Coronavirus Deaths — A Look Back at the Extraordinary Talent We’ve Lost

Coronavirus deaths
  • Save

Coronavirus deaths
  • Save
Photo Credit: Hans Dorries

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken some extraordinary talent from the world.

Among the coronavirus deaths are some of the best-known names in music.

We celebrate those who were taken from us too early by honoring their memory, their life, and their accomplishments.

Aurlus Mabélé – March 19

Aurlus Mabele was a Congolese singer dubbed “the king of soukous,” an energetic blend of African and Caribbean dance music. Mabele died in France, where his daughter confirmed he had contracted coronavirus.

He rose to fame in the 1970s and 80s in Africa, founding the musical group Les Ndimbola Lokole in the Republic of Congo. He later moved to France in the 80s to help start the band Loketo.

Mike Longo – March 22

Mike Longo, a jazz pianist, and composer died on March 22 at the age of 83. His wife of 32 years, Dorothy Longo, confirmed coronavirus killed her husband.

Longo played baritone saxophone with the New York State of the Art Jazz Ensemble. He also authored ten books and four DVDs to help fledgling jazz musicians. He is best known for his long-time association with the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.

Manu Dibango – March 24

Manu Dibango was a saxophonist from Cameroon who died in a hospital in France. His official Facebook page confirmed he is one of France’s coronavirus deaths.

His hit, “Soul Makossa” was named after a Cameroonian style of music. Lyrics were in the Douala language of Cameroon. Michael Jackson quoted the song’s refrain in “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” on his Thriller album. The song is widely sampled in hip-hop even today.

Alan Merrill – March 29

Alan Merrill, a guitarist, and singer died in Manhattan from complications of the coronavirus. Merrill’s song, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” became Joan Jett’s breakthrough hit.

He started playing guitar in Japanese rock bands. He joined the Lead and helped make the 1968 hit, “Akuma Ga Kureta Aoi Bara,” which he sang in Japanese. Mr. Merrill did not speak the language.

Joe Diffie – March 29

Joe Diffie passed away on March 29 from complications of COVID-19. The country-music star posted an update on his Facebook page on March 27, announcing he had the disease. A few days later, the page released an updated statement, saying the singer died.

Diffie liked to fill his albums with honky-tonk ballads and light-hearted tunes. He earned five number-one singles in the early 90s. All in all, Diffie managed to chart 18 Top 10 singles throughout his career. Perhaps his best known his is 1993 release, “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox.”

Bill Withers – March 30

Bill Withers died of heart complications on March 30. His family did not confirm whether or not the 81-year-old was diagnosed with coronavirus. Withers is a three-time Grammy Award winner and gave us hits like “Lean On Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Lovely Day.”

Withers withdrew from making new music in the 80s, but the public continues to draw inspiration from his music.

Wallace Roney – March 31

Wallace Roney, a trumpeter revered as Miles Davis’ protege, died from complications of coronavirus. He was only 59. Roney was a leading voice in the Young Lions movement, a group of young musicians dedicated to bringing jazz back to its roots.

Roney received criticism for sounding “too much” like Davis, though he eventually escaped those claims. He made over 20 albums as a bandleader during the peak of the Young Lions era.

Bucky Pizzarelli – April 1

Bucky Pizzarelli is a legendary session guitarist who died from coronavirus. He was 94. Pizzarelli played rhythm guitar for thousands of recording sessions in the 1950s and 60s – often uncredited.

He was also a long-time member of the Tonight Show orchestra before it moved to Los Angeles. Pizzarelli stayed behind when the show moved and began performing in night clubs across New York. He was soon joined by his son and new duo partner, John Pizzarelli, in 1980.

Ellis Marsalis Jr. – April 1

Legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis also lost his fight with the coronavirus. He died at the age of 85. His son Branford said he initially went to the hospital with symptoms of pneumonia.

He played with other legendary jazz musicians like Cannonball and Nat Adderley, but Marsalis was most proud of his work as an educator. He mentored all four of his sons and talent like Terence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, and Harry Connick Jr.

Adam Schlesinger – April 1

Adam Schlesinger was a singer-songwriter for the bands Fountains of Wayne and Ivy. He died only aged 52 from complications of the coronavirus. His most well-known song came in 2003 when “Stacy’s Mom” debuted.

Schlesinger was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his work on a 1996 film directed by Tom Hanks. He also won three Emmys for songs on the 2010 TV show, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”

Gary Salzman – March 31

Music manager Gary Salzman was taken from the world by the coronavirus. His company Big Management confirmed the news on April 2. Salzman founded Big Management in 1991 with his business partner Joe Koppie.

The company focused on management and promotion. It also worked with many big-name dance acts like Everything But The Girl, Todd Terry, and David Guetta.

James Fisher – April 3

Motown and ASCAP veteran James Fisher joined the list of coronavirus deaths on April 3. He was 89 years old. Born in Perth, Australia, he got his start in radio and television in Australia before emigrating to the U.K.

There he helped manage Motown Records’ London-based international division. He supervised all of the company’s European activities.

Neil Lasher – April 5

Neil Lasher joined the list of coronavirus deaths on April 5. He was admitted to a Connecticut hospital with a COVID-19 diagnosis, spending nine days on a ventilator. Lasher worked as a consultant for Sony/ATV in his later years.

In his early years, Lasher went from being a disc jockey to a radio promotion executive. Later, he focused on the publishing side of the music industry. He also served as the VP of Promotion, Marketing, and Artist Relations for EMI Music Publishing.

John Prine – April 7

John Prine was admitted to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center for coronavirus symptoms. He died there at the age of 73. Prine was in intensive care for 13 days before his death. He announced on March 17 he had contracted the deadly disease after returning from a European tour.

Prine was a talented songwriter, writing many of his classics as a mailman in Illinois.