Skip to main content

Obituaries: Ray Ellis, Byron Lee, Jheryl Busby, Jimmy Carl Black and more

Farewell to arranger Ray Ellis, bandleader Byron Lee, record executive Jheryl Busby, guitarist Frank Navetta, drummer Jimmy Carl Black, hip-hop record executive Shakir Stewart, Anthony Tarracino and R&B singer Nathaniel Mayer.

Ray Ellis, 85, a musical arranger who worked on such 1950s pop hits as Bobby Darin’s peppy “Splish Splash’’ and “Dream Lover” and the Four Lads’ dreamy “Moments to Remember’’ and “Standing on the Corner” died Oct. 27, 2008, at an assisted-living facility in Los Angeles.

For Doris Day, Ellis arranged “Everybody Loves a Lover’’ in 1958, and for Connie Francis, “Where the Boys Are’’ in 1961.

Ellis’ own album, Ellis in Wonderland, recorded in 1957, caught the attention of jazz great Billie Holiday, and Ellis wound up working on her 1958 album Lady in Satin, a recording that is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame.


Byron Lee, a bandleader who helped introduce Jamaican music to an international audience and founded one of the island’s first ska bands died of cancer on Nov. 4, 2008, at the University Hospital of the West Indies. He was 73.

The musician founded Byron Lee and the Dragonaires band in 1956 at age 20 and recorded several ska and calypso songs, including “Tiny Winey.’’ The band, which was featured in the film “Dr. No,” signed with the West Indies Recording Limited label owned by future Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Lee bought the label in 1964. His Kingston studio would later attract musicians including The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.


Jheryl Busby, 59, the former president and chief executive of Motown Records who helped foster the careers of Boyz II Men and Johnny Gill, has died. Busby was found early Nov. 4, 2008, in a hot tub at his home in Malibu.

Born in Los Angeles, Busby started his music career at Memphis-based Stax Records. He bounced around several record companies during the 1980s doing promotional work. He was named vice president of the black-music division of MCA Records in 1984 and later was promoted to president of the division. In 1988, he was named Motown’s president and chief executive officer. After his Motown tenure, Busby headed up the urban division at DreamWorks Records and later worked at Def Soul Classics.


Frank Navetta, a vocalist, guitarist and founding member of The West-Coast punk band The Descendents, died on Oct. 31, 2008, after a brief illness, according to a posting on the band’s Web site, along with this quote: “This is obviously a huge loss for the Descendents family. His contribution to the band, and to music in general can not be overstated. Frank will be truly missed. We will share information about memorial services when we find out.”


Jimmy Carl Black, 70, who went from drummer in Frank Zappa’s avant-garde Mothers of Invention to doughnut shop worker and house painter, died of cancer on Nov. 1, 2008, in Siegsdorf, Germany, said Roddie Gilliard, a British musician who performed with him. He was 70.

Early in his career, Black played backing music for strippers. In 1964, he was playing in a Los Angeles band called the Soul Giants when it recruited Zappa as lead guitarist. Zappa took over and changed the group’s name. After Zappa disbanded The Mothers of Invention in 1969, Black played in a rock and blues band called Geronimo Black.


Shakir Stewart, 34, the executive who succeeded Jay-Z as the head of hip-hop music label Def Jam Recordings, died of a self-inflicted gunshot, his N