of the haunting rendition of “Oh Death.”

The following year Ralph Stanley and Jim Lauderdale won a Grammy for best bluegrass album for “Lost in the Lonesome Pines.”

In 2006 He received the Living Legend award from the Library of Congress and National medal of arts given by President George W. Bush.


Ralph Stanley
Ralph Stanley


Ralph Stanley’s continuation of a cappella singing led to its revival in contemporary bluegrass bands. Some of country and bluegrass music’s biggest stars came from Ralph Stanley’s band, including Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks and the late Keith Whitley.


Ralph Stanley: A Mother’s Prayer Video Preview

Ralph Stanley is survived by his wife Jimmie Stanley; his children Lisa Stanley Marshall, Tonya Armes Stanley and Ralph Stanley II; his grandchildren Nathan Stanley, Amber Meade Stanley, Evan Stout, Ashley Marshall, Alexis Marshall, Taylor Stanley, and Ralph Stanley III; and great grandchild Mckenzie Stanley.


Celebrated Qawwali Singer Amjad Sabri Assassinated in Pakistan

Cover of Amjad Sabri's solo album titled Ecstasy of the Soul
Cover of Amjad Sabri’s solo album titled Ecstasy of the Soul

News reports from Pakistan indicate that renowned Qawwali musician Amjad Sabri, one of Pakistan’s most well-known Sufi musicians, was shot and killed on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 in the southern city of Karachi.

Amjad Farid Sabri was born on December 23, 1976 and was a member of one of the most famous Qawwali music ensembles in Pakistan, the Sabri Brothers.

The Sabri Brothers is Pakistan’s best known, extraordinarily successful family of devotional Sufi singers, from Kalyana in the East Punjab and with over 30 years of sung religious poetry behind them.

In 2012, Amjad Sabri released a solo album titled Ecstasy of the Soul.


Celebrated Salsa Composer and Pianist José Lugo Dies of Cancer

José Lugo
José Lugo

Acclaimed Puerto Rican composer, arranger and pianist José Lugo passed away June 12.

In a joint press release Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy and Gabriel Abaroa, President/CEO of The Latin Recording Academy said: “We are saddened to learn of the death of two-time GRAMMY and two-time Latin GRAMMY winner José Lugo. A talented pianist, arranger, and conductor, he was recognized for his innovative work in the salsa, merengue, and tropical music genres.

As the director of Guasábara Combo, he worked side by side with other greats such as Gilberto Santa Rosa, Isaac Delgado, and Bobby Valentín.

We join the Puerto Rican music community in mourning the loss of this brilliant artist and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”


Tejano Music Singer Emilio Navaira III Dies at 53

Tejano and country music singer-songwriter and musician Emilio Navaira III passed away May 16, 2016 in New Braunfels, Texas. Emilio was also one of the few Tejano artists to have considerable success in both the United States and Mexico.

Emilio Navaira III was born August 23, 1962 in San Antonio, Texas to Mexican-American parents.

Possessing one of the greatest voices in the history of Tejano music, Emilio Navaira was an icon in the genre. Both a GRAMMY and a Latin GRAMMY Award winner, he showcased his strong Texas roots in everything he did,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “From his relentless touring schedule to his impressive lyrics and signature sound, Emilio was beloved by many, and helped to shape an entire genre of music. Our creative community has lost a uniquely gifted talent, and our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends, and all those who had the privilege and honor of working with him. He will be missed.”


Country and folk musician and songwriter Guy Clark Dies at 74

American country and folk music singer-songwriter and musician Guy Clark passed away May 17, 2016 in Austin, Texas.

Guy Clark was born November 6, 1941 in Monahans, Texas. He moved to Nashville in 1971 and was one of the creators of progressive country and outlaw country.

Guy Clark was truly gifted, both as a songwriter and folk musician. Having penned classics like “Desperados Waiting For A Train” and “L.A. Freeway,” Guy became one of the most admired figures in Nashville, and served as a songwriting mentor to many other talented musicians,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “Guy’s songs were recorded by artists such as Johnny Cash, Kenny Chesney, Vince Gill, and Ricky Skaggs, with many reaching the upper echelon of the country songs chart. And his much-acclaimed album, My Favorite Picture Of You, earned him a GRAMMY Award for Best Folk Album for 2013. We have lost a cherished artist and our sincerest condolences go out to Guy’s family, friends, and collaborators.”

In 2004, Guy Clark was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, and in 2013, he received the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award, along with Hank Williams.

Clark was a mentor to artists such as Steve Earle and Rodney Crowell and his songs have been covered by a multitude of artists, including Johnny Cash, Brad Paisley, David Allen Coe, Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Jimmy Buffet, Asleep At The Wheel and many others.

Photo credit: Guy Clark photo by


Former Canyon Records Recording Engineer Jack Miller Dies

Recording engineer Jack Miller
Recording engineer Jack Miller

Canyon Records announced that recording engineer Jack Miller has passed away. Mr. Miller was a well-known sound engineer in Arizona, who recorded numerous American Indian music productions for Canyon Records. Additional details concerning his passing are not yet known.

Jack Miller was born in Chicago and settled with his family on the west side of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1953 when Jack was 19 years old. Miller first worked in the music business starting a record section in the variety store his family owned. He later went to work for Dawson Music, which was a combination music store, record label and recording studio in Phoenix until he got a job at Ramsey’s Recording studio right after “The Fool” by Sanford Clark became a big Hit and brought national attention to Phoenix, Arizona.

Ramsey’s became Audio Recorders and in 1958, Miller made music history by recording the “Twang” Heard Around The World,” on the single “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy which sold over a million copies. According to Mr. Miller, “the sound was in producer Lee Hazlewood’s head. He knew what he wanted to hear and we figured out how to make it happen.” Hazlewood and Ramsey found a 2500-gallon (9463 liters) water tank and Jack positioned a speaker at one end and a microphone at the other to create that famous echo chamber that created a gut-vibrating thrum that turned Duane Eddy into a homegrown superstar.

In the early 1960s, Miller left Phoenix to work at the RCA studios in Los Angeles. He recorded Henry Mancini, The Rolling Stones, The Limelighters and The Monkees. Jack wasn’t happy in Los Angeles so he moved back to Arizona and returned to Audio Recorders. In 1978, Miller left the studio and started Jack Miller Productions.

Since the early 1980s Canyon Records worked closely with Jack Miller. The engineer was influential in creating the “Nakai” Native American flute sound that fascinated millions of listeners and brrought cutting edge audio production to Canyon Records.

Through the years Jack recorded over 4,000 albums, embodying every musical style imaginable.

Jack was awarded a Grammy for engineering Canyon Records’ “Bless the People” which was best Native American Music Album. He also received two Gold Records (500,000 units sold in the U.S.) for Canyon Records’ albums Earth Spirit by R. Carlos Nakai and Canyon Trilogy. In 2013 he was inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters Association’s Hall of Fame.

Jack Miller retired in 2012.


Congolese Music Star Papa Wemba Dies at 66

Popular Congolese singer Papa Wemba died April 24, 2016 after collapsing on stage during a performance in Ivory Coast.

Papa Wemba was born Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba in Kazai, in the former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic Congo). From humble village beginnings in the interior of his vast, Central African homeland, Shungu Wembadio moved to the capital city of Kinshasa when he was still a boy. There, the fledgling singer rose quickly to stardom in a series of ground breaking bands.

Famous for his flamboyant sense of style and emotional Lingala vocals, Papa Wemba was the ambassador of a truly global African music. Originally part of the adventurous Kinshasa music scene, Wemba departed for Paris in 1986, starting an international chapter in his career.

In 1996, Wemba joined Youssou N’Dour and other leading African musicians on an epic consciousness-raising journey through war-torn Africa, sponsored by the International Red Cross, and released the single “So Why?” to raise profits for the war victims.

Papa Wemba released 3 albums for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label: ‘Le Voyageur‘ (1992), ‘Emotion‘ (1995) and ‘Molokai‘ (1998), a live studio recording of classic hits and new songs. Also he appeared on the compilations ‘Voices of the Real World’ and ‘Spirit of Africa’ as well as the ‘Big Blue Ball‘ album project.


Influential Salsa Vocalist and Composer Ismael Quintana Dies at 78

Puerto Rican salsa singer and composer Ismael Quintana passed away on April 16, 2016 in Colorado. Ismael Quintana was the lead singer of Eddie Palmieri’s famed band called conjunto “La Perfecta.”

Quintana was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His family moved to The Bronx borough of New York City when he was only two weeks old. In New York he went to school and while he was still in high school he formed a band with his neighborhood friends.

In 1961, pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri invited Quintana to join “La Perfecta” as lead singer. During the 1960s, Quintana co-wrote some of Palmieri’s major hit songs.

In 1971, Quintana left Palmieri’s band and started a solo career. Between 1974 and 1983, he recorded five albums as a solo artist and a hit song titled “Mi Debilidad” (My Weakness). His solo albums include “Punto y Aparte” (1971); “Dos Imágenes” (1972); “Ismael Quintana” (1974); “Lo Que Estoy Viviendo” (1976); and “Amor, Vida y Sentimiento” (1977).

In addition to “Mi Debilidad”, some of quintana’s most popular songs include “Adoración”, “Muñeca”, “Maestro de rumbero”, and “Puerto Rico.”

Throughout the past decades, Quintana performed and recorded with salsa super band Fania All Stars.

Quintana partially retired from the music world because of health reasons.


Country Music Star Merle Haggard Dies at 79

Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard

Acclaimed country music singer-songwriter, guitarist and fiddler Merle Haggard passed away April 6, 2016. The Recording Academy’s CEO, Neil Portnow, released the following statement: “Two-time GRAMMY Award winner and 2006 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Merle Haggard was an uncommon hero in country music. An exceptional multi-talented singer-songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler, Merle’s massive success was rooted in his masterful ability to celebrate the outlaws and the underdogs.

Merle’s extraordinary talent resulted in more than 30 No. 1 country hits and his remarkable performances will forever live on and inspire music creators worldwide. We have lost an innovative member of the music community and our sincerest condolences go out to Merle’s family, friends, collaborators and all who have been impacted by his incredible work. He will truly be missed.”

Today, upon learning of the death of the renowned Merle Haggard, many country music stars have reacted expressing their love and admiration for one of the genre’s greatest artists:

When we lost George Jones, I said, ‘Years ago someone asked Coach Bum Phillips if Earl Campbell was in a class by himself. Bum replied, ‘Well if he ain’t, it sure don’t take long to check roll.’ The same applies for the great Merle Haggard. I will miss my friend.”
-Larry Gatlin

Now in the presence of the One his sweet Mama told him about. We will miss you, but you won’t be missing us!
-Ricky Skaggs

We’ve lost a unique voice and writer of great country songs. God Bless you Merle…I just wish you’d ‘made it through December’ a few more times.”
-Ray Stevens

Merle Haggard has been a huge influence in my life, to my music and my career. Thank you very much Hag and God bless you.”
-Sammy Kershaw

I don’t think it’s a hyperbole to say Merle Haggard was a national treasure. He was. Haggard is as American as apple pie and baseball. He was the poet laureate of country music. Try to find one songwriter in Nashville who didn’t idolize Hag. You can’t. It’s impossible.”
-Pam Tillis

I was fortunate enough to get to play several shows with Merle and he always had great advice to give me. We have lost an icon and a legend.”
-Aaron Tippin

After meeting and being around Country legends such as Merle Haggard, it increased my respect and my desire of getting to know him, which I accomplished. His loss will be deeply mourned by everyone in Country music as well as by those of other music genres. May he rest in peace.”
-Doug Gray on behalf of The Marshall Tucker Band

I am dumbfounded by this news. Merle Haggard was probably my greatest musical influence and my hero. I never shook his hand, but the music he made shook my soul to the core. It hurts to think about no more Haggard but honestly, we all know, that he made enough music to last us a lifetime. I just hope his passing might call attention to some of the stuff that made country music a mainstay. Maybe this generation will go back and listen to what shaped and molded the genre. I guess it’s okay to veer off in a different direction but the end product needs to have the same impact. The question is, how does today’s country music stack up when compared to one of the masters like Merle Haggard? Give it some thought. You don’t need my help with that one. I feel confident, you’ll figure it out. Thanks, Merle, for all the great songs and all the great music. It’ll never be the same.”
-Darryl Worley

Merle Haggard was a ‘must see’ artist, a cornerstone of country. Eloquent as a poet and singer, he was completely authentic…imitated but never equaled. Timeless music at its best. Restless Heart and all other bands owe him a great debt.”
-Dave Innis on behalf of Restless Heart


Influential Brazilian Percussionist Nana Vasconcelos Dies at 71

Nana Vasconcelos
Nana Vasconcelos

Admired Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos passed away on March 9, 2016.

Juvenal de Holanda Vasconcelos, better known as Nana Vasconcelos, was born in Recife. He learned to play a wide range of percussion instruments. He became one of the finest percussionists in the world.

Throughout his career, Nana Vasconcelos played alongside some of the most significant jazz, world music and Brazilian popular music acts, including Geraldo Vandre, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Jon Hassel, Don Cherry, Egberto Gismonti and Pat Metheny.