Few musicians set out to become legends, even fewer succeed.
Yet by any standard musicians like Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain are legendary. Each left behind a lasting musical legacy, with songs that freeze forever a moment in time, speak for a generation, or simply give voice to the grief and grace of the human heart.
In so many ways these performers are nothing like each other. One is fabled for her throaty, gutsy singing style; another for his electrifying guitar riffs; a third for his rebellious, sensual stage presence. Some of these musicians sang the blues, some loved jazz, still others graced the pop, R&B, or alt charts.
Yet, as diverse as their lives and musical gifts were, every one of these performers shared the same final act: Each died when they were only 27 years old.
For some, the torments and triumphs of a short life were played out over Tumblr and Twitter, others died in obscurity, their star rising only after death. What few will argue is that no matter when they lived, how they died, or how diverse they were from each other, every one of these artists now share a common heritage: Each of them is, without a doubt, legendary.
London-born Amy Winehouse, like so many legendary performers, came to music early, a singer, songwriter, and musician while still in her early teens. Success came quickly for the bluesy singer, her critically-acclaimed first album, Frank, attaining double-platinum status, while her second album Back to Black, a hit in the US and UK, went platinum five times. Her fusion sound of pop, R&B, and soul bore tribute to an eclectic musical upbringing that included jazz, hip-hop, and blues influences. Regrettably, along with Winehouse's success ,came party-girl excess that began with alcohol and progressed eventually to hard drugs. Winehouse died of alcohol intoxication in the summer of 2011.more information..
English-born Brian Jones was a bright, indifferent student, who developed a passion for music and musical instruments. Known for his guitar and harmonica skills, Jones also played a vast array of other instruments including keyboards, trumpet, bass, saxophone, sitar, even harp. The founding member and driving force of The Rolling Stones, the nucleus of the band formed after Jones placed an advertisement in a London music sheet. The band's leader and manager in its early days, the spotlight eventually shifted to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. A month after Jones was asked to leave the band he was found at the bottom of his swimming pool, his passing ruled "death by misadventure.more information..
Another musical powerhouse, American singer, songwriter, musician Chris Bell was playing lead guitar in the British Invasion-style group The Jynx when he was just thirteen. After the group disbanded, Bell continued performing, with numerous projects eventually leading to the formation of the group Big Star. When the band's first album, #1 Record, failed to attain the commercial success Bell hoped for, he left to pursue solo projects. Though his work may not have garnered the attention he wished during his lifetime, both Big Star and Bell's solo efforts found popularity in the 80s, with bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements. Bell died in 1978, after losing control of his sports car and striking a light pole.more information..
Janis Joplin began singing in her church choir when she was kid, and fell in love with blues singers like Billie Holiday soon after. For years she moved on the fringes of the music scene, singing in local clubs, slowly developing the electric, bluesy style for which she become famous. In 1966 she hooked up with Big Brother and the Holding Company, their first album together, Cheap Thrills, was a smash hit, including songs "Piece of My Heart" and "Summertime." Joplin broke with the band in 1968 and went on to record as a solo artist. Her album Pearl, released after Joplin lost her struggle with substance abuse, went on to cement Joplin's music legacy.more information..
Texas-born Jesse Belvin was a singer, songwriter, and musician, recording with a wide range of R&B labels through the 1950s, from Specialty Records to RCA. Though his early solo efforts didn't enjoy broad success, his now-classic R&B tune "Earth Angel," recorded by The Penguins, became a pop smash, going on to sell a million records. Belvin later saw top-40 success of his own with "Goodnight My Love" and a song written by his wife and manager, Jo Anne, "Guess Who." Influenced by Nat "King" Cole and Billy Eckstine, Belvin recorded an album of soul covers in 1959, but before the record was released Belvin and his wife died in a head-on car crash early in 1960.more information..
Florida-born James Morrison found fame early. Signing up with Elektra Records as lead singer for The Doors, he and the band had their first hit, "Light My Fire," when Morrison was still in his early 20s. Smart, rebellious, famed for an evocative voice and sensual stage presence, Morrison went on to record many rock classics with The Doors, including "Riders on the Storm," "Love Me Two Times," and "People are Strange." Morrison's offstage life was as dramatic as the one he lived on. Years of drug and alcohol abuse are believed to have lead to the young singer's heart failure at 27 years old.more information..
American-born Johnny Allen Hendrix discovered music early, teaching himself the guitar in his mid-teens. A tense, unstable home life probably helped encourage Hendrix's interest in music, the diversion of a stint in the army, and a move to London in the mid-1960s, where Hendrix formed The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Soon his virtuoso guitar playing and flashy on-stage style helped bring Hendrix and the band British popularity, US success following after they performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival. Called by some the 'ultimate guitar player,' The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. Hendrix died of drug-related complications in London in 1970.more information..
Kurt Cobain's beginnings were rocky ones. A stormy home life lead the American singer to drug use while still in his teens, though the gift of a guitar helped focus his multiple creative interest into one: Music. With long-time friends Cobain formed the band Nirvana, releasing their first album Bleach, when Cobain was in his early 20s. Though Nirvana's signature sound was apparent even then, it blossomed with successive albums, their rough, punk-metal style giving rise to the term "grunge." Singles like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Heart-Shaped Box" helped Nirvana top the charts, but the pressures of fame, fractious relationships, and a difficult life so troubled Cobain that he committed suicide in 1994.more information..
A love of literature marked Richard Edwards young life, a devotion that would stand him in good stead after joining the band Manic Street Preachers. Though not a strong musician, the Welsh-born Edwards became a powerful lyricist, writing most of the words for the band's critically-acclaimed album, The Holy Bible. Sensitive, troubled by depression, anorexia, and a propensity for self-harm, Edwards reached out for help after The Holy Bible was released, then toured briefly with the band after treatment. Not quite six weeks after his final live performance in late 1994, Edwards simply disappeared. Ultimately no one knows what happened to Edwards, and it wasn't until 2008 that he was declared "presumed deceased."more information..
A musical triple-threat, American-born Robert Johnson's was a songwriter, guitar player, and singer. Acclaimed as one of the most exceptional blues performers of all time, his legend is founded on the twenty-nine songs he began recording in 1936, including the blues standard "Sweet Home Chicago," as well as "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom." Johnson's fame was posthumous, with little know about his life, though myths include a supposed deal with the devil in exchange for his musical gifts. What is known for sure is that Johnson gained new and devoted fans when his songs were reissued in the 60s and again in the 90s. Johnson died in 1938, possibly the victim of an intentional poisoning.more information..
Rhythm and blues singer Charles Rudolph Harrell began his singing career crooning gospel tunes in Philadelphia, and continued doing so until the day he auditioned for The Drifters. Hired on the spot, Lewis became the band's lead singer, giving voice to many of The Drifter's pop hits, including "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Up on the Roof," "Please Stay," and "On Broadway." Plagued by addiction to heroin, issues with binge eating, and perhaps closeted homosexuality, Lewis was just about to record the now-classic tune "Under the Boardwalk," written especially for him, when he was found dead in a Harlem hotel room, his death ruled a probable drug overdose.more information..