This page has been archived and is no longer updated.Find out more about page archiving.

It's been a year in which music news has been defined by the loss of icons. It started with David Bowie. His passing on 10 January, from liver cancer, sparked a worldwide celebration of his life. The deaths of Prince in April, Leonard Cohen in November and George Michael on Christmas Day generated similar outpourings of recognition.

Other big names who died in 2016 - Eagles' Glenn Frey, Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns, and Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer - also had their careers widely acknowledged. But many others went relatively unsung, lost in the noise of a year defined by dramatic headlines, within music and beyond.

Here are 10 musicians whose output is well worth remembering.

[Warning: Third-party content may contain adverts]

1. Prince Buster

By pioneering the sound of ska, Prince Buster had an immense impact on Jamaican popular music. Born Cecil Bustamente Campbell in 1938 in Kingston, he started out as a street boxer before catching the attention of renowned soundsystem DJ Coxsone Dodd in the 1950s. He soon started playing street parties with a soundsystem of his own before going on to produce hits like the Folkes Brothers' Oh Carolina and cracking the UK Top 20 with Al Capone in 1967. Prince Buster's sound and image are credited with inspiring the British ska revival of the late 1970s, with bands like Madness and The Specials openly paying tribute. He died in Miami on 8 September at the age of 78, after being hospitalised with heart problems.

Key quote: "Ska really portrays the voice of the people. When I say the people, I really mean the common people; their suffering and pain is what shaped the notes of that music."

Essential release: Fabulous Greatest Hits (1968). One of the biggest-selling Jamaican records of all time and easily one of the most influential, this collection packs together ferocious instrumentals, hypnotic rocksteady and biting political commentary.

Prince Buster's BBC obituary

2. Sharon Jones

[WATCH] Sharon Jones - People Don't Get What They Deserve (Later Archive 2014)

Sharon Jones was an exhilarating soul singer who got her start late in life. Born on 4 May 1956 in Georgia, she grew up in New York dreaming of a career in music but struggled to break into the industry beyond performing in wedding bands and uncredited backup sessions. After working as a prison corrections officer and then as an armed security guard, she eventually crossed paths with Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records, in 1996. He arranged his band The Dap-Kings around Jones's powerhouse voice, producing gospel-threaded soul and funk that finally led to the career - and following - she deserved. Jones passed away on 18 November after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Key quote: "When I walk out [on stage], whatever pain is gone. You forget about everything. There is no cancer. There is no sickness. You're just floating, looking in their faces and hearing them scream."

Essential release: 100 Days, 100 Nights (2007). A blast of straight-up soul - well-produced, effortlessly executed - that put Jones in the spotlight of an R&B revival, proving that vintage sounds could still feel fresh.

Sharon Jones's BBC obituary

3. Alan Vega

Alan Vega blazed a trail as the confrontational frontman of Suicide, a proto-punk duo who also served as a precursor to synth-pop, electronic dance music and industrial rock. Born Boruch Alan Bermowitz on 23 June 1938 in New York, Vega formed Suicide with Martin Rev in 1970. Together they released five studio albums between 1977 to 2002, tackling unconventional subject matter like nihilism and mental health. Although Suicide officially disbanded in the early-80s, the pair would often reunite for tours (and recording sessions) where the outraged reaction of early shows was replaced with long-overdue recognition. By the time Vega passed in his sleep on 16 July, the world had finally caught up to Suicide.

Key quote: "People just wanted to go to a show to be removed from life, for entertainment, to forget their lives for a few hours. They came in off the street and I gave them the street right back. Almost every time we played there was a riot."

Essential release: Suicide (1977). A peerless album of grinding keyboard rhythms and ghostly vocals that formed a blueprint for countless acts to come.

4. Rod Temperton

Known as pop music's 'invisible man', Rod Temperton was a songwriter from Lincolnshire who wrote some of the biggest hits of Michael Jackson's career (Thriller, Rock with You, Off the Wall) as well as signature songs for many others. After a stint working in a frozen fish factory in Grimsby, Temperton answered an ad in Melody Maker for a keyboardist in 1974. The band turned out to be funk outfit Heatwave, for whom Temperton would write million-selling songs such as Boogie Nights and Always and Forever. That success prompted a transition into full-time songwriting, scoring chart success with the likes of George Benson, Donna Summer and Michael McDonald. He died of cancer in October at the age of 66.

Key quote: "I remember, to the day, when I just said to myself, 'You ain't never gonna be a musician player - you can forget this. But obviously I've got some leaning towards writing melody and I don't think I ever looked back from that point."

Essential release: Michael Jackson's Off the Wall (1979). While Temperton also wrote three songs for Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time, his contribution to its predecessor epitomises his gift for grooves and set Jacko's superstar status in motion.

Rod Temperton's BBC obituary

5. Colonel Abrams

Colonel Abrams helped bring house music into the mainstream through a string of 1980s club hits that had a lasting impact both in the US and Europe. Born in Detroit but raised in Manhattan, Abrams began playing guitar at an early age and eventually became a prominent figure on New York’s dance scene. Although he expressed frustration at being pigeonholed, his ability to connect with mainstream audiences opened up new possibilities for contemporary R&B artists. In recent years, Abrams had been homeless and ill from diabetes, prompting Chicago house musician Marshall Jefferson to launch a crowdfunding campaign asking for donations on Abrams's behalf last year. He passed away on 24 November at the age of 67.

Key quote: "I would encourage the youth who want to get into music today, whether it's dance, pop or rock, to have control of your music. That way you can be the sole creator."

Essential release: Colonel Abrams (1985). This self-titled debut combined smouldering sentiment with beat-heavy floor-fillers, leading to four R&B hits, including Trapped - his standout song.

Colonel Abrams's BBC obituary

6. Phife Dawg

Few rappers cut as distinct a presence as Phife, the "five-foot assassin" and self-proclaimed "funky diabetic". As part of A Tribe Called Quest, one of the most vital groups in hip-hop, his self-effacing rhymes were loaded with expressive timing and unforgettable punchlines. Born Malik Taylor in 1970, Phife grew up in Queens with future collaborator Q-Tip. Together with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, they developed a socially conscious stream of rap utilising jazz samples and frenetic flows, with Phife's blunt delivery proving the yin to Q-Tip's yang. After four influential albums in the 1990s, the group reunited intermittently but would only return to the studio for this year's We Got It from Here... Thank You 4 Your Service. Phife passed away during its recording on 22 March, aged 45, due to complications relating to diabetes.

Key quote: "When you say, 'A Tribe Called Quest,' we wanted people to say, 'That whole opus was crazy.' There were certain artists who just came and went because they were known for a particular song and nobody paid anything else any mind. We didn't want to come into the game like that."

Key release: The Low End Theory (1991). Phife’s breakout moment and a milestone in hip-hop, this album shattered people’s perception of the genre.

Phife Dawg's BBC obituary

7. Merle Haggard

[LISTEN] Merle Haggard on If You Want to Be My Woman

Merle Haggard was a giant of American country music, leading a hard-edge lifestyle that inspired countless pretenders. Born 6 April 1937 near Bakersfield, California, he hopped his first train at the age of 10, setting up an adolescence full of brushes with the law. But after spending three years in San Quentin prison for attempted robbery, Haggard was determined to turn his life around and become a singer. After making a name for himself on the club circuit, he began a run of 38 country No.1s with 1966's I'm a Lonesome Fugitive and never stopped writing or touring, characterising his career as one long bus ride. Haggard died of pneumonia on 6 April, his 79th birthday.

Key quote: "There is a restlessness in my soul that I've never conquered, not with motion, marriages, or meaning… I've mellowed a lot, but it's still there to a degree. And it will be till the day I die."

Essential release: Mama Tried (1968). A gritty but heartfelt set of Haggard's most assured songs, including a well-worn title track that has been covered by everyone from Percy Sledge to the Grateful Dead.

Merle Haggard's BBC obituary

8. Billy Paul

In an era of electrifying soul singers, Billy Paul was one of the most underrated and socially conscious of them all. Born Paul Williams in north Philadelphia, he sang in local jazz clubs and recorded ballads for minor labels before being drafted by the US military, serving in the same unit as Elvis. After his discharge, Paul rose to fame as a mainstay of the Philadelphia International label and found chart success with Me and Mrs Jones, a confessional ballad about loving a married woman. His label's decision to release the controversial Am I Black Enough For You? a year later backfired, however, and Paul's profile never quite recovered. He died of pancreatic cancer on 24 April, aged 81.

Key quote: "I don't get tired of singing [Me and Mrs Jones] but I got so many hits after it. I get a little bit upset that people only remember that one song when I got a whole body of work."

Essential release: 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (1972). The record that made Paul a soul legend represents the highpoint of his career, marking a transition from jazz singer to R&B sensation.

Billy Paul's BBC obituary

9. Guy Clark

[LISTEN] Guy Clark interviewed by Bob Harris

Americana singer-songwriter Guy Clark only released his debut album, Old No.1, at the age of 34. Despite the late start, he maintained a prolific work-rate that championed painstaking craft above all else, whether it was the guitars he made or the carefully honed imagery in his songwriting. Born in Monahans, west Texas, Clark moved around in his 20s, running guitar shops and performing in cafés, before relocating to Nashville, where he signed a publishing deal. His home there would become a hub for artists eager to absorb his meticulous approach to writing, while his songs would be covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and close friend Townes Van Zandt. Two years after winning a Grammy Award for his last album, My Favorite Picture of You, Clark passed away on 17 May following a prolonged struggle with lymphoma.

Key quote: "I've got to [write] every day. I don't have a bunch of songs already written just waiting for me to take a day off tomorrow. You have to reinvent yourself every day."

Essential release: Old No.1 (1975). A stripped-down set of 10 songs that made for an auspicious debut: storytelling with depth, rendered in a gravelly voice and with a timeless twang.

10. Maurice White

Earth, Wind & Fire proved to be one of the most successful bands of the 1970s and Maurice White was their figurehead. Born in Memphis on 19 December 1941 and raised by his grandmother, White moved to Chicago to study music and became a session drummer for the legendary record label Chess. In 1969, he formed a songwriting team with Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead that would evolve into Earth, Wind & Fire, an agile force of funk that would sell millions of records on the back of hits such as Shining Star and Boogie Wonderland. White was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1992, forcing him to retire from touring two years later. He passed away in his sleep, aged 74, on 4 February.

Key quote: "I started EWF because I had a vision and music was playing in my head that I wanted to bring through. What I had in mind was exactly what Earth, Wind & Fire became."

Essential release: That's the Way of the World (1975). Although Earth, Wind & Fire’s sixth album soundtracked a forgettable film with Harvey Keitel, it distilled their essence and proved to be their biggest-selling record.

Maurice White's BBC obituary

Related links

Added item image
Added, go to My Music to see full list.
More from