The Untimely Death of Artists and Their Legacy

The Untimely Death of Artists and Their Legacy

The word “legend” is often thrown around very vaguely when we discuss music artists. And while music, as with any form of art, is a subjective type of medium, there are those few artists who most people will agree have an established legacy in the music industry. The legacy of an artist is determined by the quality of their work, their influence, and very often by their personality. Unfortunately for some artists, an untimely death prevents them from ever being able to build on their legacy. There are some artists though, who despite not having a lengthy catalogue of work and short lifespan, have had their legacy grow posthumously. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Selena, Amy Winehouse. Those are a few of the names who have had a growing legacy years after their death. Even for some artists who never reached the popularity as some of the aforementioned names, a tragic, unexpected death has an effect in the rise of their popularity, even if only for a short period. Most recently, Mac Miller, who passed away a little over a month ago at the age of 26, had an uproar of support after his death, both in streams and with stories about the artist that characterized his kind personality. These untimely deaths allows us a chance to appreciate the artist and their work, as well us giving us a sense of regret in knowing that we will never be able to see where their artistry could have led them.

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As often is with these artists, the “what if” factor plays a role in their legacy. This is the case for Jimi Hendrix, who is still one of the most tantalizing artists in music 48 years after his death. Hendrix had a flare to him, which continues to appeal to many people today. In his time, Hendrix developed a sound that had not been heard before. This sound has influenced many artists that have come after him. Despite not being able to read or write music, he is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time by many. But with all of this, it is his live performances that many people are drawn to. From playing the guitar with his teeth while performing “Hey Joe”, to performing his controversial rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” in what is considered one of the greatest music events in history, Woodstock Festival, these iconic moments performed by Hendrix will likely live on forever. It makes you envy those who were there to see it happen.

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For Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., the cause of their deaths itself contributes to their legacy. Along with being two of the best lyricists of all time, their feud is what many people talk about today. Many people also wonder what the rap game would sound like today if both rappers were still alive. Tupac’s death is more controversial as some wonder if the rapper is in fact actually dead, causing many to come up with their own theories. Conspiracies aside, the culprits for the death of both rappers were never found. It’s a mystery we may never know, but one that will be a talking point for years to come.

(Photo credit: eddievanderwalt on Flickr)

Fans also play a role in contributing to the legacy of these artists, as is the case with singers Selena and Amy Winehouse. It seems as if they have some of the strongest, most loyal fan bases of any artist, dead or alive. The fans make sure to keep their names alive. Both artists had a way of connecting with people, so much so that their connection finds its way to new fans even years after they’ve passed away. Along with fans, artists who’ve come after them have acknowledged the influence that Selena and Winehouse have in their music. For Selena, who is an icon in the Hispanic community, her tragic death still has many fans hurting today. Winehouse lived a difficult, publicized life. She had a raw feeling in her music. Anyone who had even a minuscule resemblance to what Winehouse lived through, found her words as relief. Both singers had a potential that we’ll never see pan out, but fans continue to listen to their music as a tribute, keeping their names alive.

(Photo credit: davetoaster on Flickr)

All of these artists were popular at the time of their death. From these artists, for me, Kurt Cobain has given me the most sense of that regret of not seeing his life pan out. Growing up, all of my uncles on my mother’s side of the family had a huge influence on my first musical experiences. They formed a band, played in my grandmother’s basement, and would often cover Nirvana songs. Those moments where my uncle would thrash the drums like a young Dave Grohl, were my first introductions to Kurt Cobain. Shortly after, my curiosity led me to doing some research and exploring Nirvana tunes. At the time, what appealed to me most was Cobain’s voice and their angsty sound. At 7 years old, Cobain’s songwriting wasn’t as apparent and did not sit with me the way it does today. I continued to watch interviews of the band and Cobain until I reached a point of disappointment when I realized he had passed away in April 1994. I was left knowing that I’d be stuck with only those songs that Nirvana had already released while it was taking the music industry by storm in their short run. There was nothing new that was going to come from them, albeit they already had a long list of songs that I still listen to to this day. Years have passed since I first learned of Cobain’s death. Over those years I have seen countless number of people wearing Nirvana t-shirts, a number of artists have paid homage to Cobain in their lyrics, their music is played in stores all over the world, and their popularity continues to seemingly rise. What’s most fascinating to me about Kurt Cobain is his desire of inclusion for everyone, which he made apparent in his songs and interviews. In a time before Twitter and social media, he vowed for a society that many people today are still fighting for. I empathize with all the fans that were left in tears as Courtney Love read from Cobain’s suicide note during his vigil. I’m sure I’d be one of those fans had I been there at the time. All of this, along with his amazing musical talent, is what contributes to his legacy to this day. It is why I’ll always have a desire to go back in time and sit inside the Sony Music Studios venue to witness Nirvana play acoustically on MTV Unplugged, watching Cobain in his cardigan venting to us through his music, as we vented to him with our ears.


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The Untimely Death of Artists and Their Legacy: Featured Image Credit: Maia Valenzuela [maiabee] on Flickr

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