Obituaries for February 2013

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (AP) — Bobby Rogers, 73, a founding member of Motown group The Miracles and a songwriting collaborator with Smokey Robinson, died March 3, 2013, at his suburban Detroit home. He had been ill for several years.

Rogers formed the group in 1956 with cousin Claudette Rogers, Pete Moore, Ronnie White and Robinson. Their hits included “Shop Around,” ‘’You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” ‘’The Tracks of My Tears,” ‘’Going to a Go-Go,” ‘’I Second That Emotion” and “The Tears of a Clown.”

Rogers’ voice can be heard on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” with Rogers saying, “It’s just a groovy party, man, I can dig it.” Mary Wilson of the Supremes said that captured his essence.

“If people want to remember him, they should put that record on and listen to Bobby,” Wilson told the newspaper. “That’s who he was.”

Rogers and The Miracles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. He was too ill to attend the ceremony. He shared songwriting credits with Robinson on The Temptations’ “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” The Contours’ “First I Look at the Purse” and The Miracles’ “Going to a Go-Go.”

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Van Cliburn, the celebrated pianist who played for every American president since Harry Truman, plus royalty and heads of state around the world, died Feb. 27, 2013, following a battle with bone cancer. He was 78.

Perhaps best remembered for winning a 1958 piano competition in Moscow that helped thaw the icy rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union Cliburn was  “a great humanitarian and a brilliant musician whose light will continue to shine through his extraordinary legacy,” said publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone.

The young man from the small east Texas town of Kilgore was a baby-faced 23-year-old when he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow just six months after the Soviets’ launch of Sputnik embarrassed the U.S. and inaugurated the space race. Cliburn returned to a hero’s welcome and the ticker-tape parade — the first ever for a classical musician. A Time magazine cover proclaimed him “The Texan Who Conquered Russia.”

The win also showed the power of the arts, creating unity despite the tension between the superpowers. Music-loving Soviets clamored to see him perform. Premier Nikita Khrushchev reportedly gave the go-ahead for the judges to honor a foreigner: “Is Cliburn the best? Then give him first prize.”

In the years that followed, Cliburn’s popularity soared. He sold out concerts and caused riots when he was spotted in public. His fame even prompted an Elvis Presley fan club to change its name to his. His recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Russian conductor Kirill Kondrashin became the first classical album to reach platinum status.

In December 2001, he was presented with the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Medallion at the televised tribute held in Washington. President George W. Bush presented Cliburn with the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — in 2003. The following year, he received the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After the death of his father in 1974, Cliburn announced he would soon retire to spend more time with his ailing mother. He stopped touring in 1978.

Cliburn emerged from his sabbatical in 1987, when he played at a state dinner at the White House during the historic visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev leapt from his seat to give the pianist a bear-hug and kisses on the cheeks.

Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.

Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award. At 17, Cliburn attended the Juilliard School in New York, where fellow students marveled at his marathon practice sessions that stretched until 3 a.m.

He practiced daily and performed limited engagements until only recently. His last public appearance came in September at the 50th anniversary of the prestigious piano competition bearing his name.

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former Motown vocalist Richard Street, a member of the Temptations for 25 years, died Feb. 27, 2013. He was 70.

Street sang as a young man with Temptations members Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, but didn’t join the famed Motown group until the early 1970s. He later made the move from his native Detroit to Los Angeles with other Motown acts and stayed with the group until the mid-1990s.

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BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dan Toler has died following a two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 65.

Toler, who is originally from Indiana, joined the Allman Brothers in 1979. In 1982, he joined The Gregg Allman band along with his brother, David “Frankie” Toler.

Dan Toler played on the Allman Brothers’ 1979 comeback album “Enlightened Rogues” and also “Reach for the Sky.”

Both Tolers played in the band’s “Brothers of the Road.” The Tolers spent the rest of the 1980s touring and recording the gold album “I’m No Angel” with The Gregg Allman Band.

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia traditional bluegrass musician Alvin Breeden, 70, died Feb. 26, 2013.

The Earlysville resident and his band, Alvin Breeden & the Virginia Cutups, played traditional bluegrass for 30 years before he retired in 2006.

Breeden learned the claw hammer style of playing banjo from his mother when he was 10. He played professionally with Bob and Cindy Dean by the time he was 16. He played with Ralph Stanley, Don Reno and Jim Orange during his career.

The Osborne Brothers recorded a song, “Fastest Grass Alive,” written by Paul Craft in Breeden’s honor.

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LONDON (AP) — Kevin Ayers, an influential singer-songwriter who co-founded the band Soft Machine, was found dead in France on Feb. 20, 2013, his record label said Thursday. He was 68.

Ayers was an important figure in the British psychedelic movement spearheaded by the Beatles in the late 1960s. He did not achieve sustained commercial success, but his work is treasured by musicians and many fans.

Jack McLean, assistant to the managing director of Lo-Max Records in London, said that Ayers’ body had been discovered in his bed at his home in the medieval village Montolieu in the south of France.

“We believe he died Feb. 18 of natural causes and was found two days later,” McLean said. “He hadn’t been ill, but he lived a rock `n’ roll lifestyle and everything that comes with that.”

Ayers, who was raised partly in Malaysia, moved to Canterbury on his return to England and formed Soft Machine in 1966 with drummer and singer Robert Wyatt. They took the name from a novel by beat generation author William Burroughs.

The band was part of the “Canterbury scene” — a group of bands known for a pastoral approach to music that combined elements of jazz, folk and rock music.

Soft Machine and Pink Floyd both enjoyed wide followings for their imaginative and experimental take on psychedelia. They were also known for their free-form, jazz-influenced live improvisations.

Ayers also had a lengthy solo career and made many collaborative records, working with Syd Barrett, Brian Eno, Nico and others. He released “The Unfairground” in 2007, ending a lengthy hiatus with an album that was critically acclaimed.

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BERLIN (AP) — Tony Sheridan, a British singer who performed with the Beatles during their early years in Hamburg, died Feb. 16, 2013, in Germany. He was 72.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney said on his website that Sheridan “was a good guy who we knew and worked with from the early days in Hamburg.”

Sheridan was born in Norwich, England, on May 21, 1940. He went to Hamburg in 1960 with a makeshift band, the Jets — and during his time in the German port city was backed by the Beatles. Sheridan and the Beatles together recorded “My Bonnie,” released in 1962.

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Magic Slim, a younger contemporary of blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf who helped shape the sound of Chicago’s electric blues, died Feb. 21, 2013. He was 75. The musician had health problems that worsened while he was on tour.

Magic Slim promotional photoMagic Slim and his backing band, the Teardrops, performed a no-holds-barred brand of Chicago-style electric blues, led by his singing and guitar playing, and were regulars on the music festival circuit.

Slim’s given name was Morris Holt. The Mississippi native established himself in Chicago’s thriving blues community in the 1960s, but more recently lived in Lincoln, Neb.
Holt’s story was one of persistence. Like many bluesmen from rural Mississippi, he left a life that revolved around cotton fields and moved to Chicago in 1955. But competition on the South Side was fierce in those days, and he moved back home after failing to establish himself.

Playing plantation parties and small gigs, he honed his skills to a fine edge and enlisted his brothers, Nick and Douglas, as his backing band. They returned to Chicago, where they formed the Teardrops and refused to be dismissed.

Younger than many of the renowned bluesmen in Chicago, he maintained a career well into the 21st century. Holt and the Teardrops won blues band of the year at the 2003 Blues Music Award, and he released a record last year.

Born in Torrance, Miss., in 1937, Holt grew up in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta. His first love was piano, but he lost the little finger on his right hand to a cotton gin and switched to guitar. Like many of his contemporaries, he started out on a one-string instrument he made by nailing a piece of wire stolen from a broom to the wall.

He moved to Grenada at age 11 and met Magic Sam, an older guitarist and influential blues figure. Sam taught him about the instrument and gave him his first job as a bass player years later when he first moved to Chicago.

He didn’t make his first recordings until 1966. He released his first album, “Born Under A Bad Sign,” on a French label in 1977 and put out an album of original songs and covers, “Bad Boy,” last year.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Diane Charlotte Lampert, an accomplished songwriter of the 1950s and 1960s who wrote lyrics to title songs for more than 20 movies, died of heart failure Feb. 22, 2013. She was 88.

Lampert worked on songs performed by Brenda Lee, Steve Lawrence, Red Foley, The Lettermen and others. She also was a writer on a Beatles song, “Nothin Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)” that wasn’t released until 1994 on “Live At The BBC.”
Lampert helped provide music for movies starring Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Buster Keaton and others.

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CHICAGO (AP) — Cleotha Staples, the eldest sister and member of the group her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples started in the 1940s, died Feb. 21, 2013, at age 78. She was at her Chicago home and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past decade, said family friend and music publicist Bill Carpenter.

The group included sisters Yvonne, Mavis and Cynthia, but Cleotha was the backbone, defining herself by being the “strong, silent type,” said Carpenter, author of “Uncloudy Day: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia.” A brother, Pervis, performed with the group until 1968.
Mavis Staples credited her father’s guitar and Cleotha’s voice with creating the Staple Singers’ distinctive sound.

Staples, known as “Cleedi,” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her family in 1999 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 2005. The Staple Singers gained a huge audience with their first No. 1 hit “I’ll Take You There” in 1972 and followed with top 40 hits “Respect Yourself,” ‘’Heavy Makes You Happy,” and “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me).”

The family’s music career had its roots with Pops Staples, a manual laborer who strummed a $10 guitar while teaching his children gospel songs to keep them entertained in the evenings. They sang in church one Sunday morning in 1948, and three encores and a heavy church offering basket convinced Pops music was in the family’s future. The Staple Singers was born. Two decades later the group became an unlikely hit maker for the Stax label. The Staple Singers had a string of Top 40 hits with Stax in the late 1960s, earning them the nickname “God’s greatest hitmakers.”

When the children were younger, it was Cleotha’s high voice that influenced Pops Staples’ guitar playing and in turn influenced The Staple Singers sound, Carpenter said.

Cleotha Staples was born April 11, 1934, in Drew, Miss., the first child of Pops and his wife, Oceola. Two years later, the family moved to Chicago, where Pops worked a variety of jobs performing manual labor and Oceola worked at a hotel. Chicago also was where the family’s four other children were born.

Pops and Mavis primarily took the lead on the group’s vocals, but a 1969 recording of duets featured Cleotha’s voice on the song “It’s Too Late,” a bluesy ballad about a lost love.

The family also became active in the civil rights movement after hearing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver a sermon while they were on tour in Montgomery, Ala., in 1962. They went on to perform at events at King’s request. It was during that period that the family began recording protest songs, such as “Freedom Highway,” as well as gospel. The group even covered Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

At the end of her life, Cleotha Staples lived near her sisters Mavis and Yvonne on Chicago’s South Side. Carpenter said the sisters were vigilant caretakers of Cleotha, just as she had been when the sisters were younger. Mavis Staples said she plans to dedicate her second record with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy to Cleotha’s memory.

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Otis “Damon” Harris, a former member of the Motown group The Temptations, died of prostate cancer in mid-February. He was 62.

Harris performed with the celebrated Motown act The Temptations from 1971 to 1975 and sang on hits including “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are).”

Woodson says joining The Temptations was “the realization of a dream” for Harris. Harris formed a new group after leaving The Temptations and later released solo recordings. Woodson says that in his final years, Harris established a cancer foundation that was still in its early stages when he became ill. Harris also became a strong advocate for prostate cancer screening.

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LONDON (AP) — Bass player Rick Huxley, 72, one of the founding members of the Dave Clark Five, died Feb. 11, 2013. He had suffered from emphysema.

Huxley played on the band’s signature hits from the era when they briefly rivaled the Beatles in popularity. They were part of the British invasion that included the Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other bands.

Their best-known songs included “Bits and Pieces” and “Glad All Over.” They enjoyed a large following in the United States after appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Sunday night television show that also introduced the Beatles to American audiences.

The band, with a middle-of-the-road pop rock sound, was known for drummer Clark’s driving beat and exuberant vocals. But it faded after several years when harder-edged bands such as Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Doors rose to popularity. The Dave Clark Five broke up in 1970 after 12 years together.

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008.

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HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — Country singer Mindy McCready died Feb. 17, 2013, of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was 37.

McCready had attempted suicide at least three times since 2005, as she struggled to cope amid a series of tumultuous public events that marked much of her adult life. Her death comes a month after that of David Wilson, her longtime boyfriend and the father of her youngest son. He is believed to have shot himself on the same porch of the home they shared in Heber Springs, a small vacation community about 65 miles north of Little Rock. His death also was investigated as a suicide.

Melinda Gayle McCready arrived in Nashville in 1994, still in her teens with tapes of her karaoke vocals and earned a recording contract with BNA Records. She had a few memorable moments professionally, scoring her first No. 1 hit almost immediately. “Guys Do It All the Time,” a self-assured dig at male chauvinism, endeared her to female fans in 1996. She also scored a hit with “Ten Thousand Angels.”

McCready checked into court-ordered rehab and gave her children up to foster care earlier in February after her father asked a judge to intervene, saying she’d stopped taking care of herself and her sons and was abusing alcohol and prescription drugs. It’s unclear why she was out of rehab. McCready is the fifth celebrity to die since appearing on Dr. Drew Pinsky’s reality show,  “Celebrity Rehab,” and the third from Season 3. Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr and “Real World” participant Joey Kovar both died of overdoses. GM

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