5. Dinah Washington
Dinah Washington was an American blues, R&B and jazz singer. She has been cited as the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s. Washington has also been called the “Queen of the Blues.” Between 1948 and 1955, she had 27 R&B top ten hits, making her one of the most popular and successful singers of the period. Her recordings included blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, and even a version of Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart.
During her career, Dinah Washington recorded a number of sessions with leading jazz musicians of the time, including Clifford Brown, Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, and Ben Webster. In 1961, she scored her last big hit with the song September in the Rain. Dinah was well known for singing love songs, but also had a strong and outspoken personality. In one recorded account before her death, Dinah Washington was performing at the London Palladium, with Queen Elizabeth sitting in a box. She told the audience: “There is but one heaven, one hell, one queen, and your Elizabeth is an imposter.”
Dinah Washington was married eight times during her lifetime. Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Dinah’s eighth husband Lane went to sleep with his wife, and awoke to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross was called to the scene and he pronounced Washington dead. An autopsy later revealed a lethal combination of the drugs secobarbital and amobarbital. Dinah Washington was only 39-years-old and her death was officially ruled an accidental overdose. In 1959, Dinah won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
4. Eddie Cochran
Eddie Cochran was an American rock and roll pioneer who had a small but lasting influence on rock music and guitar playing. During the 1950s, Cochran held the public image of a sharply dressed, rugged but good looking young man with a rebellious attitude. He epitomized the stance of the fifties rocker. Eddie Cochran’s only album released during his lifetime was titled Singin’ To My Baby and it featured his hit single Summertime Blues.
In early 1959, two of Cochran’s friends, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, along with the Big Bopper, were killed in a plane crash while on tour. Eddie’s friends and family said that he was badly shaken by their deaths, and developed a morbid fixation that he would also die young. Cochran was anxious to give up his life on the road and spend time in the studio, thereby reducing the chance of suffering a similar fatal accident while touring. However, financial responsibilities required him to accept a 1960 tour in the United Kingdom.
On April 16, 1960, while on tour in the United Kingdom, the 21-year-old Eddie Cochran died in a traffic accident. He was traveling in a taxi with his girlfriend (Sharon Sheeley) and a collection of musicians through Chippenham, Wiltshire, on the A4. During the accident, the speeding taxi blew a tire, lost control, and crashed into a lamp post on Rowden Hill, where a plaque now marks the spot. Cochran, who was seated in the center of the back seat, threw himself over Sheeley to shield her and was thrown out of the vehicle when the door flew open.
Eddie Cochran was rushed to St. Martin’s Hospital, Bath, where he died the next day of severe head trauma. The taxi driver, George Martin, was convicted of dangerous driving, fined £50, disqualified from driving for 15 years, and sentenced to prison for six months. Famous rock and roll musician Gene Vincent was also involved in the crash. He broke his ribs and collarbone and further damaged his weakened leg. Vincent died prematurely in 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer. In 1987, Eddie Cochran was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His contribution to the genre of rock music was great and Cochran has influenced some of the most important music acts in history. The UK Rolling Stone ranked him #84 on their 2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
3. Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was an American gospel, R&B, and soul singer. Cooke is widely considered one of the pioneers of soul music. He has been labeled the “King of Soul.” Sam Cooke was among the first modern black performers and composers to handle the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label (SAR Records) and a publishing company. Sam also took an active role in the American Civil Rights Movement. During his career, Sam Cooke had 29 Top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1964, including the songs You Send Me, A Change Is Gonna Come, Chain Gang, Wonderful World, and Twistin’ the Night Away.
On December 11, 1964, the manager of the Hacienda Motel, Bertha Franklin, shot Sam Cooke to death in Los Angeles, California. He was only 33-years-old. His body was discovered in Franklin’s office with no shirt, pants, or underwear. Franklin claimed that Cooke broke into her office and accosted her over the whereabouts of a guest. After a physical altercation, Franklin beat and shot Sam Cooke to death.
A coroner’s inquest was convened to investigate the incident, which resulted in the finding of a justifiable homicide. The courts ruled that Sam Cooke was drunk and distressed at the time of his death, and that the manager killed him in self-defense. Some of Cooke’s supporters have rejected this version of the events and believe that Sam was murdered.
2. Brian Jones
Brian Jones was an English musician and founding member of the Rolling Stones. He played guitar and harmonica for the group, but was also a talented multi-instrumentalist. Jones formed the Rolling Stones in 1962. He chose the members, named the band, chose the music they played, and was in charge of scheduling gigs. He was very influential and very important to the early Rolling Stones. However, by the late 1960s, Brian Jones was addicted to a collection of drugs and was pushed away from the group.
To the public, it appeared as if Brian Jones had left the group voluntarily, but this wasn’t the case. The other band members told him he was done with the Rolling Stones. On June 9, 1969, Jones released a statement to the public announcing his departure from the band. In this statement he said, among other things: “I no longer see eye-to-eye with the others over the discs we are cutting.” During the 1960s, Brian Jones was regarded as a fashion icon due to his rebellious and flamboyant style. His dress and manner influenced the fashion scene of 1960s London.
On the night of July 2, 1969, Brian Jones was discovered motionless at the bottom of his swimming pool at Cotchford Farm, near Hartfield in East Sussex. His Swedish girlfriend, Anna Wohlin, was convinced that Jones was still alive when he was taken out of the pool, but when the doctors arrived, it was too late, and he was pronounced dead. The coroner’s report stated “death by misadventure” and noted his liver and heart were heavily enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse.
Brian Jones was 27 at the time of his death and for this reason is one of the members of the infamous 27 Club. Upon his untimely passing, Pete Townshend wrote a poem about him, Jimi Hendrix dedicated a song to him on U.S. television, and Jim Morrison of The Doors published a poem entitled “Ode to L.A. While Thinking of Brian Jones, Deceased.” Jones was reportedly buried 12 feet (3.7 m) deep in Cheltenham Cemetery (to prevent exhumation by trophy hunters), in a lavish casket sent by Bob Dylan.
1. Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline was an American country music singer who saw success in the early 1960s with a collection of pop music crossovers. Cline was best known for her rich tone, emotional expression, and bold contralto voice. She helped pave the way for women in country music. Prior to the early 1960’s, so-called “girl singers” were seen by the male-dominated realm of country music as mere “window dressing,” only necessary to attract male listeners to their shows. After her untimely death, millions of Patsy Cline records sold. As a result, she has been given numerous awards and accolades, leading some fans to view her as an icon similar to legends such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
On March 5, 1963, Patsy Cline and a group of country singers boarded a private plane (single propeller 4 person Piper Comanche PA-24) headed for Nashville, Tennessee. The plane took off in severe weather and crashed in a forest outside Camden, Tennessee, only 90 miles (140 km) from Nashville. Randy Hughes, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas, and Patsy Cline were killed instantly in the crash. At the time of her death, Cline was at the height of her career and was only 30-years-old. Her friends Dottie West, June Carter Cash, and Loretta Lynn recalled that Patsy told them that she felt a sense of impending doom and did not expect to live much longer. Cline is considered one of the most influential, successful, and acclaimed female vocalists of the 20th century.
Krzysztof Komeda was a Polish music composer and jazz pianist. He is perhaps best known for his work in film scores. Komeda wrote the music for Roman Polanski’s movies Rosemary’s Baby, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Knife in the Water, and Cul-de-sac. In 1965, Komeda released an album titled Astigmatic, which is widely regarded as one of the most important European jazz albums in history. During his career, Krzysztof used the stage name of Komeda due to the Polish communist government’s dislike of jazz. In all, Komeda wrote more than 70 soundtracks during his lifetime. As a jazz musician, he exerted a crucial influence on original style, often described as the Polish school of jazz.
In December 1968, in Los Angeles, Komeda had a tragic accident which led to a hematoma of the brain. It is unclear exactly what happened to him, but several accounts exist. One story involves a car accident in the autumn of 1968 while another says that Komeda was pushed off an escarpment by writer Marek H?asko during a drinking party. Roman Pola?ski mentioned the event in his memoirs and said that Komeda was injured as a result of “friendly rough-and-tumble” with Marek H?asko, and that Komeda suffered a severe head injury.
After being transported back to Poland, Krzysztof Komeda died as a result of wrong treatment of the hematoma. It is believed that one of the main reasons he was transported to Poland after the accident is that he did not have U.S. medical insurance, but this fact has not been proven. Since Komeda’s tragic death at the age of 38, his music has influenced a large collection of jazz musicians from all over the world.
Check out our YouTube playlist for this top 10 list for more footage of our top 10 musicians who died in the 60s.