Death Race 2016: All the Musicians Who Died in May 2016

You stick around long enough, and they make up a word to describe you. This month saw the passing of Susannah Mushatt Jones, the world's oldest living person, and while it's impolite to ask a woman's age, at 116, it's a whole different ball game. Imagine the speedy service you'd get at a restaurant or the supermarket when no one wants to be the person who has an American supercentenarian expire on their watch. What's Susannah's secret? Well, she's not a musician, for one.

This month saw the deaths of quite a few musicians of different age groups and corners of the globe, including a songwriter's songwriter, an original Beastie Boy, and a legendary Phoenix producer/engineer. And joining the ranks of Miriam Makeba, Tiny Tim, and Johnny "Guitar" Watson is yet another musician who died of a heart attack onstage.

May 1
Doug Raney, 59, American jazz guitarist

The son of legendary guitarist Jimmy Raney, Doug distinguished himself as a bop guitarist playing with Johnny Griffin, Dexter Gordon, and Chet Baker. He recorded more than two dozen albums on the Steeplechase label. This was one of his last gigs, playing Copenhagen’s Jazz Cup in 2013 with Jesper Lundgaard and Bernt Rosengren. Cause of death is unknown, but he moved to Denmark in 1977, where you would presume he got better health care. 

May 3
Jadranka Stojakovic, 65, Bosnian singer-songwriter, motor neuron disease
Stojakovic got her biggest exposure on the worldwide stage singing the official theme song of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. The first sign of her illness came when she accidentally tripped over a cable during a 2009 concert and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). No, this isn't the clip of that fall. You people are ghouls.

May 4
Olle Ljungström, 54, Swedish singer and guitarist

He is a member of the '80s Swedish group Reeperbahn, so named after Germany's naughtiest street. But it was left to Mötley Crüe to appropriate the decadent umlat for American mall rats everywhere. Olle's last solo album was R U Sockudåpad? And I finally found a word Google refuses to translate.

Paul Brown, 82, American jazz bassist
Brown founded Hartford's Monday Night Jazz series, which the Library of Congress cites as being the oldest continuously run jazz festival in the country. Here he explains why he's been to Japan and Australia way more times than you have.

Candye Kane, 54, American blues singer-songwriter and pornographic actress, pancreatic cancer
Kane's career included starring in films like Hooterama 3, Big Tit Orgy 4, and Boobsville Cabaret (are you sensing a theme here?) She translated that bawdiness and fun later on as a premier blues singer and songwriter with songs like "You Need a Great Big Woman" (used on the Oxygen Network series Strong Medicine), "200 Pounds of Fun," and "The Toughest Girl Alive" (used on the Hidden Palms series for the CW network). The latter was exemplified by her eight-year battle with cancer, which looked almost conquered in this Big Blues Bender clip from last fall.

Rickey Smith, 36, American singer and American Idol contestant, traffic collision
First coming in eighth place in Season 2, and now this. In the race to be the first American Idol finalist to leave this mortal coil, Smith has to settle for second to Season 7 finalist, Michael Johns, also an eighth-place finisher, who died two years ago. Here Smith is performing "I've Done Enough Dyin' Today" by Larry Gatlin. Quite beautifully too. Eighth place, seriously?

May 7
John Stabb, 54, American punk singer (Government Issue), stomach cancer

Frontman and founding member of the DC hardcore punk band Government Issue, who ran with contemporaries like Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Bad Brains. Over several lineup changes through the years, Stabb (who got the name from his earlier group The Stabs) remained Government Issue's only constant member.

May 11
Julius La Rosa, 86, American pop singer

La Rosa was a featured singer on the Arthur Godfrey and His Friends TV and radio show from 1951 to 1953, when he was fired on the air for allegedly "lacking humility." Due to the public backlash, Godfrey's fun-loving image and career were more hurt than La Rosa was in the aftermath of this public shaming, with La Rosa scoring immediate hits with the Italian favorites "Domani" and "Eh, Cumpari!" In latter years, La Rosa could be heard as a deejay on WNEW AM in New York, and seen putting in a lot of late man hours on the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethons. Where humility was never in short supply.

May 12
Jack Miller, 79, producer/engineer

This Phoenician recording legend's notable session was working on “The Fool” by Sanford Clark. At Audio Recorders, Miller helped create the “Twang Heard Around The World” on the single “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy by placing a microphone at one end of a 2,500-gallon water tank and a speaker at the other end. Miller left Phoenix to work at the RCA studios in Los Angeles, where he engineered sessions for Henry Mancini, The Rolling Stones, The Limelighters, and The Monkees. Jack returned to Arizona and Audio Recorders in the late '70s and started Jack Miller Productions. During his tenure at Canyon Records, Miller worked on countless Native American recordings and earned a Best Native American Music Album Grammy for engineering Bless the People.

May 13
Bill Backer, 89, American advertising executive at McCann Erickson and songwriter

The real-life Don Draper, Backer wrote the Coke jingle "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)," which became a big hit single by The New Seekers and The Hilltop Singers in 1972, and of course, provided the cultural climax of the AMC TV series Mad Men. Backer also wrote the Coke slogan "It's the real thing" and was the first human to identify when it was "Miller Time."

May 14
Paul Smoker, 75, American jazz trumpeter

Cause of death is unknown. But if John Stabb didn't die of a knife wound, Paul Smoker can't have died from cancer. Too obvious.

Tony Barrow, 80, British press officer for The Beatles
The Beatles upper ranks continue to deplete. Barrow's greatest PR coup on behalf of the World's Most Popular Foursome was dubbing them "The Fab Four." Barrow was also responsible for creating the Beatles' Christmas messages that fan-club members were sent every year, and writing the liner notes for many early Beatles EPs and albums. One of Barrow's last acts as press officer for the Fabs was writing the text for the Magical Mystery Tour booklet, which actually was more writing than the Beatles bothered to do for their plotless, plodding TV movie.

Also dying on this day: Cauby Peixoto, 85, Brazilian singer (pneumonia) and Emilio Navaira, 53, American country and Tejano singer, (heart failure).

May 16
Guy Clark, 74, American folk singer-songwriter, cancer

Known for such songs as "Desperados Waiting for a Train," "Workbench Songs," and "My Favorite Picture of You," this legendary songsmith influenced many of his contemporaries, including Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, and Joe Ely, to name a few. In his Facebox eulogy to Clark, Ely wrote that it was Clark's last wish to have his cremains incorporated in a sculpture to leave him "with a job to do."

May 19
John Berry, 52, American musician (Beastie Boys), frontal lobe dementia

Berry was a founding member of the Beastie Boys when they were still an unknown New York hardcore punk band. During their 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, the surviving Beasties credited Berry for allowing the band to rehearse in his family's loft, where John's dad's "Will you turn that fucking shit off already?!" was an often repeated phrase.

May 21
Nick Menza, 51, German-born American drummer (Megadeth), heart failure

During his timekeeper tenure with Megadeth (from 1990 to 1998), Menza recorded four classic albums, Rust in Peace, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, and Cryptic Writings. While in the hospital recovering from knee surgery, Mustaine (ever the diplomat) informed Menza that "Your services are not needed anymore." Menza was performing onstage with his band Ohm when he died of what was described as a massive heart attack.  

Also dying on this day: James King, 57, American bluegrass musician (liver disease), Vinjamuri Seetha Devi, Indian folk singer and Deddy Dores, 65, Indonesian singer and songwriter.

May 26
Marshall Jones, 71, American funk bassist (Ohio Players)

Jones was the last surviving member from the Ohio Untouchables lineup, which goes back to 1959. But all you want to know about is whether the model on their album cover Honey was killed when hot honey was poured all over her naked body, or if the ecstatic scream at 2:33 of "Love Rollercoaster" was the sound she made when her skin was scalded. Other crazy urban legends attached to that scream was that it was a rabbit or one of the band members' girlfriend being killed outside the studio or a sampled squeal from a 911 call. The scream was actually the band's keyboard player Billy Beck, who is still alive. As is the model, Ester Cordet, who is now 69 and fully clothed. Thanks for asking.

May 27
Bonnie Law, 47, Hong Kong singer and actress 

You can hear some of Bonnie's vintage '80s Cantopop at the end of this clip from a TV show called Happy Ghost where an invisible interloper interferes with school and sporting events, enjoys pulling up nun's vestiges and removing his own head at will.

May 30
Thomas Fekete, 27, American guitarist (Surfer Blood), cancer 

Surfer Blood was a Palm Beach indie rock band who got signed to Warner Bros. Records after being a standout band at the 2009 CMJ Music Marathon. Their debut single, "Swim," was named one of Pitchfork's 100 Best Songs of 2009. Fekete left the band last year after the release of their third album due to his worsening condition of this rare form of cancer, which spread to his lungs and spine.
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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic