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And the Beat Goes on: Musicians Dead in May

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Death is inevitable. But at The Spec, we share this sentiment with Neil Strauss: “Everyone loves you when you’re dead.”

Learn a little more about some of the musicians dead in May…

Jessica Cleaves, dead at 65

Jessica Cleaves was a Los Angeles-born singer and songwriter. She is known for being the lead singer of The Friends of Distinction during the 1960s. Cleaves also worked with Earth, Wind & Fire (in the 1970s), Parliament-Funkadelic and George Clinton.


Jair Rodrigues, dead at 75

Born Jair Rodrigues de Oliveira, Jair Rodrigues was a famous Brazilian singer and musician. He is the father to Jair Oliveira and Luciano Mello, who are also musicians. Rodrigues’ career started with him crooning in São Carlos during the second half of the 1950s. His participation in Radio São Carlos and involvement in the military reserve helped him rise in popularity by the 1960s.


Frank Strazzeri, dead at 84

Strazzeri was an American jazz pianist from New York. His interest in music started early with him playing clarinet and tenor saxophone at 12 years old. He later would switch to piano, attend Eastman School of Music, take a job as a house pianist in a Rochester nightclub in the 1950s, and move to New Orleans and then Los Angeles. Throughout his musical career, he worked alongside Les Brown, Terry Gibbs, Elvis Presely, Bud Shank, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Charlie Ventura and many more.


Ed Gagliardi, dead at 62

Edward John “Ed” Gagliardi was an American usician who was the original bass player for the rock band Foreigner. He was a member since the band formed in 1976. Gagliardi was also part of the band Spys, which he formed with fellow bandmate Al Greenwood, former Foreigner keyboardist.


Nash the Slash, dead at 66

Jeff Plewman, best known by his moniker Nash the Slash, was a Canadian multi-instrumentalist. He played mandolin, electric violin, glockspiel, keyboards, harmonica and more. Plewman performed as a solo artist at the start of 1975 and founded the progressive rock group FM by 1976. Soon after the band’s debut album was released, Plewman left and continued on with his solo career. Between 1983 and 1996, he rejoined FM.


Jerry Vale, dead at 83

Jerry Vale, born as Genaro Louis Vitaliano, was an American actor and singer. While in high school, Vale took to shining shoes at a NYC barbershop to some money. He would sing as he shined the shoes and his boss enjoyed the music so much that he offered to pay for music lessons. Vale enjoyed the lessons and started singing in high school musicals, as well as a local nightclub. The Bronx crooner eventually signed a recording contract with Columbia and became known for his 1963 recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Have You Looked into Your Heart.” His acting career involved appearances in Martin Scorses films Goodfellas and Casino.


Herb Jeffries, dead at 100

The American pop and jazz singer Herb Jeffries recorded with various labels during his career, including: RCA Victor, Decca, Coral, Trend, Mercury, Columbia and Exclusive. Jeffries was born with the name Umberto Alexander Valentino in Detroit. His mother was Irish and his father was mixed with Ethiopian, Sicilian, French, Moorish and Italian. He had pride in his racial background during a period in which most light-skinned blacks in the entertainment industry tried to pass as all-white in order to further their careers. In fact, Jeffries even used make up to darken his skin so that he would be more accepted by all-black jazz ensembles of that time.


Christine Charbonneau, dead at 70

Canadian singer and songwriter Christine Charbonneau was born in Montreal. She wrote her first song at the young age of 12 and began to sing professionally at La Butte à Mathieu in 1959. Charbonneau composed music for herself and spent much of the 1970s composing music for numerous artists. In addition to singing French pop songs, Charbonneau was also an author and poet.

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