The Missing Music: Ten Shortened Careers And The Music That Might Have Been (an introduction)   10 comments

September 17, 2011

The Lost Girls, The Lost Music:  Ten Talented Women Who Left Too Early For The Undiscovered Country

Starting tomorrow, and continuing for the next ten days I will post ten pieces; one each about a woman whose music was too important—at least to me—to get lost in a music industry that has historically thrived on change. Each woman—performer, songwriter, musician—left a lasting impact on me, and the music that I have chosen to keep. One of the benefits of living in an iPod world is that our music can always be as close as we want it to be. Whatever our mood—the depths of the blues to the heights of joy—we can dial-in the exact music that will fill the void, add glitter to the party, or simply accentuate the moment. I encourage all of you to consider sharing how music has moved you. If you’re blogging, I look forward to reading about your favorites and discovering something new. All of the women will appear in their chronological order.


Death and popular music are not new to each other. Enrico Caruso transcended the genre of classical music to arrive at his spot in history as the first superstar in a fledgling recording industry. Make no mistake: he was a superstar. He was often paid in gold for private performances. His contract terms were the foundation for the primary terms of every record industry contract since. With his death he claimed a second spot in history. To be fair, Caruso wasn’t a teen or even a thirty-something. He was 48 when he died in 1921. But his death from peritonitis was nevertheless untimely for his legion of fans while it simutaneously created a legend.

Russ Columbo (born Ruggerio de Rodolfo Columbo) was a major star in the 1920s and ’30s.  He was also one of the earliest singing/recording stars to die by the gun, albeit in a freakish accident. In 1934, while visiting a friend, an antique pistol discharged and the bullet hit Columbo in the eye. He died hours later at the age of 26.

Buddy Holly (christened Charles Hardin Holley) was 22 years old in 1959 when his chartered plane crashed in a field near Clear Lake, Iowa.  That event, the plane crash, came to be known as “The Day The Music Died” due in part to the “what might have been” factor. First there was the prolific Holly not contributing to the music business any longer; second, there were the deaths of Holly’s touring companions who were also lost on the doomed flight. Jiles Perry “J. P.” Richardson had risen from “simply” being a popular disc jockey to starting a recording career on the back of his oversized personality as  “The Big Bopper”, along with an oversized recording titled “Chantilly Lace”. Richardson was 29. The third musician and pop star killed in the crash was Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes, who was far better known as Richie Valens. Valens was on a fast track to stardom with hit singles like “Come On Let’s Go”, “Donna”, and “La Bamba”. He was dead at 17.

A little more than a decade after Clear lake, three more young pop stars were gone. Jimi Hendrix was dead in 1970 at age 27 of an accidental drug overdose, or perhaps as was later claimed, murder. That same year Janis Joplin, former lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company and now recording solo, was found at the Landmark Hotel in Los Angeles, dead from a heroin overdose. She, too, was 27. Jim Morrison exited in 1971, also at 27; as with Hendrix, the cause of Morrison’s death was believed to be drug-related but no absolute resolution has been accepted by all concerned. Twenty years later another 27 year-old pop star would make headlines. Kurt Cobain died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1994. Some believe Cobain was a victim of murder.

Those musicians who die young are not members of an exclusive club; and the act of dying is amplified when those doing the dying are pop stars, in the public eye, and the circumstances have some sensational aspect to them. We learn early that gunshot wounds, plane crashes, and drug overdoses provide the media with grist for circulation, or in today’s media world, more eyeballs on the screen. And within days, the media usually moves on to another disaster or tragedy to capture readers and viewers. Regardless of how they died, a group of unrelated women all suffered a fate similar to Holly, Hendrix, Cobain, Caruso, and so many more. And although they each received an obit or story documenting their passing, I have a slightly different agenda. Before the flame goes out completely, here’s a brief look at the first of ten music-making women who died during the last 50 years, and why you should care.

1. Patsy Cline

2. Janis Joplin

3. Tammi Terrell

4. Sandy Denny

5. Minnie Riperton

6. Karen Carpenter

7. Laura Branigan

8. Kirsty MacColl

9. Eva Cassidy

10. Laura Nyro

Closing thoughts

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011

Posted September 17, 2011 by Jazzdavid in Music History, Obituary, Popular Music, Uncategorized

10 responses to “The Missing Music: Ten Shortened Careers And The Music That Might Have Been (an introduction)

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  1. Pingback: The Missing Music: Janis Joplin « Jazzdavid

  2. Pingback: The Missing Music: Tammi Terrell « Jazzdavid

  3. Pingback: The Missing Music: Sandy Denny « Jazzdavid

  4. Pingback: The Missing Music: Minnie Riperton « Jazzdavid

  5. Pingback: The Missing Music: Karen Carpenter « Jazzdavid

  6. Pingback: The Missing Music: Laura Branigan « Jazzdavid

  7. Pingback: The Missing Music: Kirsty MacColl « Jazzdavid

  8. Pingback: The Missing Music: Eva Cassidy « Jazzdavid

  9. Pingback: The Missing Music: Laura Nyro « Jazzdavid

  10. There are tons of good tv shows to choose from to say it’s the best. No matter what is said though, there is no doubt that this show ranks #1 of all of them. Yes, there are shows that are a bit older but this one still has charm. There is comedy, love, and a little darkness, easily moving it up to the top. They just don’t make them like this nowadays.

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