Obituaries: Music Icons

Little Richard Source: Wiki (free copyright)
Obituaries: Music Icons
Deborah on the deaths of seven influential black musicians since April 2020.

Tony Oladipo Allen

Date of Birth: 12 August 1940

Place of Birth: Lagos, Nigeria

Died: Paris, 1 May 2020

Legacy: Co-pioneer of Afro Beat with Fela Kuti

Tony was the main drummer with Kuti’s band for three decades from the 1960s until the 1980s. Kuti used the music to critique the Nigerian military government and to galvanize the population. 

Afro-Beat has been described as a combination of traditional Yoruba music, jazz, highlife, funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles, popularized in Africa in the 1970s.

Tony was the eldest of 6 children and shared Nigerian and Ghanaian heritage.  He learnt electronics as a teenager and didn’t start playing the drums until he was 18 years of age. 

He grew up listening to West African music but also keyed into the jazz drumming of Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Philly Joe Jones, Tony Williams and others.

These guys were telling a story by playing different rhythms, and they were doing it with independent coordination,” he said in the 2013 book Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat, which he wrote with Michael Veal. Thats the way the drums should be played, man.”

Collaborations:  Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers). Tony also made jazz albums and recorded with the reggae guitarist Ernest Ranglin, the techno producer Jeff Mills, grime rapper Skepta and South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who died in 2018.


Bob Andy: “Conscious” Reggae Artist & Songwriter

Born: Keith Anderson, October 28th, 1944

Place of Birth: Kingston, Jamaica

Died: 27 May 2020

Andy is widely regarded as one of reggaes most influential songwriters and one of the founders of The Paragons. John Holt later joined the said group. International recognition came when he recorded with Marcia Griffiths “Young, Gifted and Black” penned by Nina Simone. It sold half a million records in Europe and they became a household name. YG & B remains popular today, reaching No 5 in the British Charts in 1970.

Songs: Feeling Soul; My Time; Going Home; Too Experienced.

Legacy: Bob recorded at Studio One working with Jackie Mitoo and Coxsone Dodd in the 1960s. He wrote songs recorded by Gregory Isaacs, Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson and many others. He became an A&R and Promotions manager for Tuff Gong - the recording company created by Robert (Bob) Marley. Along with acting in Jamaican productions, Bob was foremost in trying to establish copyright for Caribbean music.

Africa:  Bob first visited the continent in 2005 and performed in Addis Ababa at the 60th birthday anniversary Robert Marley.

Award: The Distinction of Merit by the Jamaican Government in 2006 for his services to the development of reggae music.


Ebow Graham (Aka Metropolis)

Born: 1979

Died: 20 April 2020

The founder of the electronic hip hop band “Forgotten Beggars” died at home at the age of 41.  A funding page was set up to assist his young son.


Mory Kante

Born: 29 March 1950, Albardaria, Guinea

Died: 22 May 2020, Conakry, Guinea

Genre: Kora, West African Traditional

Mory was a Guinean Kora player. His hit Yeye Yeye was a commercial success - the song went to number one in Finland, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands in 1988.  He is considered one of the greatest preservers and modernizers of West African Mandinka music.

 He has 14 children but few could attend due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Guinea has closed all borders. However, the country’s Culture Minister has vowed that a high-profile funeral befitting of Mory will take place once the pandemic has lessened.

Mory came from a family of griots. “You know, I went to three schools’ he said. ‘The white mans school, the Koranic school and the griot school… but [the griot school] was the most intensive training I had. The griots are anti-tribalist … theyre the opposite of racist. The griot is there for the people.”


Millie Small

Name: Millicent Dolly May Small  

Born: October 1946

Place of birth: Clarendon, Jamaica

Died: May 2020 (London) 

Musical Genre: Reggae, Rocksteady, Ska 

Songs: Millie came to London in 1962 with Chris Blackwell (Owner of Island Record Label) and attended the Italian Conti Stage School (for speech and training) before releasing 'My Boy Lollipop' in February 1964, which reached No.2 in the British charts. She was 17 years old.

Legacy:  The record brought Ska to the attention of an international audience.  Although she never achieved the same amount of fame again, Millie had small acting parts in films (one of which was with Elizabeth Welch and can still be seen for free from the BFI). Millie also wrote a song against Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech which proved popular.

Later Life: Millie lived in Singapore and New Zealand.  She later revealed that she had experienced homeless and poverty at points in her life upon her return.  She is survived by her daughter.

Award: In 2011, Jamaica's Governor-General made Small a Commander in the Order of Distinction for her contribution to Jamaican music.


Delroy Washington

Born: 5 November 1952

Died: 27 March 2020 (London, England)

Place of Birth: Westmorland, Jamaica

Delroy came to England with his parents in 1962. He met and provided backing vocals for Robert (Bob) Marley and the Wailers on their early albums.  He was signed to Virgin, Island and CBS and record labels as a singer songwriter and vocalist.

He founded the Federation of Reggae Music which established the London Borough of Brent as the HQ of Reggae music in the UK and Europe as so many artistes and producers hailed from there. Delroy assisted with the production of the musical, Black Heroes in the Hall of Fame with Flip Fraser in the 1980s. 

More recently, Delroy, together with Nubian Jak Community Trust and Brent Council, secured a Blue Heritage Plaque erected for Dennis Emmanuel Brown (another Jamaican music legend) at his second home in Harlesden in April 2012. The first Blue Heritage Plaque he was successful in applying for was for another musical giant, Bob Marley.


Little Richard (Richard Penniman)

Born: 5 December 1932

Place of Birth: Georgia, USA

Died: 9 May 2020 (Tennessee, USA)

Richard was one of 12 children who became one of the fathers of modern-day Rock and Roll. He inspired hundreds of musicians including The Beatles and Ronnie Wood with his showmanship, memorable, catchy lyrics and soaring vocals. He worked in the industry for over seven decades having had his first hit in 1955 with Tutti Frutti.

Throughout his life, Richard was conflicted.  He was playing the devils music (he had had a strong gospel upbringing) whilst enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle which proved controversial.

Richard officially retired in 2013, proclaiming himself to be 'the architect of rock and roll.'  Few would disagree.

Songs: These included:  'Rip It Up,' 'Long Tall Sally,' 'Ready Teddy,' 'Good Golly, Miss Molly'  and 'Send Me Some Lovin.' Little Richard appeared in some of the earliest rock-and-roll films in 1956 including  Dont Knock the Rock and The Girl Can' Help It and Mr. Rock and Roll in 1957.

Awards: Inducted into the USA Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Grammy Award.