Mon | Jun 25, 2018

Tragedy follows genius

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Buddy Holly
Glen Miller

The incidence of entertainers losing their lives through air and road accidents has been high in modern history. Entertainers who were most in demand seemed to be at the greatest risk for such mishap, since their hectic schedules demanded frequent and extensive travelling in order to fulfil deadlines for engagements.

Their unrestrained commitment to their fans and lucrative financial returns sometimes lead them into ignoring weather and other warnings and has been cited by some authorities as one of the reasons for their demise.

Perhaps one of the earliest recorded travelling disasters in modern music history took the life of Bessie Smith, an American blues singer who died after the car in which she was a passenger crashed into the rear of a truck near Clarksdale, Mississippi, on September 26, 1937.

Some seven years later, on December 16, 1944, Glen Miller, America's most renowned band leader of the 1930s and 1940s swing era, was lost on a wartime flight from England to France. His body was never recovered. Miller was best remembered for his hits In The Mood, recorded August 1, 1939, and A String Of Pears, on November 3, 1941.

Dark day in 'Rock' world

February 2, 1959, was a very dark day in the world of Rock and Roll music when three of that genre's legends - Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper - died in the same accident aboard a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft. The three were on a flight from Clear Lake, Ohio, to Moorhead, Minnesota, following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake on February 2, 1959.

In order to reach their next assignment on time, they chartered a small plane, encountered problems during a snowstorm, and crashed shortly after takeoff. Holly, Valens, Bopper, and Roger Peterson, the pilot, were killed. Valens, of Mexican-American descent, and a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking Rock and Roll movement, was the youngest of the three at 17 years old. An accomplished guitarist by age 16, Valens joined the local band The Silhouettes as guitarist while honing his vocal skills, which he exhibited on the rock rhythm hit La Bamba in 1958. He was on the plane by chance after winning a toss for a place with bandmate Waylon Jennings, to whom he jokingly remarked, "I hope your old bus freezes up." Jennings replied facetiously, "I hope your old plane crashes," a statement that would haunt Jennings for decades.

Buddy Holly, another victim of the crash at 22 years old, inspired The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and was described by one critic as "the single most influential force in Rock and Roll" during his active years (1955-1959). He was best remembered for his recording That'll Be The Day in 1957.

The Big Bopper, also known as J.P. Richardson, born October 24, 1930, was an American disc jock, singer, guitarist, and songwriter best remembered for his hit Chantilly Lace.

After leaving college, Richardson worked in his home state of Texas with radio station KTRM before being drafted into the United States Army in 1955. Upon discharge in 1957, he returned to the station and broke the record for continuous on-air broadcasts, performing a total of five days, two hours, and eight minutes, playing 1,821 records, taking showers during five-minute newscasts.

Jesse Belvin, a victim of a road crash on February 6, 1960, was perhaps best remembered as the author of America's best-loved doo-wop song Earth Angel.

As a singer and arranger, Belvin was a major influence on the development of West Coast black music - vocalists in particular. He partnered Marvin Phillips (as Jesse and Marvin) to create the classic Dream Girl in 1953, and the solo piece Goodnight My Love that same year. With the Cliques group, he had the smash hit Girl Of My Dreams in 1956.

Jamaica has also had its share of tragedies as it relates to road accidents involving entertainers.

Jacob Miller, one of Jamaica's brightest stars of the 1970s, was killed on March 23, 1980, while on his return to the Zinc Fence Club after his motor vehicle slammed into a utility pole along Hope Road in St Andrew.

One of the most talented vocalists to come out of Jamaica, he came to prominence as the lead vocalist of the very popular Inner Circle Band of the mid-1960s, after starting at Studio One with the recording Love Is A Message. His other hits included Tenement Yard, All Night Till Daylight, Keep On Knocking, and Shaky Girl.

Barbados-born Jackie Opel became a son of the soil with Studio One hits You're No Good, You're Too Bad, Turn Your Lamps Down Low, and Welcome You Back Home in duet with Doreen Schaeffer.

He also did some cuts for producer Justin Yap's Top Deck label before returning to Barbados where he was involved in a motor vehicle accident along Bay Street on March 9, 1970. He died as a result at the age of 32.

Back on the international scene, there was the tremendously talented Billy Stewart. A sort of a genius in his own way, he created a vocal style described as 'stuttering word-doubling attack' with hits such as Sitting In The Park, I Do Love You, Reap What You Sew, and Strange Feeling. He died in a motor vehicle accident in Washington D.C. on January 17, 1970, at age 33.

And of course, there was Otis Redding, soul music's most celebrated exponent, who gave us hits like These Arms Of Mine, Pain In My Heart, and I've Been Loving You Too Long. He died after ignoring weather warnings and proceeded to an engagement, which resulted in his private aeroplane going down into the icy waters of Lake Monoma, near Madison Airport, killing Redding and four members of his musical entourage on December 10, 1967. He was 26.

There were other instances, which included Jim Reeves, who died in a plane crash near Nashville, Tennessee, July 31, 1964; Patsy Cline, an American country singer whose single-engine aircraft crashed after take-off from Tennessee on March 5, 1963. Kyu Sakamoto, who had the big hit Sukiyaki, was killed when the Japan airlines Boeing 747 crashed on August 12, 1985, while Rick Nelson met his demise near DeKalb, Texas, on December 31, 1985, in a plane crash.

Most recently, the United States lost Lisa Nicole Lopes to a car crash in 2002. Left Eye, as she is more commonly known, was a member of the incredibly popular TLC. The group made waves with hits like Waterfalls, No Scrubs, and What About Your Friends.

Just a year earlier, Aaliyah Dana Haughton, stage name Aaliyah, died in a plane crash.

Aaliyah and eight others were killed in The Bahamas crash after filming the music video for the single Rock the Boat. The pilot, Luis Morales III, was unlicensed at the time of the accident and had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. Aaliyah's family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackhawk International Airways, which was settled out of court.