Category Archives: Obituaries

Celebrated Album Designer Gary Burden Dies at 84

Gary Burden

American artist, art director, and designer Gary Burden died March 9, 2018. He specialized in album covers. In the 1960s and 1970s, he designed covers for many well-known rock musicians: Mama Cas; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Joni Mitchell; The Doors; The Eagles; Neil Young; and Jackson Browne.

GRAMMY winner Gary Burden was a legendary artist praised for conceiving designs for many classic album covers for more than 40 years,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “A pioneer in his field, Burden played a significant role in conceptualizing album packaging for The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu, among others.”

Portnow added: “He earned five GRAMMY nominations during his career and was awarded the Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package GRAMMY for his contributions to the album design for Neil Young Archives Vol. I (1963-1972) for 2009.

Burden will be deeply missed, but remembered for shaping the visual element of the music listening experience for artists and listeners alike. Our thoughts are with Gary’s family, friends, and fellow colleagues during this difficult time.”


The Doors – Morrison Hotel


Joni Mitchell – Blue


Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu


Neil Young Archives Vol. I (1963-1972)

Acclaimed Trumpeter Hugh Masekela Dies at 78

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a leading jazz and world music artist died today, January 23, 2018 in Johannesburg.

The Masekela family issued a press release: “It is with profound sorrow that the family of Ramapolo Hugh Masekela announce his passing. After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family.”

Born in Johannesburg in 1939, Hugh Masekela was widely considered both the father of African jazz and South Africa’s musical ambassador to the world. Masekela’s trumpet (introduced to him by anti-apartheid activist Father Trevor Huddleston) was an instrument of resistance, a call to freedom, and a celebration of the strength and resilience of people.

His powerful blend of jazz, funk, Afrobeat, and Latin rhythms first mourned the tragedy of apartheid and then celebrated its long-awaited demise. Over the span of his life-long career, he released dozens of albums, toured the world-over, and performed with renowned artists, including Louis Armstrong, Paul Simon (on the Graceland tour), Adrian Below, The Byrds, Miriam Makeba, Zimbabwean Dorothy Masuka, the Jazz Epistles, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Hedzoleh Soundz, Francis Fuster, and Dudu Pukwana.

When Masekela went into exile during the 1960s, Harry Belafonte helped him settle in the United States, as a student in New York, where he recorded much music including his 1968 hit Grazing in the Grass.”

His 1987 hit “Bring Him Back Home” became the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s world tour following his release from prison in 1992. Masekela returned to South Africa in 1990.

In 2010, President Jacob Zuma presented Hugh Masekela the highest award in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga. In 2011, Masekela received a Lifetime Achievement award at the World Music Expo, WOMEX in Copenhagen.


Reggae Drummer Steve Nisbett Dies at 69

Steve Nisbett

Steel Pulse founder Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett died on January 18, 2018.

Steve Nisbett was born in Nevis (West Indies) March 15, 1948. His family moved to the UK in 1957.

The Recording Academy released the following statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of esteemed reggae artist and GRAMMY winner Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “A founding member of Steel Pulse, Nisbett and the group used their music to speak out against racism and social injustices. Nisbett was nominated for three GRAMMYs during his career and earned the Best Reggae Recording GRAMMY for 1986 with Steel Pulse for Babylon The Bandit. His passion for spreading love and justice through his music will be cherished by our creative community and his devoted fans for years to come. Our thoughts go out to Steve’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

For additional information about Steel Pulse, read Artist Profiles: Steel Pulse


Renowned Native American Flute Player and Composer Joseph FireCrow Dies at 58

Joseph Firecrow

The Native American Music Awards & Association (NAMA) announced late last night that Award-winning Cheyenne musician and composer Joseph FireCrow died on Tuesday, July 11th, at his home in Winsted, Connecticut.

Jan Michael Looking Wolf (Kalapuya/Grande Ronde) remembers Joseph as a “beautiful human being filled with love and light” who enjoyed “coming together with other artists and giving thanks.”

Gary Small (Northern Cheyenne) states, “It’s a sad day to learn that my brother in arms has passed. Maheo’ bless Joe. I will miss you forever.”

Flutist Rona YellowRobe (Cree) called Joseph “gracious and wonderful…His smile was BIG and Beautiful and could light up your day.”

Cody Thomas Blackbird (Cherokee/Dakota) posted, “The world lost an amazing being, the music industry lost the greatest Native flutist and traditional musician to ever grace a stage, and I lost one of my best friends.”

Spencer Battiest (Seminole) shared, “My heart is heavy today to hear about the passing of my dear friend. Joseph’s gentle spirit and authentic approach taught me so much. I will forever be grateful for the times we’ve shared over the years, and I will keep you in my heart and on stage with me for life!

Native American Music Awards President, Ellen Bello stated, “Joseph was one of the most humble and genuine artists from the Native music community. His big, beautiful smile, sincere kindness and undeniable talent touched and influenced everyone in his path. I am heartbroken to learn of the passing of our friend, Joseph from his wife Joann. Not only was he one of our leading Award winners, but even more than that, he was an incredible human being who was truly loved by all.”

At the 16th Annual Native American Music Awards last September 17, 2016 at Seneca Allegany Casino, Joseph FireCrow received a Lifetime Achievement Award honoring him as a leading American Indian singer-songwriter, flute player, vocalist and musician.

Calling/Viewing hours will be from 2 – 6 on Saturday, July 15, 2017 at Maloney Funeral Home. Address: 55 Walnut St, Winsted, CT 06098. Phone: (860) 379-3794. Services will began immediately thereafter. A private burial is at the convenience of the family.

Cards and memorial gifts can be sent directly to Joann at: PO Box 173, Winsted, CT 06098. In Lieu of flowers please send contributions and donations to: Northern Cheyenne Girls and Boys Club, P.O. Box 309, Lame Deer, MT 59043-0309.

To leave your online condolences, visit

Joseph FireCrow is survived by his wife, Joann Moore, children Brandon, Karrie, Joseph III, Damian and Jared, his five siblings and three grandchildren.

For more information about Joseph FireCrow and his discography, read Artist Profiles: Joseph FireCrow


Cajun Accordion Master Belton Richard Dies at 77

Belton Richard

Louisiana accordionist and vocalist Belton Richard died on June 21, 2017. He was a well-known Cajun accordionist who recorded various hits.

Belton Richard was born on October 5, 1939 in Rayne, Louisiana. He formed the popular band The Musical Aces in 1959.

Belton Richard was inducted into the Cajun French Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2003, he was welcomed into the Acadian museum’s ‘Living Legends’ list. He also received the Cajun French Music Association’s ‘Male Vocalist of the Year’ award in 2004.

His discography includes I’m Back! (Swallow Records, 1996), Belton Richard, Vol. 2 (Swallow Records, 2000), Good N’ Cajun (Swallow Records, 2000), Louisiana Cajun Music (Swallow Records, 2000), Older the Wine the Finer the Taste (Swallow Records, 2003), Live at Jazzfest 2016 (Munck Music, 2016).


World Music Producer David Lewiston Dies at 88

David Lewiston

British traditional world music producer, traveler and sound archivist David Lewiston died May 29, 2017 in Hawaii. Lewiston was born in London and studied composition at Trinity College of Music, London (1949-1952), and later with the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann in New York.

David Lewiston was best known for his field recordings of traditional music from various parts of the globe. He spent 40 years making field recordings in Indonesia, Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and Central and South America. He created an archive of some 320 hours of traditional world music recordings. On many of his trips, he also collected photographic records of the life and culture of the communities he visited.


David Lewiston doing field recordings


In 1966 Lewiston traveled to the island of Java and Bali in Indonesia to record the music of the islands with one of the first portable stereo tape recorders. From this trip came the pioneering album “Music from the Morning of the World: Gamelan and Ketjak” the first of his 28 recordings for the Nonesuch Explorer Series.

Lewiston spent most of 1967 and 1968 in South America, recording the Andean music of Peru, and the African-rooted music of Colombia, Ecuador, and Brazil. In 1975-76 he visited Central America, documenting the marimba music of Guatemala and the celebrations of Chiapas and Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

In the 1970s he traveled lengthily throughout Asia.


Southern Rock Icon Gregg Allman Dies at 69

Gregg Allman – Photo by Danny Clinch

Legendary Southern rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Gregg Allman passed away on May 27, 2017.

Gregory LeNoir Allman was one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band. Based in Macon, Georgia, the Allman Brothers Band was a pioneer of Southern rock, a remarkable mix of rock, blues, jazz and soul.

Some of the best known songs he performed include “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post.” The Allman Brothers Band won a GRAMMY Award in 1995 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Jessica.”

We have lost a pioneering force in American music, and our condolences go out to Gregg’s family, friends, colleagues, and music fans everywhere,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy.

The family recommends that tributes to Gregg can be made to the Gregg Allman Scholarship Fund at The University of Georgia or the Allman/Lehman Endowed Scholarship at Syracuse University.


Blues Harmonica Virtuoso James Cotton Dies at 81

James Cotton – Photo by Mike Shea

Acclaimed blues harmonica player James Cotton died on March 16, 2017. He was a legendary musician who had performed with some of blues’ greatest musicians along with rock stars.

James Cotton (called Cotton by his friends) was born on the first day of July, 1935, in Tunica, Mississippi. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters who grew up in the cotton fields working together with their mother, Hattie, and their father, Mose. On Sundays, Mose was the preacher in the area’s Baptist church.

Cotton’s earliest memories included his mother playing chicken and train sounds on her harmonica and for a few years he thought those were the only two sounds the small instrument made. His Christmas present one year was a harmonica; it cost 15 cents, and it wasn’t long before he mastered the sounds of the chicken and the train.

King Biscuit Time, a 15-minute radio show, began broadcasting live on KFFA, a radio station just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas. The star of the show was the harmonica legend, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). The young Cotton listened closely to the old radio speaker. He recognized the harmonica sound and discovered something – the harmonica did more! Realizing this, a profound change came over him, and since that moment, Cotton and his harmonica became inseparable. Soon after, he was able to play Sonny Boy’s theme song from the radio show and, as he grew so did his repertoire of Sonny Boy’s other songs.

Mississippi summers are unbearably hot and James was too young to actually work in the cotton fields, so little Cotton would bring water to those who did. When it was time for him to take a break from his job, he would sit in the shadow of the plantation foreman’s horse and played his harmonica. His music became a source of joy for his first audience.

By his ninth year, both of his parents had died, and Cotton was taken to Sonny Boy Williamson by his uncle. When they met, the young kid wasted no time – he began playing Sonny Boy’s theme song on his treasured harmonica. Cotton remembered that first meeting well and said, “I walked up and played it for him. And I played it note for note. And he looked at that. He had to pay attention.” The two harmonica players were like father and son from then on. “I just watched the things he’d do, because I wanted to be just like him. Anything he played, I played it,” he remembered.

James Cotton embarked on a long musical career. He joined Muddy Waters’ band, formed his own blues outfit called James Cotton Blues Band in the late 1960s and collaborated with rock artists such as Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.



James Cotton’s talent as a blues harmonica player was unmatched. While the Mississippi native was best known for his collaborations with Muddy Waters, he was also an accomplished singer-songwriter and fronted his own group called the James Cotton Blues Band. A 10-time GRAMMY nominee, he earned the Best Traditional Blues Album GRAMMY for 1996 for his album Deep in the Blues. He was later inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006. Our deepest condolences go out to James’ family, friends, and creative collaborators,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.



The James Cotton Blues Band (Lilith 1967)

Pure Cotton (Lilith 1968)

Cut You Loose! (Vanguard 1968)

Taking Care of Business (Capitol 1970)

1% Cotton (Universe 1974)

High Energy (One Way Records 1975)

Live & On the Move (One Way Records 1976)

Two Sides of the Blues (SRI Jazz 1984)

High Compression (Alligator Records 1984

Live & On the Move Vol. 2 (Buddah 1986)

Live from Chicago Mr. Superharp Himself (Alligator Records 1986)

Take Me Back (Blind Pig 1987)

Live at Antone’s (P-Vine Records 1988)

Harp Attack! (Alligator Records 1990)

Mighty Long Time (Texas Music Group 1991)

Live at Electric Lady (Sequel 1992)

Living the Blues (Verve 1994)

Deep in the Blues (Verve 1996)

Superharps (Telarc 1999)

Fire Down Under the Hill (Telarc 200)

It Was a Very Good Year (Justin Time 2001)

35th Anniversary Jam of the James Cotton Blues Band (Telarc 2002)

James Cotton Quartet (JamCott 2002)

Got My Mojo Workin’ (Blumountain Records 2003)

Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes (Telarc 2004)

Giant (Alligator Records 2010)

Cotton Mouth Man (Alligator Records 2013)


Latin Jazz Flute Virtuoso Dave Valentin Dies at 64

Dave Valentin

Puerto-Rican American Latin jazz flutist Dave Valentin passed away today, March 8, 2017 in New York City.

Valentin was born in The Bronx neighborhood in New York City to Puerto-Rican parents. At 12 he started playing the flute and received music lessons from Hubert Laws.

Throughout the 1970s, Valentin played jazz and Latin jazz in various well-known bands. He also released numerous solo albums for the GRP and Highnote labels.

Dave Valentin was a dedicated flutist and innovator of crossover jazz. Under the mentorship of Hubert Laws, the New York native developed a signature sound by combining the influences of R&B, pop, and Brazilian music to create a specialized form of Latin jazz,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. “After his recording debut with Ricardo Marrero’s group, he went on to collaborate and perform with Tito Puente, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Bill O’Connell, and Dave Samuels, among others. In 2002 he teamed with Samuels for the Caribbean Jazz Project album The Gathering, which won a GRAMMY® for Best Latin Jazz Album. His 2005 album World On A String and 2011 album Pure Imagination each received Latin GRAMMY nominations for Best Latin Jazz Album. Our thoughts go out to Dave’s family, friends, and fellow colleagues.”

In March of 2012 Valentin suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed and unable to perform.


Malian World Music Innovator Issa Bagayogo Dies at 55

Mali’s musical landscape is a fair bit dimmer with the death of Issa Bagayogo. The singer and musician passed away after a long illness on October 10, 2016. Mr. Bagayogo was 55.

Born in to a poor family in the small village of Korin in a section of the Bougouni Cercle, a part of the Sikasso region of Mali, Mr. Bagayogo found his way to music as a young boy by way of the daro, an iron bell struck to set the rhythm of field workers in Mali, before picking up and learning to play the kamele n’goni, a six-stringed instrument similar to an oud or guitar found in West Africa. He garnered local attention with his playing and singing local songs before heading off to Bamako in 1991 to record his first cassette that didn’t seem to catch on with music fans. Soon, another cassette followed in 1993, again without much success.

Dispirited and working as a bus driver, Mr. Bagayogo sunk into depression and addiction, losing his wife and the bus driving job as a result. This low point would take him back to his home village and essentially disappear from the music scene. By the late 1990s, Mr. Bagayogo would finally put his life back on track by quitting the drugs, travel back to Bamako and fashion his own sound out of the musical traditions of his home region with those of rock, funk, electronica and dub styles.


Issa Bagayogo
Issa Bagayogo


Earning the nickname “Techno Issa” by way of his mix of Mali’s musical roots and western dance, Mr. Bagayogo earned a name not only through his singing and playing, but also by way of his music that tacked such issues as cultural pride, drug use, AIDS and other social issues. Throughout his career, Mr. Bagayogo worked with keyboardist and producer Yves Wernert and bandmates and guitarists Karamoukou Diabate and Mama Sissoko. Mr. Bagayogo would go on to record Sya, Timbuktu, Tassoumakan and Mali Koura, all on the Six Degrees Records label.

In a statement, Six Degrees Records said, “All of us at Six Degrees Records are greatly saddened to learn that our friend and artist, Issa Bagayogo has passed away after a lengthy illness. He was a kind and gentle soul, whose music touched many people around the world & moved many a dance-floor.”

Mr. Bagayogo will be returned to his home village in Korin Bougouni for burial.