Musical Giants: Withers, Marsalis, Roney & DiBango Pass Away

Photo: Manu Dibango (top left), Bill Withers (top right), Ellis Marsalis (bottom left) and Wallace Roney died this past week. All except Withers died from complications of COVID-19.

The world is mourning the loss of musical giants Bill Withers, Ellis Marsalis, Wallace Roney and Manu DiBango, all of whom passed away last week.

Bill Withers, who taught himself to play guitar, wrote some of the most iconic songs of the 1970s including “Lean on Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lovely Day,” and “Use Me,” which have become anthems in many parts of the world. The three-time Grammy Award winner withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s. In 2005, Withers was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The West Virginia born  and raised (Slab Fork and Beckley) musician who overcame a stutter to become one of the most influential song writers of his generation, appeared on stage with Stevie Wonder and John Legend to perform his hit, “Lean on Me” during the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. Wonder inducted the music icon into the Hall of Fame. The twice married father of two died Monday in Los Angeles from complications related to his heart. He was 81.


Ellis Marsalis, pianist, educator and father of the Marsalis jazz dynasty died after being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 symptoms. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Marsalis played saxophone in high school and switched to piano while studying classical music at Dillard University. Following his graduation, Marsalis played in many jazz bands in New Orleans including the Marsalis Trio. His sons Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason went on to become highly successful jazz musicians. Wynton has won Grammys for both jazz and classical music. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music was named for the New Orleans native, who succumbed to complications related to the Coronavirus. He was 85.

Wallace Roney, a virtuoso trumpeter, died March 31 of complications related to coronavirus. Roney was a leading voice in the Young Lions movement, a group of young musicians devoted to bringing jazz back in line with its midcentury sound. A Miles Davis protege, Roney fought hard to escape his image as a Davis imitator. His music incorporated elements of funk, hip-hop, Brazilian styles of music including Bossa Nova, pop and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Washington, D.C., Roney made more than 20 albums, working with the Young Lions, Davis and Ornette Coleman. Roney began his musical training as a student at the Duke Ellington School of Music in Washington, DC. and earned degrees at Howard University and the Berklee College of Music. He was 59.

African jazz-funk great Manu Dibango also died of complications related to COVID-19. Dibango blended African rhythms with funk to become one of the most influential musicians in world dance music. Dibango was hospitalized with an illness “linked to COVID-19,” his official Facebook page said last week.

“Soul Makossa” was one of the earliest hits in the nascent world music scene, including a catchy hook copied by some of the world’s biggest pop stars like Michael Jackson and Rihanna, both of whom he sued. He settled with Jackson and his lawsuit against Rihanna was thrown out. Dibango collaborated with many musical giants including Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, Sly and Robbie, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, King Sunny Adé, Youssou N’Dour, Hugh Masekela and Fela Kuti. The Cameroonian native was 86.

This post was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual. 

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter @TheBurtonWire.

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