In Memoriam: ASCAP Family We Lost to COVID-19
December 21, 2020
The music community has been hit hard by COVID-19. Here are some of our beloved ASCAP family members we have lost during the pandemic. May their legacies live on through the music they’ve left us.
Country music legend. Trailblazer. Storyteller. Charley Pride was one of country's all-time greats, both for his remarkable voice, and for his pioneering role as one of the genre's first - and only - Black superstars. Born on March 18, 1934 in Sledge, Mississippi, Pride grew up less than 300 miles from Nashville. Even with Music City so close by, Pride first served in the US Army and pursued a career in baseball before focusing on his passion for music. In a career spanning more than five decades, Pride scored 30 #1 hits on the US country charts, received three Grammys and won nearly every major award available to a country musician. His many honors include inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry, CMA's Entertainer of the Year award and their Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, and even a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Well-known for chart-topping hits like "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" and "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone,” Pride was second only to Elvis Presley in record sales at RCA during the height of his career. A noted influence for major country artists from Darius Rucker to Alan Jackson, Pride leaves behind a legacy of beloved classics, and his life's journey - from Mississippi sharecropper’s son to country music stardom - is sure to inspire music creators for generations to come.
Fred the Godson
South Bronx rapper Fred the Godson (born Frederick Thomas) broke through the noise in 2010 with his ambitious and star-studded Armageddon mixtape. The mixtape featured the likes of Busta Rhymes, Cam’ron, Waka Flocka Flame and Styles P, as well as Fred’s clever wordplay and silky delivery. The next year, Fred was named to XXL’s 2011 Freshman Class, alongside hip-hop heavy hitters Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Lil B, Meek Mill, Big K.R.I.T. and YG. He followed up with another critically lauded mixtape, City of God. A notable New York personality, you would often hear him freestyling on the radio if you tuned in to Hot97 or Sway in the Morning. In the final years of his career he released four comeback albums in quick succession, right up until the very end: 2017’s Gordo, 2019’s God Level, January 2020’s Training Day (with SNL alum Jay Pharoah) and March 2020’s Payback. Remembering Fred, DJ Self, a close friend of the late MC, wrote that he "was loved ... never heard one bad thing about you.”
The Marsalis family is jazz royalty, and Ellis Marsalis was the king. Born in 1934 in the jazz epicenter of New Orleans, Marsalis spent decades as a working pianist. He performed and recorded in the ‘60s and ‘70s with jazz greats like Cannonball and Nat Adderley and drummer Ed Blackwell. And while he was a much-admired straight ahead pianist, Marsalis had his greatest influence as an educator. After earning his master’s degree in music education from Loyola University in New Orleans, Marsalis led the jazz studies program at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts for high school students. He also taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, and founded the jazz studies department at the University of New Orleans. Over the years he mentored many musicians who would go on to renown, including Terence Blanchard, Harry Connick, Jr. and Donald Harrison. When Marsalis’s sons Wynton and Branford started gaining fame in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the elder Marsalis enjoyed a career resurgence as a musician. He released dozens of albums as a leader and a sideman, including many with Wynton, Branford and their younger brothers Jason and Delfeayo. And he continued to play up until the end - he had a weekly engagement at the New Orleans jazz hotspot Snug Harbor, until December 2019.
Bucky Pizzarelli, a giant of the New York jazz scene, was a much in-demand guitarist for recording sessions in the 1950s and ‘60s and can be heard on hundreds of records in various genres. He toured with Benny Goodman and was a longtime member of The Tonight Show Orchestra. When Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show to California from New York in 1972, Pizzarelli decided to stay local, and began to perform in numerous high-profile nightclubs and other venues. In the 1980s he began performing with his son, John, who would go on to become an acclaimed jazz musician in his own right. The two would record and perform together numerous times over the years, sometimes joined by Pizzarelli’s other son, Martin, on bass and John’s wife, Jessica Molaskey, on vocals. In addition to recording with singers like Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan, his career highlights included appearing on several pop records, including Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and hits by Dion and the Belmonts. Pizzarelli continued to perform well into his 90s and was lauded for his “uncommonly sweet and delicate tone.”
New York City-born Adam Schlesinger had many outlets for his profound musical talents. The Emmy and Grammy winner was the founding member of three indie bands: Fountains of Wayne (well known for their single "Stacy's Mom"), Ivy and Tinted Windows. He wrote the title track to the 1996 Tom Hanks-directed film That Thing You Do, earning him Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. He was beloved and in-demand in the world of musical theatre; he earned Tony nominations writing the songs for the musical adaption of John Waters’ cult classic Cry-Baby, wrote countless musical theatre-style songs for television (including opening songs for awards shows like the Tonys, songs for televised musical productions and TV themes), and co-wrote and executive produced the songs for the acclaimed, beloved musical series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Beyond his songwriting career, he was a prolific producer for acts like The Monkees, Dashboard Confessional, Motion City Soundtrack, Verve, Robert Plant, America, They Might Be Giants and Fastball.
New York guitarist and singer Alan Merrill was best known for penning the iconic “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which became Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ breakout hit six years after Merrill recorded it in 1975 with his band, Arrows. Born into a family of jazz musicians, Merrill played in rock bands as a teenager, and became one of the first westerners to develop a successful music career in Japan after he moved there in the late ‘60s. He was the primary songwriter, singer and guitarist for the Japanese-American glam-rock group Vodka Collins, who opened the Jackson 5's first show in Japan, in 1973. In 1974, Merrill departed for England, where he soon scored a Top 10 hit with “Touch Too Much” by his new band, Arrows. He would go on to play with Rick Derringer and Meat Loaf, and release both solo albums and further LPs with Vodka Collins. In his later years he continued to play widely in New York, and hosted the television series Across the Pond for the MyJam Music Network.
Born in Cameroon, Manu Dibango was one of the architects of the Afro-funk sound. The multi-instrumentalist moved to France from Cameroon at age 15 and fell in love with American jazz music. He learned to play piano, mandolin, vibraphone and, soon enough, saxophone, for which he is most famous. Dibango’s influence on the modern Afro-jazz movement was enormous, but his music also lives on in its permeation into the American disco scene and beyond. Many musical artists have sampled his 1972 hit "Soul Makossa," which became a sensation in the New York house party scene. After the song’s initial success, he collaborated with many famed international artists, including Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Sly and Robbie, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, King Sunny Adé, Youssou N'Dour, Hugh Masekela and Fela Kuti.