Even though some of the vocalists listed below enjoyed a long and successful career for many years, their adoring fans still weren’t ready to let them go when they passed away suddenly. Others on the list were like bright shooting stars that flashed into fame for a few short years and burned out far too early. Fans can feel so close to their favorite musicians, even though they have probably never even met them, they remain in their memory forever. For some, it’s like losing a member of their own family.
1935 – 1977
Whether you think of him as “The King of Rock and Roll, “The King” or simply “Elvis”, there is no denying he was one of, if not the greatest and most famous singers of all time. He sang, danced, and acted his way into the hearts of millions of people around the world. Women swooned and fainted over him and men everywhere tried their best to emulate him in their looks and style. He was not only a singer, but his dancing set a raunchy trend that shocked parents everywhere and his movies always hit when they showed in theaters.
Born Elvis Arron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, his first song “Heartbreak Hotel” was released in 1956. His music, concerts, and movies were all very successful during the 1950’s and most of the 1960’s. His sexy dance style, which was highly criticized in his early years, could not even be shown below the waist when he performed on the Lawrence Welk Show in the mid 1950’s. His angelic voice and handsome looks made him loved by women everywhere. His rockabilly music and tender love songs made him a music icon for decades with hits like “Hound Dog”, Love Me Tender” and too many more to list.
In 1973, his heart health became an issue and was complicated by the long-term and extensive use of sedatives, amphetamines, and narcotics. Elvis died suddenly at the age of 42 on August 17, 1977 at his famous home known as Graceland in Memphis Tennessee. His fans were totally shocked and devastated by his death. To this day, many fans old and new still flock to his Graceland home in Memphis to honor his birth and death days.
1958 – 2009
Born Michael Joseph Jackson in Gary, Indiana, he started his career at the age of 6 in 1964 singing with 4 of his older brothers and was known as The Jackson Five. It was clear from the start that little Michael was the star of the group. Even though The Jackson Five had great success with the songs “I Want You Back”, “ABC” and “I’ll Be There”, in 1971 Michael started his solo career when he released “Got to Be There” and in 1972 released the album “Ben” and a few others afterward.
By this time he was considered not only a great singer, he had become a huge teen idol. He shot to even greater fame when he released his album, Off The Wall on August 10, 1979. He quickly became known as “The King of Pop” and moved on from just a teen idol. His album “Thriller” and the music video released in late 1982, was one of the greatest successes of his career, though many more were to follow. In 1983 he performed his iconic dance move the moonwalk for the first time at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. It became one of the hardest dance moves for average people to achieve, but everyone tried to do it!
In later years Michael’s personal life was plagued by rumors of sexual misconduct with children at his famous home, Neverland Ranch in California. Jackson denied all of the allegations but spent months in court battles that never brought any convictions. Besides that horrible time in his life, he suffered greatly because of a skin condition known as vitiligo. Fans often misinterpreted it when he would be seen wearing a mask or being covered by an umbrella because of the skin condition.
His appearance was changed numerous times through plastic surgeries that probably had nothing to do with the skin condition, but rather it was because Michael simply wanted to improve his looks. Jackson had 3 children. To the absolute horror of his faithful followers, Michael died at the age of 50 from a propofol overdose in 2009. He was often administered the drug to help him sleep by his personal physician at his home.
1940 – 1980
Born on October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, England, Lennon was a member of the famous English rock group The Beatles that first became popular in 1962 in Europe and later in 1964 is the US, which led to their worldwide recognition. Along with Paul McCartney, he was one of the two lead singers and the guitarist in the group. He co-wrote many hit songs with Paul McCartney. While The Beatles were extremely successful worldwide for a number of years, John also pursued a solo career.
He became known as an outspoken peace activist as well. Lennon was assassinated outside his home in New York City on December 8, 1980 by a former fan, Mark David Chapman. Chapman claimed he was offended by a statement John had made about “The Beatles being more famous than Jesus” and he objected to some of the music John had written like the song “Imagine”. Lennon was 40 years old when he was killed.
1963 – 2012
Born Whitney Elizabeth Houston in Newark, New Jersey on August 9, 1963, she rose to fame in 1985. Whitney was one of the most famous and most awarded female artists of all time. She also starred in several movies that were box office hits including “The BodyGuard”, “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Waiting to Exhale”. She was married to and eventually divorced from Bobby Brown, also a singer. Their rocky marriage was often in tabloid headlines with alleged drug abuse by both parties making unsettling, but interesting reading.
Even though her singing and acting career was so very successful, Whitney struggled with cocaine addiction. Her official cause of death was released as an accidental drowning in a bathtub at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, California on February 11, 2012. Sadly, on January 31, 2015, Whitney’s only daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown at the age of 22, was found in a bathtub almost drown nearly three years after her mother’s death. She was placed in a coma but died on February 10 almost two weeks later.
1946 – 1991
Best known as the lead singer of the rock band Queen, Freddie was born named Farrokh Bulsara on September 5, 1946 in Stone Town, Tanzania. He was famous for his 4-octave vocal range and was an exceptional pianist. He formed the band, Queen, in 1970 and wrote many hit songs for the group, including the legendary “Bohemian Rhapsody” from their 1975 album A Night At The Opera.
Though many thought that Mercury was openly gay, others believed he was bisexual. It was apparently difficult for reporters to get a straight answer from him on the subject. He was known for his flamboyant presence on the stage. In the end, Freddie eventually died from complications from AIDS on November 24, 1991. He was 45 years old.
1923 – 1953
Williams was born in Mount Olive, Alabama on September 17, 1923. He was best known for his singing and songwriting in the country-style music. He began his music career in 1937. During that short career, he had many hits songs like the memorable “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Hey Good Lookin’”. His songs still sell even today.
Williams struggled with alcohol and pain medication abuse throughout his career because of a back injury and it eventually cost him his membership at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. He was known to often be late or not show for performances. Even so, his fans still adored him. Hank died suddenly of a heart attack on January 1, 1953 when traveling by car with his driver to a concert in Canton, Ohio. He was only 29 years old. Besides the legacy of his own music, Hank left behind his son Hank Williams Jr., whose fame today rivals that of his later father.
1939 – 1984
Marvin was a singer/songwriter during the 1960’s Motown era and for years afterward. He was nicknamed “Prince of Motown” and ”Prince of Soul” with good reason. He was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr in Washington D.C. on April 2, 1939. After being in a vocal quartet, The Marquee’s, in 1960 he embarked on his solo career. Some of Marvin’s most memorable songs are “Sexual Healing” and “What’s Going On”. In 1978, Gaye was struggling with cocaine addiction and difficulties with the IRS. The IRS issues led him to relocate to London, England. In 1981, Marvin had a falling out with Motown. What followed was one of his best career moments when he won 2 Grammy Awards in 1983.
After his last tour, he moved to Los Angeles, California into his parent’s home. On April 1, 1984, Marvin tried to intervene when his mother and father were having a domestic dispute. His father, Marvin Gay Sr. shot Marvin twice and he died. His father was later diagnosed with a brain tumor and was given a suspended sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Marvin’s sexy love songs are still cherished by fans of old and new.
1943 – 1970
Sometimes the shortest musical careers have some of the longest-lasting fame. Such is the case with Janice Joplin. Born in Port Author, Texas on January 19, 1943, she was rocketed to fame after she appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival in California. She was the lead singer of a fairly unknown band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
She eventually left that band after releasing 2 albums and went solo. When she appeared at Woodstock and the Festival Express Train, she rocketed to fame. Her most famous songs were “Me and Bobby McGee”, Piece of My Heart” and “Cry Baby”. Not unlike a number of other super rock stars of the 1960’s, Janice died of a drug overdose involving heroin. She died at the age of 27 on October 4, 1970. She remains one of the top-selling music artists today.
1942 – 1970
Born as Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington, he became a superstar in short order when he began his short career in 1963. While he was known as a rock singer, his greatest notoriety was for his exceptional ability to play the electric guitar. In his early years, he gained a place performing as a guitarist with people like The Isley Brothers and Little Richard, whom he worked with through 1965.
In late 1966, he moved to England and was discovered by Linda Keith and the bassist for The Animals. His greatest songs include “Purple Haze”, ”Hey Joe” and “The Winds Cry Mary”. His real fame came after performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He was the World’s highest-paid performer and headlined the famous Woodstock music festival in 1969 and also the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Following in the path of other rock musicians of his era, he died from barbiturate overdose on September 18, 1970. He was a very young 27 years old, but remains one of the most noted singers and guitarists of the rock genre.
1932 – 1963
Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, Patsy was born on September 8, 1932 in Winchester, Virginia. Her career began at only 15 years old when she first performed at a local radio station and was performing with a local band. This led to some television appearances on a show called Town and Country. She signed her first recording contract with the Four Star label in 1954. She didn’t have very good success with her first 2 song releases. When she made her first national TV appearance on the Author Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show, she sang “Walkin’ After Midnight”. It was a major hit for her that charted on both country and pop. It was the hit song she needed to turn her into a music star.
Patsy married in 1957 and had her first child in 1958. She and her family moved to Nashville, Tennessee so she could pursue her career further. Once she became a member of The Grand Ole Opry in 1960, her stardom was truly sealed. She had her first Billboard top hit with the song “I Fall to Pieces”. She had hit after hit after that with her songs “Crazy”, “She’s Got You”, and many more.
On March 5, 1963, after performing at a benefit show in Kansas City, Kansas, Patsy and several other country performers took a small plane back home to Nashville. When the plane hit rough weather, it crashed just outside of Camden, Tennessee. It killed everyone on board. Patsy was only 30 years old. For a number of years before her death, Patsy was best friends with another rising country star of the time, Loretta Lynn.
1915 – 1959
Born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915, she changed her name to Billie Holiday once her career took off. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was raised in Baltimore during her early years by her mother’s half-sister. She had a turbulent childhood plagued with sexual abuse and trafficking, to say the least. She dropped out of school at age 11 after having been placed in a Catholic reform school. She went then to live with her mother in New York in 1929.
She began singing in night clubs in Harlem and eventually made her first recording at age 18 with the legendary Benny Goodman. Her first song had little success, but her second release, “Riffin’ the Scotch” sold 5000 copies. Her friend and accompanist, Lester Brown nicknamed Billie “Lady Day”.
She traveled the night club circuit with Count Basie and Artie Shaw and had a string of hits songs like “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Easy Living”.
During these times Billie experienced racism against African Americans first hand when she played at the Lincoln Hotel 1938. Her life was deeply scarred by the racism against blacks in the US at that time. A song she performed called “Strange Fruit” is deeply disturbing and speaks volumes of how she felt about the atrocity of racism.
Billie’s greatest hit was “God Bless the Child” and it reached number 3 in Billboard’s song of the year in 1941 and sold over a million copies. Eventually, in 1947, she was arrested for drug possession and sent to prison. She was released in 1948, but lost her New York City Cabaret Card because of the arrest. Eventually, she did play Carnegie Hall in 1948. Her drug and alcohol abuse in the following years caused her to deteriorate. She finally succumbed to cirrhosis and died on July 17, 1959 at 44 years old.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
1954 – 1990
Stevie was best known for the blues music that he performed with his incredible guitar skills and as the lead singer of the band, Double Trouble. Born October 3, 1954 in Dallas, Texas, he began his career in 1972 when he dropped out of school and began to perform in Austin, Texas in local clubs and gained a following of fans. He formed his band, Double Trouble in 1978 and they were soon after one of the hottest bands in all of Texas. David Bowie saw Stevie perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982, which led to him playing his blues guitar on Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” song.
He was then discovered by John Hammond and signed a record deal with Epic Records. Vaughan and the band Double Trouble gained quick success after that with their album Texas Flood. He was the leading artist in the revival of blues music in the 1980s. He also achieved major fame in Europe because of his guitar skills which he performed in the style of Jimi Hendrix.
As with many great music artists, Stevie struggled with drug and alcohol addiction also. It cost him his marriage and a stint in rehab. In 1986 he began touring again with Double Trouble. His final album released in 1989, In Step, achieved his first number 1 hit song, “Crossfire”. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter on August 27, 1990, Stevie and four others were killed in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin. Stevie’s blues music is still widely played worldwide today by blues fans.
1958 – 2016
Prince may be one of the artists that lived the longest on this list, but even so, his true fans were far from ready to let him go. Born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, this incredible performer wrote his first song at the age of 7, it was called “Funk Machine” He eventually helped to pioneer the new wave, synth-pop and psychedelia sounds that arrived in the late 1970’s. His debut album For You was released in 1978.
At this point, Prince began to call his band, The Revolution. Prince was also an actor in one of the best films of 1984, Purple Rain, which he performed the soundtrack for. The soundtrack spent an amazing 24 weeks at the top of Billboard 200 and received an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. When The Revolution disbanded, Prince followed up by releasing a double album called Sign of the Times in 1987. He debuted his new band, New Power Generation in 1991.
In !993, after a dispute with Warner Bros, he quickly released five more albums and changed his stage name to a symbol meaning “Love Symbol”. This was so he could finish out his contract with Warner Bros. and sign with Artista Records in 1998. He reclaimed his former stage name “Prince”.
Prince released many more albums up until 2015. Sadly, on April 21, 2016, when he was 57, Prince died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl at his Paisley Park home in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Selling over 100 million records worldwide, Prince is one of the best selling music artists of all time. He won a total of 7 Grammy Awards and so many others, it’s hard to list them all. He has been enlisted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The UK Hall of Fame, and The Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone’s named him among 100 of the Greatest Artists of All Time and 100 of the Greatest Songwriters of All Time. He is also on Billboard’s Top !00 Artists of All Time. That’s quite an achievement!
1950 – 1983
Born Karen Anne Carpenter on March 2, 1950, in New Haven Connecticut, unlike many famous female singers that were known for singing only or playing guitar or piano, Karen had major drumming abilities. She was best known as the duo partner of the Carpenters with her brother Richard. In 1963, her family moved to Downey, California. Their easy listening and pop sound gained them a tremendous audience of followers. They toured and recorded for several years and were finally signed to A&M Records in 1969. They achieved great fame in the 1970s with hit songs like “Close to You” in 1970 and “ A Kind of Hush” in 1976.
During their famous years, Karen suffered from anorexia and body dysmorphia, a condition that was rarely heard about during that time. She suffered from heart failure at the young age of 32 and died on February 4, 1983 with issues relating to her illness. Since she was so famous and popular at the time, her death helped to lead to the awareness of anorexia in women. She is listed with Rolling Stone’s as 100 of the Greatest Singers of All Time.