From 'Shaft' To Von Trapp, The Musicians We Lost in 2014

Dec 28, 2014
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Finally, this evening, let's take a listen to some of the musicians we lost in 2014 - people who might not have been as well-known, but made significant contributions to music.

(SOUNDBITE OF U. SRINIVAS SONG)

RATH: U. Srinivas, a giant of Indian classical music, died. It breaks my heart to say he was only 45, but he crammed so much into his short life. He established the electric mandolin as a classical solo instrument pretty much from the moment he hit the scene at the age of nine. Before Srinivas, such a thing was unthinkable in the conservative world of Indian classical music. It took them over 100 years to accept the violin. Srinivas died in September from complications following a liver transplant.

(SOUNDBITE OF U. SRINIVAS SONG)

RATH: Just a day before Srinivas died, the world also lost Kenny Wheeler. His passing has left a massive hole in the jazz world. The Canadian born trumpet player and composer made his home in London. Wheeler downplayed his gifts, saying that he wrote pretty tunes with bits of chaos. But that's an off-handed way of saying he connected worlds that would seem incompatible - deeply composed arrangements next to the freest most avant-garde blowing - but he did make it pretty. Kenny Wheeler was 84.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNY WHEELER SONG)

RATH: Country musician Arthur Smith died back in April at the age of 93. Guitars, banjos, fiddles - if it had strings, Smith could master it. In the 1940s and '50s, he was instrumental in shaping the rockabilly and surf guitar styles to come. And this hit back in 1945 gave him a new nickname - Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUITAR BOOGIE")

RATH: Even if you don't know "Guitar Boogie," you've definitely heard this tune...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEUDIN' BANJOS")

RATH: ...Thanks to the 1972 film "Deliverance," where Arthur Smith's "Feudin' Banjos" took over an especially memorable scene. The only problem was the film-makers didn't give Arthur Smith credit for the song they called "Duelin' Banjos," and Smith had to sue get his fair share. In 2014, we also lost our last remaining connection to the family that inspired an enduring musical.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SOUND OF MUSIC")

JULIE ANDREWS: (Singing) The hills are alive with the sound of music.

RATH: Maria Franziska von Trapp died at the age of 99. She was one of the Austrian siblings who made up the Trapp Family Singers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EV'RY YEAR BRINGS SOMETHING NEW")

TRAPP FAMILY SINGERS: With hoop skirts and stays in fashion, too...

RATH: As a child, Maria was actually one who needed the tutoring that brought their new governess to the family. The von Trapps moved to the Vermont in the early 1940s, and that's where Maria died on February 18.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EV'RY YEAR BRINGS SOMETHING NEW")

TRAPP FAMILY SINGERS: ...All year. What shall I do? For every year brings something new.

RATH: We also lost Johnnie Allan. He was a Detroit-based jazz musician-turned-orchestrator of both horn sections and string sections. He worked on classic recordings on the Motown and Stax labels on songs like Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" and the Staple Singers "Respect Yourself." And in 1972, Johnnie Allan shared an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Grammy for this - the Isaac Hayes smash "Theme From Shaft."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEME FROM SHAFT")

ISAAC HAYES: Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: Shaft.

HAYES: You're damn right.

RATH: Johnnie Allan died on January 29 at the age of 96. And finally...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOHNNY, BE GOOD")

RATH: Johnny Winter brought Texas blues to the world stage. A 1968 Rolling Stone article proclaimed, if you can imagine a 130 pound cross-eyed albino with long fleecy playing some of the gutsiest, fluid blues guitar you ever heard, then enter Johnny Winter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOHNNY, BE GOOD")

JOHNNY WINTER: (Singing) Way down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans...

RATH: A year later, he'd performed at Woodstock, along with fellow Texas blues ambassador Janis Joplin. While Johnny Winter kept up the blues tradition throughout his life, his brother Edgar crossed over to the rock and roll world with hits like "Frankenstein" and "Free Ride." Johnny routinely chafed the question he faced at nearly every venue - where's your brother? But for hard-core blues fans, Johnny was the one they sought out. Johnny Winter died July 16 at the age of 70.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JOHNNY, BE GOOD")

WINTER: (Singing) Go, Johnny, go, go, go. Johnny, be good. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.