Music

Country Singers, Songwriters and Personalities We've Lost in 2020

Al Wagner/Invision/AP, File, AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File and Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP, File

Numerous country music artists and country-adjacent personalities have passed away in 2020. Talents we've lost range from mainstream stars like Kenny Rogers to the songwriters behind some of your favorite hits.

Here's a quick series of tributes to more than 40 superstars, side musicians and wordsmiths we've lost during the strangest of years.

Chris Darrow (July 30, 1944 - January 15, 2020)

Appearances on two seminal albums, 1968's Rare Junk and 1970's Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy, highlight this country-rock influencer's stint with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Eddie Setser (1942 - January 17, 2020)

After impacting the history of soul music with songs cut by James Brown and others, Setser became the Nashville songwriter behind such co-writes as the Willie Nelson and Ray Charles hit "Seven Spanish Angels."

David Olney (March 23, 1948 - January 18, 2020)

Olney, a folk and Americana great, died of an apparent heart attack while performing with Scott Miller during the 30A Songwriter Festival in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

Paul English (November 6, 1932 - February 11, 2020)

Country music fans lost Willie Nelson's drummer and close friend way back when this year felt like it might unfold with some sense of normalcy.

Lindsey Lagestee (May 17, 1994 - February 17, 2020)

Lagestee, a 25-year-old pharmacist and the lead singer of Dixie Crush, was struck by a car on Valentine's Day right before a scheduled gig in Chicago. She passed away three days later.

Kenny Rogers (August 21, 1938 - March 20, 2020)

Rogers, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, made a bigger mark on popular culture than anyone else on this list. His version of "The Gambler" alone makes his voice and storytelling talent synonymous with country music to fans of a certain age.

Jan Howard (March 13, 1929 - March 28, 2020)

A fixture of the Grand Ole Opry, Howard's solo offerings include two classic 1966 singles: "Evil on Your Mind" and "Bad Seed." She later scored a No. 1 hit with the Bill Anderson duet "For Loving You."

Joe Diffie (December 28, 1958 - March 29, 2020)

One of the great country stars of the '90s remains one of Nashville's more visible victims of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. He scored five No. 1 hits in his legendary career: "Home", "If the Devil Danced (In Empty Pockets)", "Third Rock from the Sun", "Pickup Man" and "Bigger Than the Beatles."

John Prine (October 10, 1946 - April 7, 2020)

Prine's knack over the years for both making us laugh and making us think made him a beloved songwriter in many circles, including the global Americana scene.

Gary McSpadden (January 26, 1943 - April 15, 2020)

Former Oak Ridge Boys member Gary McSpadden also performed with a who's-who of Southern gospel acts and hosted PTL Today after Jim Bakker's 1987 resignation.

Harold Reid (August 21, 1939 - April 24, 2020)

The beloved bass singer of superstar quartet The Statler Brothers, a group Harold co-founded with his brother Don Reid, lost a long battle with kidney failure. His booming voice suited both country hits and Southern gospel standards.

John Lancaster (May 1, 1977 - May 1, 2020)

John Lancaster, the longtime keyboardist for country music star Gary Allan, passed away on Friday, May 1, which happened to be his 43rd birthday.

Per Taste of Country, the musician had been hospitalized for about a week and had recently gone into hospice care for an unspecified illness.

Cady Groves (July 30, 1989 - May 2, 2020)

Groves died of natural causes at age 30, cutting short a promising career as a pop and country singer-songwriter. Standout examples of her work include the song "This Little Girl" and posthumous studio album Bless My Heart.

Benny Garcia (May 7, 1956 - May 9, 2020)

This veteran guitar tech and musician, whose friendship with Vince Gill dated back to both men's Oklahoma upbringings, died from pancreatic cancer.

Sage Michael Warren (September 6, 1998 - May 18, 2020)

The 21-year-old son of country songwriter Brad Warren died in May. He's one of several relatives of country singers or songwriters to pass away this year, with that list including Hank Williams Jr.'s daughter Katherine Williams-Dunning, Kane Brown's grandfather Steve Allen Brown and Reba McEntire's mother, Jacqueline Smith.

Jimmy Capps (May 25, 1939 - June 1, 2020)

Capps, a beloved Grand Ole Opry house musician, died on June 1. Capps' run as one of Nashville's best guitar pickers began in 1958 when he joined sibling duo the Louvin Brothers. His credits as a session guitarist include, but are hardly limited to, Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler," George Strait's "Amarillo By Morning" and Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man."

Larry Johnson (1950 or 1951 - June 12, 2020) and Craig Martin (1967 or 1968 - July 11, 2020)

Johnson and Martin's names will be forever linked as the co-writers of Tim McGraw's breakthrough No. 1 single, "Don't Take the Girl."

"Wild Bill" Emerson(May 4, 1938 - June 12, 2020)

Alabama-born songwriter and performer "Wild Bill" Emerson wrote songs cut by John Anderson ("Red Georgia Clay"), George Jones ("His Lovin' Her Is Gettin' In My Way") and others.

Emerson frequently co-wrote songs with his wife, Jody Emerson. Both have been confused over the years with bluegrass banjo innovator and The Country Gentlemen and Emerson & Waldron co-founder Bill Emerson, who was also born in 1938.

Charlie Daniels (October 28, 1936 - July 6, 2020)

From session work for Bob Dylan and others in the '60s to the crossover success of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" in the '70s, Daniels had a long and varied career. Later in life, he became as known for his patriotic stances on social media as a live show that never lost a step.

Jamie Oldaker (September 5, 1951 - July 16, 2020)

Oldaker was the original drummer of country-rockers The Tractors and a backing musician for Eric Clapton, Bob Seger and other classic rock legends.

Felix McTeigue (1971 or 1972  - July 24, 2020)

News broke on Aug. 17 that Edward "Felix" McTeigue, one of the songwriters behind Florida Georgia Line's airplay hit "Anything Goes" and Lori McKenna's Grammy award-nominated "Wreck You," passed away on July 24 following complications from surgery.

Bill Mack (June 4, 1929 - July 31, 2020)

Mack wrote and first recorded future LeAnn Rimes hit "Blue" in the '50s for Starday Records. He went on to become a beloved syndicated radio DJ.

Justin Townes Earle (January 4, 1982 - August 20, 2020)

The son of Steve Earle and namesake of iconic Texas songwriter Townes Van Zandt was a great performer and wordsmith in his own right. His final album, 2019's The Saint of Lost Causes, became his highest-ranking entry on Billboard's all-genre Top 200.

Troy Jones (December 30, 1955 -  September 11, 2020)

Jones died in a tragic accident at home after a live electrical current touched his boat dock. His songwriting credits include two co-writes that became No. 1 hits for Billy Currington: "People Are Crazy" and "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer."

Roy Head (January 9, 1941 - September 21, 2020)

Head, the rock and country singer-songwriter whose 1965 hit "Treat Her Right" spread the Houston sound far and wide, was also the father of The Voice winner Sundance Head.

W.S. "Fluke" Holland (April 22, 1935 - September 23, 2020)

Johnny Cash's touring drummer from 1960 until Cash's 1997 retirement from live performances died in late September after a short illness. Before joining Cash's band, Holland performed with Carl Perkins and other Sun Records stars.

William E. ("Bill") McEuen (1941 - September 24, 2020)

The younger brother of John McEuen was a songwriter, graphic artist and producer for a group John co-founded, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Bill's production credits also include comedy albums for Steve Martin.

Mac Davis (January 21, 1942 - September 29, 2020)

Davis wore two hats: one as the pop songwriter behind Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" and the other as a heartthrob country singer and the ACM's 1974 Entertainer Of The Year.

Ray Pennington (December 22, 1933 - October 7, 2020)

Ray Pennington, a veteran of Nashville's country music community and writer of Waylon Jennings hit "I'm a Ramblin' Man," died  in a house fire at his rural Tennessee residence.

Johnny Bush (February 17, 1935 - October 16, 2020)

This Texas music legend is best known as the songwriter of Willie Nelson hit "Whiskey River." Though issues with his voice slowed down his solo career's momentum in the '70s, Bush enjoyed a resurgence in the '80s that continued until his passing.

Margie Bowes (March 18, 1941 - October 22, 2020)

Bowes had a run of commercial success in the '50s and '60s. The North Carolina native's five Top 40 country hits between 1959 and 1964 included "Poor Old Heartsick Me" and "My Love and Little Me."

Jerry Jeff Walker (March 16, 1942 - October 23, 2020)

Walker, the Austin, Texas singer-songwriter behind "Mr. Bojangles," will forever be remembered for such classic releases as his 1973 live album Viva Terlingua.

J.T. Corenflos (November 6, 1963 - October 24, 2020)

Corenflos began his career as a guitarist backing the likes of Jean Shepard and Joe Stampley on stage before becoming the studio wiz heard on albums by Tanya Tucker, Joe Nichols and others.

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Billy Joe Shaver (August 16, 1939 - October 28, 2020)

A year during which we lost so many great songwriters got even gloomier after Shaver's passing. The Corsicana, Texas native left behind such lyrical masterpieces as "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" and "I'm Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)." To give you an idea of the "Wacko from Waco's" impact on American popular culture, he wrote most of the songs on Waylon Jennings' outlaw country benchmark Honky Tonk Heroes (1973) and appeared on the silver screen along with his friend Robert Duvall in The Apostle (1996).

Doug Supernaw (September 26, 1960 - November 13, 2020)

Country singer Doug Supernaw died on Nov. 13 following a battle with cancer. According to a press release posted to Supernaw's Facebook page, the "I Don't Call Him Daddy" singer "passed away peacefully" at his Texas home.

His passing came less than a month after Supernaw's wife shared news on Facebook that the country singer had been placed under hospice care.

Hal Ketchum (April 9, 1953 - November 23, 2020)

Hal Ketchum, the '90s country hitmaker known for his songs "Small Town Saturday Night," "Past the Point of Rescue," "Sure Love" and more, passed away on Monday evening (Nov. 23) following a battle with dementia.

"With great sadness and grief we announce that Hal passed away peacefully last night at home due to complications of dementia," read a Facebook post by Ketchum's wife, Andrea. "May his music live on forever in your hearts and bring you peace."

News broke in April 2019 that Alzheimer's disease and dementia had forced Ketchum to retire from touring.

Jimmy Rabbitt (1941 - November 25, 2020)

You might recognize the name Jimmy Rabbitt from a namedrop in the David Allan Coe song "Long Haired Redneck." Rabbitt co-wrote the song with Coe, and he also introduced Coe and other country renegades to Los Angeles listeners as an influential radio DJ.

The Waylon Jennings-produced Capitol album Jimmy Rabbitt and Renegade (1976) highlights Rabbitt's own discography.

Aaron Wilburn (July 9, 1950 - November 27, 2020)

Christian singer, songwriter and comedian Aaron Wilburn died on Nov. 27. The Singing News reported that Wilburn's death followed a multi-week battle with COVID-19.

Wilburn first rose to prominence in the '70s as a guitarist and vocalist for fellow Alabamians the Happy Goodman Family. Two major changes in how fans consumed Southern gospel music, Bill Gaither's Homecoming series and YouTube, kept Wilburn at the genre's forefront as both a musician and a comedian.

His best-known compositions include "What A Beautiful Day (For The Lord To Come Again)" and "Four Days Late."

Charley Pride (March 18, 1934 - December 12, 2020)

Country music legend Charley Pride passed away from COVID-19 complications. The Dallas resident was 86 years old.

The son of sharecroppers, Charley Frank Pride was born on March 18, 1934 in Sledge, Mississippi. His 10 siblings from back home include fellow Negro League baseball player Mack Pride Jr. (both brothers played for the Memphis Red Sox) and Texas singer-songwriter Stephen Pride.

After years of trying to see out his Major League Baseball dreams, Pride turned his attention to country music. His groundbreaking run with RCA Records began with the 1966 single "Snakes Crawl at Night" and proved itself permanent when "All I Have to Offer You (is Me)" topped the country charts in 1969. By the end of the '70s, Pride was a three-time Grammy award winner and his label's best-selling performer since Elvis Presley.

Between his chart debut in 1966 and 1989, Pride had 29 No. 1 hits and over 50 Top 10 tracks on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including "Is Anybody Goin' to San Antone" (1970), "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" (1971), and "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)" (1969).

Pride's last major appearance in Nashville came during the CMA Awards' Nov. 11 broadcast, during which he accepted the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jimmy Snyder (1934 - Dec. 12, 2020)

Singer, songwriter and musician Jimmy Snyder played in house bands at Hollywood's Palomino Club and Nashville's Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, wrote songs with Buck Owens and Kay Adams, collaborated with Leon Russell and served as a mentor in the '80s and '90s to such country star hopefuls as as Tim McGraw and Trace Adkins.

Rita Houston (September 28, 1961 -- December 15, 2020)

As a DJ and program director of Fordham University's WFUV radio station, Rita Houston used her platform to help introduce young Brandi Carlile (as well as pre-fame Adele) to new listeners.

"Rita was the very first person to play my music on the radio," Carlile wrote on social media. "The only reason that matters is that it's so important for a young person to know that someone they look up to believes in them. For me, she was that person."

Carl Mann (August 22, 1942 - December 16, 2020)

Carl Mann's first hit for Sun Records, a rockabilly cover of Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa," came when he was 16 years old. Back then, his manager was another Memphis legend to pass away in 2020, future Johnny Cash drummer W.S. "Fluke" Holland.

Mann faded from the public eye in the '60s until returning in 1974 as a country artist. He's since got his due for his contributions to early rock 'n' roll.

K.T. Oslin (May 15, 1942 - December 21, 2020)

Per Music Row, 78-year-old K.T. Oslin suffered from Parkinson's disease in recent years and had lived in an assisted living facility since 2016. Music Row further reports that Oslin had been diagnosed the prior week with COVID-19. There's no official word yet on her cause of death.

The 1987 album 80's Ladies is from the year Oslin turned 45, making her sudden rise to solo fame all the more miraculous in the unfairly image-driven (and ageist) field of country music. Its success proved that she had the songwriting prowess, sense of humor and singing talent to overcome the steepest odds. Its title track won Song of the Year at the 1988 CMA Awards and a Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy.

Tony Rice (June 8, 1951 - December 25, 2020)

Tony Rice, a Grammy award-winning bluegrass legend and one of the most influential flatpicking guitarists from any genre, died over the holiday weekend. He was 69 years old.

Per a Facebook post from Ricky Skaggs, Rice passed away at his Reidsville, North Carolina home "sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee."

In 1970, Rice relocated to Louisville, Kentucky to play with The Bluegrass Alliance. Rice's next gig, with banjo player J.D. Crowe's The New South, teamed him with such game-changing peers as Skaggs and Jerry Douglas.

Rice went on to expand his bluegrass, folk and jazz horizons with the David Grisman Quintet, the Bluegrass Album Band, the Tony Rice Unit and other roots music ensembles.

A list of other collaborators over the years reads like a who's who of bluegrass, folk and country music: Dolly PartonEmmylou HarrisNorman BlakeBela Fleck, Peter Rowan, Alison Krauss, Alison Brown, Todd Phillips, Doyle Lawson, Sam Bush and Jerry Garcia.

Hugh X. Lewis (Dec. 25, 1930- Dec. 29, 2020)

Singer, songwriter, actor and radio personality Hugh X. Lewis passed away four days after his 90th birthday.

Songs he wrote in the '60s became hits for Stonewall Jackson ("B.J. the D.J."), Carl Smith ("Take My Ring Off Your Finger") and others.

He also released albums and singles of his own, operated a nightclub in Nashville's Printer's Alley, appeared in B-movies and, later in life, hosted gospel radio show The Christian Country Store.

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Country Singers, Songwriters and Personalities We've Lost in 2020