Obituaries for Phoebe Snow, Gil Robbins, Poly Styrene and more

LOS ANGELES (AP) — John Cossette, 54, the longtime executive producer of the Grammy Awards, died April 26, 2011.
Cossette, the son of Grammy telecast founding producer Pierre Cossette, worked on the Grammys broadcast for more than 20 years; his other credits included the Latin Grammys and BET Awards. His theatrical work included the Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet” about the 1956 meeting of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Studios.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Phoebe Snow, 58, a bluesy singer, guitarist and songwriter whose “Poetry Man” was a defining hit of the 1970s, died April 26, 2011, in Edison, N.J., from complications of a brain hemorrhage.

She was born Phoebe Ann Laub in New York City in 1952, and raised in Teaneck, N.J. She changed her name after seeing Phoebe Snow, an advertising character for a railroad, on trains that passed through her hometown. Known as a folk guitarist who made forays into jazz and blues, Snow put her stamp on soul classics such as “Shakey Ground,” “Love Makes a Woman” and “Mercy, Mercy Mercy” on more than a half-dozen albums. She was nominated for best new artist at the 1975 Grammys.

Shortly after “Poetry Man” reached the Top 5 on the pop singles chart in 1975, her daughter, Valerie Rose, was born with severe brain damage and was not expected to live more than a few years. Snow chose to care for her at home rather than place her in an institution; Valerie died in 2007 at age 31.

In the ’80s and into the ’90s, Snow sang commercial jingles and the theme for NBC’s “A Different World;” performed at the Woodstock 25th anniversary festival; was part of a soul act that included Thelma Houston, Mavis Staples and CeCe Peniston; and sang in the New York Rock and Soul Revue.

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LONDON (AP) — Poly Styrene, 53, the braces-wearing singer who belted out “Oh bondage, up yours!” with the band X-Ray Spex, died April 25, 2011. Styrene, whose real name was Marion Elliott-Said, had been suffering from breast cancer that had spread to her spine and lungs.

X-Ray Spex released one album, 1978’s “Germ Free Adolescents.” Its catchy single “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” became a punk anthem. Styrene later said the song was inspired by the iconic bondage trousers designed by Vivienne Westwood and once told the BBC she would like to be remembered for something spiritual, but “I know I’ll probably be remembered for ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’”

Of British and Somali heritage, Styrene was born in 1957 in the London suburb of Bromley. As a teen, she released a reggae single before being inspired to form a punk band after seeing the Sex Pistols play in 1976. Styrene inspired other female singers; she was often cited as a precursor of the 1990s “riot grrrl” movement. Her latest solo album, “Generation Indigo” was released in March.

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DALLAS (AP) — Huey P. Meaux, 82, who revived Freddy Fender’s recording career and discovered recording artists Doug Sahm and Barbara Lynn and before scandal and prison ended his career, died April 23, 2011.

In 1996, police raided Meaux’s studio in Houston and found hundreds of videotapes and photos of him having sex with underage girls. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting a teenage girl and other charges.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Hazel Dickens, 75, a folk singer and bluegrass musician who advocated for coal miners, died April 22, 2011, of complications from pneumonia.

Dickens, a vocalist and double-bassist, became a fixture in the bluegrass circuit in the ’60s and ’70s with her musical partner, Alice Gerrard. The duo performed as Hazel & Alice and released several albums, emerging as some of the earliest prominent women in bluegrass and paving the way for other female folk singers.
Dickens was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2008 and received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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PRYOR, Okla. (AP) — Roy Edward Burris, 79, the musician who co-wrote the song, “Okie from Muskogee,” died April 19, 2011. The drummer for Merle Haggard’s band The Stranger in the 1960s, Burris was on a tour bus in 1969 when highway signs indicating the distance to Muskogee inspired Haggard to begin writing “Okie from Muskogee.” Haggard woke Burris up, and they finished the song in 10 minutes. After Burris left the band in 1970, he worked as a truck driver and owned a bass fishing shop.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Randy Wood, 94, the founder of Dot Records who helped introduce black R&B music to whiteaudiences in the early rock era, died April 9, 2011.

Dot Records grew out of a record shop that Wood owned in Tennessee. In the 1950s, Wood made white covers of songs by Fats Domino and other musicians whose so-called “race records” were hits in the black community but largely unknown to whites. Pat Boone says Wood picked out all of his early hits.

Dot eventually included artists in a range of styles, from Louis Armstrong to Lawrence Welk. It went out of business in the 1970s.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Audio equipment millionaire Sidney Harman, 92, died April 12, 2011, of complications from leukemia.

He founded Harman International Industries, the parent company of electronics brands JBL, Infinity and Harman Kardon, which he founded in 1953. Born in Montreal in 1918, Harmon moved with his family to New York and grew up in Manhattan.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Charles Laufer, who published Tiger Beat and other fan magazines that covered the doings of teen idols, died April 5, 2011, at age 87.

Laufer was teaching at a Norwalk, Calif., high school in the 1950s when he came up with the idea for a student-oriented magazine called Coaster. He later changed the name to Teen. In 1965, he launched Tiger Beat, which covered the likes of The Beatles and teen heartthrob David Cassidy.

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NEW YORK (AP) — TV on the Radio bassist Gerard Smith, 34, died of lung cancer April 20, 2011, about a month after announcing he was fighting the disease. Smith, who joined the band full time in 2005, was unable to tour with the band to promote its most recent album, “Nine Types of Light.”

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Entertainment industry publicist Gene Shefrin, 90, died April 6, 2011, after a battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Shefrin was born in New York City in 1921, graduated from City College of New York, and during World War II served in an Army Air Force bomber group. He began his career in New York in 1945 and started his own company in Los Angeles in the 1960s.

During his career, Shefrin represented stars including Johnny Mathis, Frankie Laine, Vic Damone, Perry Como, Sam Cooke, Peggy Lee, Connie Francis, Sarah Vaughan and Dick Clark.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gil Robbins, 80, a folk singer, guitarist and member of the early 1960s group the Highwaymen, died April 5, 2011, at his home in Mexico.

Robbins was a well-known musician in the Greenwich Village folk scene as a member of the Cumberland Three and the Belafonte Singers. Shortly before he joined the Highwaymen, the group had a major hit with “Michael,” its version of “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” When he joined in 1962, he took the group in a more political direction, playing and singing baritone on five albums until the group’s 1964 breakup. After the Highwaymen, he managed the Gaslight Club on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street.

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