Were there ways in which this year was better than last?
Maybe one: There were fewer epic pop music deaths to unite fans in mass grieving. In 2016, intense cultural despair was elicited by the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, not to mention Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael.
The one music 2017 loss that turned into a monoculture moment was Tom Petty’s. The “American Girl” songwriter’s death reminded the world of his songs’ universal appeal and the power of pop music in a divided world.
But let’s not diminish the importance of the lives of the many other memorable artists who also met their ends this year. (Or those who died tragically while attending shows in Manchester, England, and Las Vegas.) The music-makers who died in 2017 are listed in chronological order below, with a Spotify playlist to sample their music.
Richie Ingui. The singer for the Soul Survivors, the pre-Hall & Oates blue-eyed soul duo whose signature 1967 song “Expressway to Your Heart,” was the first hit Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote and produced together. Ingui died of heart failure at 70 in January; he’s survived by his older brother, Charlie.
Al Jarreau. The smooth jazz, pop, and R&B singer won multiple Grammy Awards in each of those genres, the most recent for a 2007 collaboration with George Benson and Jill Scott on “God Bless the Child.” He died at 76 in February.
Clyde Stubblefield. The James Brown drummer who played on “Cold Sweat,” “Sex Machine,” and, more important, “Funky Drummer,” the 1973 cut whose drum break is the most sampled hip-hop beat of all time. He died at 73 of kidney failure in February.
Joni Sledge. The eldest of the four siblings in the Philadelphia vocal group Sister Sledge who struggled throughout the 1970s until working with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic on “We Are Family” in 1979. Joni Sledge died in March at 60.
Chuck Berry. The father of rock and roll’s death didn’t come as a surprise, though the vim and vigor of Chuck, his first album in 38 years, was an unexpected delight. He died at 90 in March.
Gregg Allman. “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone,” the Allman Brothers vocalist sang on his posthumous album, Southern Blood. Allman died at 69 in June. His former bandmate drummer Butch Trucks died in January, also 69.
Chris Cornell. In the 1990s, Cornell led Seattle grunge heavy-hitters Soundgarden, and then teamed with Tom Morello in Audioslave, in addition to releasing several solo albums in his career. He hanged himself in Detroit in June at 52.
Prodigy. The rapper born Albert Johnson was one-half of the 1990s Queens hardcore hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, who hit big with The Infamous in 1995. He died in June at 42 after choking to death in the hospital while being treated for sickle cell anemia.
Chester Bennington. He co-led Linkin Park, the hard rock band that’s among the biggest-selling guitar-based acts of the millennium. Collision Course was their 2004 collaboration with Jay Z, who ended shows this year with a tribute to Bennington, who committed suicide at 41 in July.
Glen Campbell. A hotshot guitarist with the 1960s Los Angeles studio team the Wrecking Crew, Campbell became a country star with his own network TV show and later carried on touring after being diagnosed with the Alzheimer’s that took him at 81 in August.
Charles Bradley. The Screaming Eagle of Soul lived a life of trial and tribulation and didn’t release his first album until his 60s. For anyone who ever saw him perform live — he played the Xponential music fest in Camden over the summer — his death in September at 68 was heartbreaking.
Troy Gentry. Half of the country duo Montgomery Gentry, Gentry died at the Flying W Airport Resort in South Jersey when a helicopter crashed due to engine failure. Together with Eddie Montgomery, he had No. 1 country hits that included “Something to Be Proud Of.” He was 50 when he died in September.
Jessi Zazu. A songwriter and singer for Nashville’s Those Darlins, a key band in that city’s development of a thriving indie rock scene. Zazu fought a public battle with cervical cancer. She died in September at 28.
Grant Hart. The drummer and equal songwriter in 1980s Minneapolis post-punk band Hüsker Dü was often overshadowed by bandmate Bob Mould but was responsible for such standouts as “Pink Turns to Blue.” He died of cancer in September at 56.
Walter Becker. While keyboardist Donald Fagan sang, guitarist Becker remained a silent partner in jazz rock godhead Steely Dan, cowriting music and lyrics to Dan staples like “Royal Scam” and “Kid Charlemagne.” He died of esophageal cancer at 67 in September.
Bunny Sigler. The Gamble & Huff aide de camp wrote songs for the O’Jays and Patti LaBelle as well as scored his own hits, like his 1967 cover of Leonard Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll.” He died of a heart attack in September at 76.
Tom Petty. I went to two Philadelphia Petty tributes and was struck by just how well the songs went over, no matter who was singing. Petty, who died at 66 in October, in was a master craftsman, and his songs live on, whether on the radio, covered by local bands or sung by a stadium full of Florida football fans.
Fats Domino. The New Orleans piano great was a key early architect of rock and roll. From his first single, “The Fat Man,” he brought bon temps rhythm from New Orleans to middle America. He died in October at 89.
Gord Downie. If you’re Canadian, this is the most important name on the list. Downie fronted the Tragically Hip, “the R.E.M. of Canada.” “We are less of a country without Gord Downie in it,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said when the singer died in October at 51 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor the previous year.
Mel Tillis. The “Coca Cola Cowboy” wrote “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and scored 35 Top 10 country hits. He became a popular TV personality, in part by making fun of his own stuttering, which he never did when singing. He died in November at 85.
Malcolm Young. The rhythm guitarist and cofounder of AC/DC with younger brother Angus, with whom he cowrote such riff monsters as “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” Suffering from dementia, he left the band in 2014 and died in November at 64.
Della Reese. Before she starred in Touched by an Angel and became the first woman to guest-host The Tonight Show, Della Reese was a gospel and jazz singer who charted with hits like “Don’t You Know.” She died in November at 76.
Lil Peep. The rapper born Gustav Ahr, who combined emo and hip-hop, emerged on this year’s Come Over When You’re Sober, Pt. 1. He died of a drug overdose in Tucson, Ariz., in November at 21.
Tommy Keene. The power-pop hero best known for 1980s semi-hits such as “Places That Are Gone” and “Back to Zero Now” maintained a cult following with expertly crafted tunes. He died of a heart attack at 59 in November.
David Cassidy. The Partridge Family star was the defining teen idol of the 1970s, famous for his nude Rolling Stone cover shot by Annie Leibovitz in 1972. He went on to become a Las Vegas headliner. He died of liver failure at 67 in November.
Johnny Hallyday. The French Elvis. He saw the American original’s 1957 movie Lovin’ You and it changed his life. Few non-French speakers know his songs, but a million adoring Parisians lined the streets for his funeral. He died of lung cancer at 74 in December.
Pat DiNizio. The leader of New Jersey quartet the Smithereens, who made their name with bruising, catchy 1980s hits like “Blood & Roses” and “Only a Memory.” He died at 62 in December. A scheduled Smithereens show at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank on Jan. 13 has become a tribute, organized by Steve Van Zandt.
Keely Smith. With her bandleader husband, Louis Prima, jazz singer Smith was one half of a top attraction in the early days of Las Vegas. She scored hits with “That Old Black Magic” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” and once rejected a marriage proposal from Frank Sinatra. She died in December at 89.