We lost many great people in 2016. The world of country music had at least one notable death occur every month this year. Here’s a look back at the country stars we lost in 2016.
Red Simpson passed in January. Simpson was best known for “I’m a Truck.” The hit is just one of Simpson’s contributions to the Truck Driving subgenera of country music. He was 81.
Frey was a lead vocalist, guitarist and founding member of the Eagles. In his career as a recording artist, he had a combined 24 singles reach the Top 40, from his work with The Eagles and his solo career.
In February Sonny James died at the age of 87. James was best known for his number one hit from 1957 “Young Love.” He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1961, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
In March Joey Feek passed away after a long and highly publicized fight with cervical cancer. Feek was one-half of the husband and wife duo Joey+Rory, and left behind a young daughter and her loving husband.
About a week after Feek passed, Canadian singer/songwriter Ray Griff died. Griff wrote over 700 songs for singers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Dolly Parton. Griff moved to Nashville in 1964 to pursue country music, eventually landing contracts with Dot Records and then Capitol Records. Griff moved back home to Canada in the 1970’s and continued to be active in country music well into the 2010’s.
At 79, country legend Merle Haggard had still been recording and touring up until the point that he got double pneumonia and had to cancel some tours in early 2016. Haggard even recorded an album with Willie Nelson as recently as last year. He leaves a legacy that won’t soon be rivaled, having written and recorded dozens of iconic country songs like “Mama Tried,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee”.
On May 16 we lost Emilio Navaira, the famed Tejano singer who simply went by his first name, Emilio. Navaira died of a heart attack at home at the age of 53. He charted six songs on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart and was known as “The Garth Brooks of Tejano.”
Clark was a legendary singer and songwriter, and will be dearly missed in country music. He won a Grammy two years ago for his folk music album My Favorite Picture of You.
Ralph Stanley, a patriarch of bluegrass music, passed away in June. He began his career as one-half of the Stanley Brothers, and later went on to have a successful solo career. His distinct vocals and harmony style have influenced countless musicians over the decades. He was known as “Dr. Ralph Stanley.”
In July Bonnie Brown of The Browns passed away. The Browns were comprised of Bonnie and her older siblings Maxine Brown and Jim Ed Brown. Their song “The Three Bells” was a number one hit in 1956. Brown lived to see her family trio inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame just last year.
In August songwriter Richard Fagan both passed. Fagan wrote two of John Michael Montgomery’s smash hits from the 1990’s, “Sold” and “Be My Baby Tonight.” He also wrote songs for George Strait, Clay Walker and George Jones, among many others.
Kacey Jones was a comedian, singer and songwriter who will be sorely missed. Jones fought a three-year battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 66. Jones is probably best known for her song “I’m the One Mama Warned You About” made famous by Mickey Gilley.
John D. Loudermilk
John D. Loudermilk was a talented singer, but he was best known for his songwriting. Loudermilk penned songs that became hits for other prominent singers. Eddie Cochran made Loudermilk’s song “Sittin’ in the Balcony” famous in 1956. His other hit songs included “Indian Reservation,” “Tobacco Road” and “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.”
Shepard passed at 82 after a lifetime of achievement in country music and 60 years in the Grand Ole Opry. Over the course of her career, Shepard released 73 singles to the Hot Country Songs chart.
In October Curly Putnam also left us. Putnam was a talented songwriter. He wrote (or in some cases helped write) such hits as “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and “The Green Green Grass of Home.”
“Daddy’s Hands” singer Holly Dunn passed away in November at the age of 59 due to ovarian cancer. Two of her singles reached the number one spot on the country music charts. “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” made it to number one in 1989 and “You Really Had Me Going” topped the charts in 1990.
The talented Mark Gray of the band Exile passed away in early December at the age of 64. He had eight top 40 country hits including his duet with the great Tammy Wynette when they covered the Dan Hill song “Sometimes When We Touch” in 1993.
Gordon Robert Tapp was once introduced to United States President Gerald Ford as “The world’s funniest storyteller”. The world is just a little sadder now that he’s gone at the ripe old age of 94. Tapp delighted audiences nationwide in his longtime role on the variety show Hee Haw.
As we come into the new year, hopes for the future of country music are high. Furthermore, as we look back on those we’ve lost in 2016, what we see is a lifetime of achievement in this all-American genre.