Johnny Otis
Otis with his band in 1950. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Johnny Otis (28 December 1921 – 17 January 2012)

The bandleader Johnny Otis, who has died aged 90, was one of the first white American musicians to cross the racial divide, aligning himself with the black community as a teenager and from then on regarding himself – and being treated as – a black man. He attracted many nicknames – among them the Duke Ellington of Watts, the Reverend Hand Jive and the Godfather of Rhythm and Blues – and distinguished himself as a television host, political activist, preacher, cartoonist, painter, chef, record producer, talent scout, DJ, sculptor, writer and organic farmer.

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Etta James (25 January 1938 – 20 January 2012)

Etta James, who has died aged 73 after suffering from leukaemia, was among the most critically acclaimed and influential female singers of the past 50 years, even if she never achieved huge popular success. From her first R&B hit, in 1955, the risqué Roll With Me Henry – cut when she was only 15 – through a series of classic 1960s soul sides (the lush ballad At Last, the raucous house rocker Tell Mama and the emotional agony of I'd Rather Go Blind), then a series of critically acclaimed 1970s and 1980s albums that won her a broad rock audience, to more recent albums of jazz vocals, James proved capable of developing and changing as an artist.

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Whitney Houston (9 August 1963 – 11 February 2012)

Few pop singers have been gifted with a voice as glorious as Whitney Houston's, and even fewer have treated their talent with the frustrating indifference she did toward the end of her life. She sold more records and received more awards than almost any other female pop star of the 20th century, but spent most of her last years mired in a drug addiction that sapped her will to sing and left her in a shambolic state.

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Dory Previn
Dory Previn on stage in the late 1970s. Photograph: Redferns Photograph: Redferns

Dory Previn (22 October 1925 – 14 February 2012)

The singer-songwriter Dory Previn, who has died aged 86, gained a significant following in the 1970s with her dark and honest view of life that drew on a troubled childhood, marriage difficulties and periods of mental illness. By then she had gained three Oscar nominations for lyrics – early signs of recognition in a career that soon took her on quite a different path.

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Davy Jones (30 December 1945 – 29 February 2012)

Despite their obvious debt to the Beatles, the Monkees were one of the most successful and well-loved pop groups of the late 1960s. Their only British member was Davy Jones, a former child actor, who has died after a heart attack, aged 66.

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Earl Scruggs
Earl Scruggs. Photograph: Gems/Redferns Photograph: Gems/Redferns

Earl Scruggs (6 January 1924 – 28 March 28)

If Bill Monroe was the architect of bluegrass music, the banjo player Earl Scruggs, who has died aged 88, was his chief construction worker. Scruggs, who played with Monroe for three momentous years in the late 1940s, devised a picking method in which the thumb and two fingers of the right hand led a breathtaking dance, its leaps and rolls transforming the sound of the rural stringband into an intricately engineered high-performance music. Critics would call him the Segovia of the five-string banjo, the Paganini of bluegrass.

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Jim Marshall
Jim Marshall, creator of the Marshall amp, in 2005. Photograph: Damien Maguire/Rex Features Photograph: Damien Maguire/Rex Features

Jim Marshall (29 July 1923 – 5 April 2012)

When Jim Marshall, who has died aged 88 of cancer, opened a music store in 1960, his customers included some of rock'n'roll's most prominent guitarists. They wanted a new type of amplifier. Marshall seized the opportunity and built it for them. His work would earn him the nickname the Father of Loud.

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Levon Helm in 1968
Levon Helm in 1968. Photograph: Elliott Landy/Redferns Photograph: Elliott Landy/Redferns

Levon Helm (26 May 26 1940 – 19 April 2012)

A shorthand way of describing Levon Helm, who has died of cancer aged 71, would be as the drummer with the Band, who were Bob Dylan's backing group as he made the leap from folk to rock, and then forged a hugely influential career of their own in the late 1960s and 70s. This would have made Helm eminent enough, but his career stretched in many other directions, as drummer with the rock'n'roller Ronnie Hawkins, solo artist, prolific film actor and, most recently, host of the all-star Midnight Ramble Sessions. He was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, and a fine and distinctive singer.

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Bert Weedon
Bert Weedon. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Bert Weedon (10 May 1920 – 20 April 2012)

The manual Play in a Day was the bible for generations of budding guitarists in the 1950s and 1960s. Its author was Bert Weedon, an unassuming dance-band musician whose unpatronising approach made him Britain's earliest expert on the instrumental niceties of rock'n'roll. Weedon, who has died aged 91, was among the first British musicians to incorporate into his style the innovations of American country and western, boogie and rock'n'roll guitarists.

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Adam Yauch (5 August 1964 – 4 May 2012)

In his late teens, Adam Yauch - "MCA" of the Beastie Boys – did not look the type to be an effective rapper. When they met for the first time, Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC suspected that he might be an actor put up by the TV show Candid Camera. How else could he account for a white performer who, along with his bandmates Mike "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, coupled the carefree character of punk with the clownish one-upmanship of hip-hop?

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Donna Summer (31 December 1948 – 17 May 2012)

Though she will be remembered for disco classics such as Love to Love You Baby and I Feel Love, Donna Summer, who has died of cancer aged 63, notched up many achievements in a career lasting more than 40 years. She recorded three multi-platinum albums and three consecutive double albums topping the US chart. She reached a commercial peak in the late 1970s with a string of chart-topping singles, including a duet with Barbra Streisand on No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), and was able to bounce back from a subsequent slump with hit records in succeeding decades. She also branched out into television, with appearances on America's Got Talent and the reality show Platinum Hit.

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Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performing Benjamin Britten's War Requiem in Coventry Cathedral, 1962 Photograph: Erich Auerbach/Getty Images Photograph: Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (28 May 1925 – 18 May 2012)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the distinguished German baritone, has died aged 86. His protean career was surely unique, as he sang and recorded more vocal music than any who came before. In particular, he broached more lieder (German songs) than any of his predecessors of the genre, his recordings running into the hundreds. Many of these songs he recorded several times over: for instance, he made no fewer than eight recordings of Schubert's Winterreise.

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Robin Gibb (22 December 1949 – 20 May 2012)

Robin Gibb, who has died aged 62, was one of the three brothers who made up the international chart-topping group the Bee Gees. They were best known for their disco hits of the 1970s, which included Stayin' Alive, Night Fever and Jive Talkin', but enjoyed success in every decade from the 1960s to the 2000s. Robin also charted intermittently as a solo artist. He released six solo albums between 1970 and 2006, and scored a British No 1 single as recently as 2009 with a new version of the Bee Gees' song Islands in the Stream, for Comic Relief.

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Doc Watson
Doc Watson in 1986. Photograph: Reuters Photograph: Reuters

Doc Watson (3 March 1923 – 29 May 29 2012)

For almost 50 years, Doc Watson, who has died aged 89, was the most illustrious name in traditional American folk music. A superb, original guitarist and a singer of warmth and simplicity, he set countless musicians on the road to careers in folk music. Probably no folk performer of his time has inspired greater admiration and affection.

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Bob Welch
Bob Welch in 1979. Photograph: Rex /Lynne Mcafee Photograph: Rex /Lynne Mcafee

Bob Welch (31 August 1945 – 7 June 2012)

The pop band Fleetwood Mac have become almost as renowned for their crises as their music. The guitarist and songwriter Bob Welch, who has taken his own life aged 65, was a steadying influence during a period of exceptional turmoil in the group's history. He was their first American member and paved the way for Fleetwood Mac's biggest successes of the late 1970s and 1980s.

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Andy Hamilton performing at Meltdown 2009
Andy Hamilton performing at Meltdown 2009 Photograph: Matt Kent/Redferns Photograph: Matt Kent/Redferns

Andy Hamilton (26 March 1918 – 3 June 2012)

In 1949, the Jamaican tenor saxophonist Andy Hamilton, who has died aged 94, faced a dilemma. As a musician he had reached the top, entertaining Noël Coward and friends at the Titchfield hotel in Port Antonio, then hired as a bandleader by the actor Errol Flynn for parties on his yacht, but his personal life was in crisis and he needed to escape. He joined others of his generation by moving to Britain, where he became a celebrated jazzman and prominent figure in the fight for Caribbean self-determination.

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Mehdi Hassan
Mehdi Hassan. Photograph: Navras Records Photograph: Navras Records

Mehdi Hassan (18 July 1927 – 13 June 2012)

Mehdi Hassan, who has died aged 84, was the Indian subcontinent's outstanding male exponent of the ghazal, a form of sung Urdu lyric verse, set to the appropriate raga melodies. Urdu poetry, which springs from the Persian, is filled with pathos, yearning, political and social injustice, loss, unrequited love and pleasure. Hassan evoked these with rare mastery, which is why devotees and eager students flocked to hear him from far and wide. It is claimed that he sang more than 50,000 ghazals during his lifetime, becoming known as the "emperor of the ghazal".

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Lol Coxhill performing at the London Jazz Festival in 2006.
Lol Coxhill performing at the London Jazz Festival in 2006. Photograph: Photoshot/Getty Images Photograph: Photoshot/Getty Images

Lol Coxhill (19 September 1932 – 10 July 2012)

The saxophonist Lol Coxhill, who has died aged 79, was one of the great characters of British music – generous, gifted and amiably eccentric. He had long been a stalwart of the European jazz and improvised music scene, but he reached all kinds through his collaborations with a wide range of music – Afro-Cuban, R&B, soul, progressive, punk, minimalist, electronic and beyond – while remaining recognisably himself.

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Kitty Wells
Kitty Wells. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Kitty Wells (30 August 1919 – 16 July 2012)

Kitty Wells, who has died aged 92, made a place for the female country singer in the postwar era, opening doors through which would follow Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and many other women determined to match their male counterparts all the way. Piercing and penetrating, Wells's was the quintessential country voice of desolation and atonement.

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Scott McKenzie with the Mamas and the Papas
Scott McKenzie, centre, poses with the Mamas And the Papas in London in 1967. Photograph: Worth/AP Photograph: Worth/AP

Scott McKenzie (10 January 1939 – 18 August 18 2012)

Scott McKenzie, whose 1967 hit San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) became an anthem for the 1967 Summer of Love has died at his home in Los Angeles, aged 73.

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Hal David (right) with composer Burt Bacharach.
Brill combination ... lyricist Hal David (right) with composer Burt Bacharach. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

Hal David (25 May 1921 – 1 September 1)

By contrast with his songwriter partner Burt Bacharach, whose suavely youthful looks belonged in a 1960s Martini ad, the lyricist Hal David, who has died at the age of 91, resembled a president of a suburban Rotary Club: a conservative, suit-and-tie figure from an earlier generation, modest and unassuming in conversation. But it was David's words as much as Bacharach's melodies that captured an audience for such songs as Anyone Who Had a Heart, I Say a Little Prayer, Walk on By, (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me, Alfie, Trains and Boats and Planes, (They Long to Be) Close to You, Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head and Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

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Joe South
Joe South in the mid-60s. Photograph: Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Photograph: Frank Driggs Collection/Getty

Joe South (28 February 1940 – September 5 2012)

When people think of Joe South, they generally think first of Games People Play, one of the most successful protest-related songs of the late 1960s, with its distinctive electric sitar accompaniment, played by the singer and composer himself, and a bitingly prescient lyric directed at pseudo-hippy types who "while away the hours / In their ivory towers / Till they're covered up with flowers / In the back of a black limousine."

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Andy Williams (3 December 1927 – 25 September 2012)

Through the popularity of his television show and his mellifluous tenor voice, Andy Williams, who has died aged 84 after suffering from bladder cancer, was one of the best-loved figures in American popular culture. In a career that spanned eight decades, he sold more than 100m albums. Ronald Reagan described Williams's distinctive voice as a "national treasure".

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Big Jim Sullivan
Big Jim Sullivan in 2007. Photograph: Hayley Madden/Redferns Photograph: Hayley Madden/Redferns

Big Jim Sullivan (14 February 1941 – 2 October 2012)

The sound of British pop music in the 1960s was largely the creation of unsung recording-session musicians who accompanied the solo singers of the era and were frequently enlisted to improve the efforts of well-known pop groups. The principal guitarists of this elite team were Jimmy Page (later of Led Zeppelin) and Big Jim Sullivan, who has died aged 71 of complications from heart disease and diabetes. Sullivan played on more than 50 British No 1 hits and toured and appeared on television with Tom Jones in the early 1970s.

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David S Ware
David S Ware. Photograph: Jazzsign/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis Photograph: Jazzsign/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis

David S Ware (7 November 1949 – 18 October 2012)

David S Ware, the saxophonist whose monumental sound matched his physical stature, has died aged 62 following complications from a kidney transplant he underwent in 2009. Ware, who was mentored by Sonny Rollins and worked with the free-jazz piano virtuoso Cecil Taylor, was one of the few structure-busting radicals in jazz history to reach beyond the music's cognoscenti without compromise.

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Hans Werner Henze
Hans Werner Henze at the Wigmore Hall, London, in 1994. Photograph: Neil Libbert Photograph: Neil Libbert/PR

Hans Werner Henze (1 July 1926 – 27 October 2012)

Hans Werner Henze, who has died aged 86, created an outstanding body of musical works with theatrical and literary dimensions in the opera house, the concert hall and beyond. German-born, but long resident in Italy, he was continental Europe's leading composer of operas in the period following the second world war, during and beyond the decades when Benjamin Britten held the equivalent position in British musical life.

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Singer Terry Callier
Terry Callier. Photograph: Lionel Flusin/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images Photograph: Lionel Flusin/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Terry Callier (24 May 1945 – 27 October 2012)

From his beginnings in jazz, folk and soul music onwards, the singer and guitarist Terry Callier, who has died aged 67 after suffering from throat cancer, struggled to find the popular recognition his varied talents deserved. Nonetheless he released a string of enduring and influential albums and, during the 1990s, enjoyed a creative rebirth in the UK when his supple, soulful music was feted by the acid-jazz movement and he collaborated with Beth Orton and Massive Attack.

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Elliott Carter
Elliott Carter. Photograph: Andrew Testa Photograph: Andrew Testa

Elliott Carter (11 December 1908 – 5 November 2012)

The American composer Elliott Carter, who has died aged 103, was, apart from Pierre Boulez, the last survivor of the heroic age of postwar musical modernism, and perhaps its greatest exponent. In the 1950s, when Carter wrote his first masterpieces in his new self-made, fabulously intricate language, that age was in full flood. By the time he wrote his playful late masterpieces, it had long since passed into history.

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Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck at the Newport jazz festival in 1981. Photograph: Paul Mello/AP Photograph: Paul Mello/AP

Dave Brubeck (6 December 1920 – 5 December 2012)

When the end of the 20th century came, some aspects of jazz began to be given the status of a classical form. In the reassessments that followed, the work of the American pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, who has died aged 91, was a major beneficiary. He was a figure simultaneously feted and mugged by ecstatic fans and infuriated purists during the years between 1954 and 1966 – the time when his catchiest and most deftly composed records were pop hits.

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Composer Jonathan Harvey
Composer Jonathan Harvey. Photograph: Rex Features Photograph: Rex Features

Jonathan Harvey (3 May 1939 – 4 December 2012)

The composer Jonathan Harvey, who has died aged 73 after suffering from motor neurone disease, was unique in the way he put digital technology and a strenuously rational approach to music at the service of a deeply spiritual message. In terms of international profile and honours, Harvey's status was almost on a par with his slightly older colleagues Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies. While they have always been in the news, thanks to their pugnaciously unfashionable views and hard-edged modernism, Harvey's rise was so inconspicuous that even the musical world seemed not to realise just how eminent he had become.

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Ravi Shankar (7 April 1920 – 11 December 2012)

Ravi Shankar, who has died aged 92 after undergoing heart surgery, was the Indian maestro who put the sitar on the musical map. George Harrison called him "the godfather of world music" and it was Shankar's vision that brought the sounds of the raga into western consciousness. He was thus the first performer and composer to substantially bridge the musical gap between India and the west.

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Caspar Llewellyn Smith

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