Skip to main content

Obituaries for Honey Boy Edwards, Jerry Leiber, Nick Ashford and more

Farewell to Don Wayne, Wade Mainer, Wardell Querzergue, George Green, David 'Honey Boy' Edwards, Esther Gordy Edwards, Ross Barbour, Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Don Wayne, 78, who wrote country music hits “Country Bumpkin,” recorded by Cal Smith in 1974, and “Saginaw, Michigan,” a No. 1 hit for Lefty Frizzell in 1965, died Sept. 12, 2011, in Nashville. Wayne also wrote songs recorded by Bill Anderson, Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb and Jean Shepard.


DETROIT (AP) — Wade Mainer, 104, a country music pioneer credited with inventing the two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for the bluegrass era, died Sept. 12, 2011.

Mainer was a member of J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers, a popular sibling duo of the 1930s. In the early 1950s, Mainer left the stage and moved to Flint, Mich., to work for General Motors. He played only in church and later stopped altogether, putting the banjo under his bed for four years. Mainer returned to music in the 1970s, after another musician convinced Mainer he could use his talents to honor God.


NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Composer, arranger, bandleader, producer and teacher Wardell Quezergue, 81, who arranged “Chapel of Love” and “Iko Iko” for the Dixie Cups and was dubbed the “Creole Beethoven” by Allen Toussaint, died Sept. 7, 2011, of congestive heart failure.

He also arranged the hits “Big Chief” for Professor Longhair and “Mr. Big Stuff” for Jean Knight. Quezergue co-wrote “It Ain’t My Fault,” a New Orleans brass band standard. He lost his house and his collection of musical scores to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After his Army service during the Korean War, Quezergue formed two bands, the Royal Dukes Of Rhythm and Wardell and the Sultans. Quezergue, Clinton Scott and Ulis Gaines formed Nola Records in 1964.


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — George Green, who wrote lyrics for some of John Mellencamp’s biggest hits and songs recorded by Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams, Ricky Skaggs and Hall and Oates, died Aug. 28, 2011, from a rapid-forming lung cancer. He was 59. Green co-wrote “Hurts So Good,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Rain on the Scarecrow.’’


CHICAGO (AP) — Grammy-winning Blues musician David “Honey Boy” Edwards, believed to be the oldest surviving Delta bluesman and whose roots stretched back to Robert Johnson, died Aug. 29, 2011. He was 96.

Born in 1915 in Shaw, Miss., Edwards learned the guitar growing up and started playing professionally at age 17 in Memphis, Tenn. He moved to Chicago in the 1940s and played on Maxwell Street, small clubs and street corners. By the 1950s Edwards had played with almost every bluesman of note, including Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Charlie Patton and Muddy Waters. His hits were “Long Tall Woman Blues,” and “Gamblin Man.” Edwards won a 2008 Grammy for traditional blues album and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 2010. He was known as an oral historian and would tell biographical stories between songs at his shows. Edwards earned his nickname “Honey Boy” from his sister, who told his mother to “look at honey boy” when Edwards stumbled as he learned to walk as a toddler.


DETROIT (AP) — Esther Gordy Edwards, who helped build Motown Records alongside her brother, Berry Gordy Jr., and led efforts to turn its original Detroit headquarters into a museum, died Aug. 24, 2011. She was 91.

Edwards was a Motown executive for nearly three decades, holding leadership positions including senior vice president, corporate secretary and director of Motown International Operations. When Motown and most of her family moved to California, Edwards stayed behind and amassed Motown memorabilia and set to work on preserving the old headquarters on West Grand Boulevard, including the label’s famed Studio A, as a museum that opened in 1985.


SIMI VALLEY, California (AP) — Ross Barbour, 82, the last original member of the 1950s harmonizing group the Four Freshmen, died of lung cancer Aug. 20, 2011. He retired from the Grammy-winning group in 1977. Barbour’s death comes three months after the death of his cousin, Bob Flanigan, another founding member. Don Barbour and Hal Kratzsch also founded the group, whose hits include “Graduation Day,” “It’s a Blue World,” “Mood Indigo,” “Day by Day,” “It Happened Once Before’’ and “How Can I Tell Her?”


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jerry Leiber, who with longtime partner Mike Stoller wrote “Hound Dog,” ‘’Jailhouse Rock,” ‘’Yakety Yak” and other hit songs that came to define early rock ‘n’ roll, died Aug. 22, 2011. He was 78.

With Leiber as lyricist and Stoller as composer, the team channeled their backgrounds into pop songs performed by such artists as Elvis Presley, Dion and The Belmonts, The Coasters, The Drifters and Ben E. King in a way that helped create a new musical style. From their breakout hit, blues great Big Mama Thornton’s 1953 rendition of “Hound Dog,” until their songwriting took a more serious turn in 1969 with Peggy Lee’s recording of “Is That All There Is?” the pair remained one of the most successful teams in pop music history; they had 15 No. 1 hits for artists including The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Frank Sinatra. The pair’s writing prowess and influence over the recording industry as pioneering independent producers earned them induction into the non-performer category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Leiber was born in Baltimore in 1933 to Jewish immigrants from Poland. He met Stoller after moving to Los Angeles in 1950. The two immediately began collaborating and formed their own record label, Spark, in 1953.


NEW YORK (AP) — Nick Ashford, one-half of the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, which pennedclassics for Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Chaka Khan, died Aug. 22, 2011, at age 70.

Ashford, who along with wife Valerie Simpson wrote some of Motown’s biggest hits, had been suffering from throat cancer and had undergone radiation treatment. Though they had some of their greatest success at Motown with classics like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand,” Ashford & Simpson also created anthems for others, like “I’m Every Woman” by Khan, later remade by Whitney Houston. Ashford & Simpson also had success writing for themselves: Perhaps the best-known song they sang was the 1980s hit “Solid As A Rock.” The duo, married for 38 years, helped sell millions of records for several artists.

Ashford and Simpson’s relationship stretched more than four decades. They met in 1964 in a New York City church. Ashford, a South Carolina native, had come to the city to pursue a dance career. Simpson was a music student, and after connecting with her, they decided to start to write songs together.

“They were always comfortable with each other and they made all of us comfortable, because they were comfortable,” White said.

Their first major success occurred when they came up with “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles. The bluesy, gospel-tinged song became a huge hit for Charles, and soon, they came to the attention of Motown Records and began penning hits for their artists.

They started out writing soulful, romantic works for the duo of Gaye and Terrell that would become instant classics, like “Your Precious Love,” and “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing.” In fact, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was originally their hit, until Ross later rerecorded it with a new arrangement that had sweeping pop grandeur and made it her signature song.

Ross may have been their greatest muse: With her, they had some of their biggest songs and helped give her career-defining hits that would distinguish her solo career apart from The Supremes. Among the songs Ross made hits were “Reach Out and Touch,” ‘’The Boss,” ‘’My House,” and “Missing You,” a tribute to the late Gaye and others. They also composed some of the music for “The Wiz,” the movie musical that starred Ross and Michael Jackson.

In an industry where marriages and partnerships are fleeting, Ashford and Simpson stood the test of time.
“The thing is they were married and working together, that was what was special about them. Everybody admired that,” White said.

The duo, married for 38 years, helped sell millions of records for several artists. They also had success as their own entity, but despite “Solid As a Rock,” their songs were dwarfed by those they penned for others. They continued to craft hits even into the new millennium: They are credited as co-writers on Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry On Their Own.”

In recent years, the pair continued to perform. They also were owners of the New York City restaurant Sugar Bar, where many top names and emerging talents would put on showcases.

In 2002, Ashford & Simpson were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.