Obituaries, May 11, 2023
Brian McKenna, an acclaimed Montreal-born documentary filmmaker and founding producer of CBC's The Fifth Estate, died on May 5, at age 77, after a short illness.
McKenna's career started when he was editor-in-chief of his college newspaper, Loyola News before he joined the Montreal Star and later CBC.
The CBC reports that "He was best known for the award-winning series The Valour and the Horror. The three-part series examining Canadian involvement in three battles during the Second World War was the subject of controversy after its release and led to a five-week investigation by the Senate, a CRTC hearing, a $500 million lawsuit and a CBC ombudsman's report.
McKenna's most commended work delved deep into Canada's role in various wars over the last few centuries — having directed over 20 films on the subject — but he is also remembered for local Montreal news like the controversy surrounding the 1976 construction of the Olympic Stadium."
He also co-authored an unauthorized, bestselling biography of former Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau with his first wife Susan Purcell in 1980.
In his career at the Fifth Estate, McKenna created several documentaries on John F. Kennedy, including the 1983 episode Who Killed JFK? that drew more than three million viewers - - the highest ratings in Fifth Estate history.
The filmmaker received 40 award nominations in Canada and internationally and won the 1993 Gordon Sinclair Award For Broadcast Journalism. He received the Governor General's History Award for Popular Media in 2007 for "his exceptional ability to tackle the challenges of communicating history through a modern media with originality, determination, and a deep respect for those whose stories he tells."
McKenna was also an advocate for the freedom of the press and against the kidnapping of journalists and co-founded a group that later became the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). Source: CBC News
Soňa Červená, a Czech opera singer known for playing Carmen and more than 110 roles in San Francisco and other opera houses behind the Iron Curtain, died on May 7, at age 97.
Červená was as a guest singer at the Unter den Linden Opera and the Berlin State Opera when she emigrated to West Berlin in 1962 through the last opened crossing in the newly built Berlin Wall. The Iron Curtain kept her outside her country for 30 years. In the West, Červená was based at the Frankfurt Opera, but she became known for her guest performances in numerous opera houses in Europe and the US and festivals at Bayreuth, Glyndebourne and many others.
She performed with conductors such as Rafael Kubelik, Herbert von Karajan, Pierre Boulez, Charles Mackerras and Francesco Molinari Pradelli. In 1962, she started her 11-year regular cooperation with the San Francisco Opera in the title role of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, her trademark character.
After she retired from opera, she moved to the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, Germany, where she worked with U.S. director Robert Wilson as an actress, and then starred in Wilson's productions at the National Theater in Prague. Among her awards, she received the Gold Medal in the Arts from the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington in 2013 and received a Medal of Merits, a Czech state decoration the same year.
Frank Kozik, an American artist who designed posters and album covers for numerous bands, died on May 6, at age 61. No cause of death has been reported.
His album covers include Queens of the Stone Age’s self-titled album, Melvins’ Houdini, and the Offspring’s Americana. Bands including Nirvana, Sonic Youth, the White Stripes, Butthole Surfers, Toronto group Rusty, and Beastie Boys are among the many artists who commissioned tour posters.
Pitchfork reports that "Kozik started doing posters while living in Austin in the early ’80s after getting attention from bands for his work as part of the mail art community. He gradually got work for corporate ad campaigns, participated in gallery shows, and ultimately started his label Man’s Ruin Records. Man’s Ruin released music by Kyuss, High on Fire, Melvins, and more. He was the creative director of Kidrobot, the limited edition art toy company."
He attributed the aesthetic of his most famous work to his “dark sense of humour” and growing up in punk rock.
Rob Laakso, a longtime guitarist and multi-instrumentalist in Kurt Vile & The Violators and Swirlies, died last week at age 44 from cholangiocarcinoma—a rare form of bile duct cancer. Laakso’s wife Mamie-Claire Cornelius confirmed her husband’s death on May 6.
In a post shared on Instagram, Vile remembered Laakso, thanking friends and fans for their own eulogies and memories of the musician. “Tributes are never easy but this one is just too close to the bone I guess. He was quiet but there was so much to him. Musical genius. Recording whizz. Best husband and father."
Vile also asked his followers to donate money to help support Laakso’s family and went on to recount memories of playing and co-producing with Laakso in the studio over the years. Laakso performed numerous instruments across Kurt Vile’s solo work and his records with the Violators. His last studio record with Vile was in 2022 (watch my moves). He also frequently toured with Vile and joined in on a 2019 NPR Tiny Desk Concert session.
Sources: Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Music Radar
Linda Lewis (Born Linda Ann Fredericks ), a British singer and songwriter known for her five-octave vocal range and work as a backing singer for the likes of David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Yusuf Islam, died on May 3, at the age of 72. Her sister Dee Lewis Clay shared the news on social media. No cause of death was given.
Lewis enjoyed both solo success in the 1970s and a long career of providing backing vocals for artists including David Bowie and Rod Stewart.
Born in London, she dabbled in acting, appearing as a screaming fan in the first Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night in 1964. A self-taught guitarist and keyboard player, she appeared at the first Glastonbury festival in 1970 and had four top-40 hits throughout the next decade – the first coming with Rock-a-Doodle-Doo which reached No 15 in the UK in 1973.
Her biggest hit came with It’s In His Kiss – a cover of a 1963 song later made famous by Cher as The Shoop Shoop Song.
She dated Cat Stevens and later was married to musician Jim Cregan in 1977 for a short time. In 2004, she married music agent Neil Warnock, who survives her.
Her credits as a backing vocalist included Bowie (for his Aladdin Sane album), Stewart, Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, Rick Wakeman, Joan Armatrading and Jamiroquai.
Her song Old Smokey was sampled by rapper Common in his 2005 hit Go!, which was produced by Kanye West. She also collaborated with Basement Jaxx on the track Close Your Eyes. Her last track, Earthling, a collaboration with UK band the Paracosmos, was released in March.
Sources: The Guardian, LA Times
Irv Lichtman, for decades one of Billboard’s most respected and beloved editors and columnists, died on May 2, at age 87.
Billboard termed him "an advocate for songwriters who chiselled out a niche as the go-to expert in music publishing."
Born in the Bronx, Lichtman worked at Cashbox right out of college, from 1956 until 1975. He went on to work for NY Times Music Publishing for roughly a year, before joining Audio Fidelity Records. From there, Lichtman made the leap to Billboard, joining the music trade in late 1978.
Former executive editor Ken Schlager remembers Lichtman as a “genuinely warm and funny man,” whose columns Inside Track and Words & Music were a “must-read.” Canadian music journalist Larry LeBlanc, now a senior writer at CelebrityAccess, told Billboard that "I was so lucky when I joined Billboard in 1991 because Irv was my immediate editor in New York that I reported to for about 4 years. Irv made me feel at home and gently guided me in the Billboard way of reporting music news. He was always sharp, perceptive, and warm. Damn, this breaks my heart."
Read more in this Billboard obituary.
Chris Strachwitz, Arhoolie Records founder and a dedicated musicologist, died on May 5, of complications from congestive heart failure, at age 91.
Just hours earlier, after the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival saluted his work in helping introduce Cajun and zydeco music to a larger audience, and an exhibit inside the Fair Grounds grandstand featured his photographs.
Starting in 1960, Strachwitz released more than 400 albums on Arhoolie, many of them by Louisiana roots music artists. He was instrumental in discovering zydeco king Clifton Chenier, as well as bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins.
Born in Germany, Strachwitz moved to the United States and turned his love of traditional, regional music and the musicians who make it into a lifelong career and passion.
His interests ranged from Cajun and zydeco to Tex-Mex norteño to Mississippi delta country blues. In addition to Clifton Chenier, he helped nurture the careers of such south Louisiana artists as Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet and Marc and Ann Savoy. He and Les Blank produced two important documentaries of traditional music: Chulas Fronteras, a 1975 film about the Mexican-American music of Texas, and J’ai Été Au Bal, a 1989 film about the Cajun and Creole music of southwest Louisiana.
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship in 2000. The Recording Academy gave him its Trustees Award in 2016.
“No one has meant more to the preservation and appreciation of Americana roots music than Chris Strachwitz,” Bonnie Raitt wrote in “Arhoolie Records’ Down Home Music: The Photographs and Stories of Chris Strachwitz, a book to be published by Chronicle Books this October.
Smithsonian Folkways acquired the Arhoolie catalogue in 2016. The Arhoolie Foundation, the nonprofit Strachwitz founded in 1995, will continue its work of preserving and documenting traditional music.
In a Facebook post, Toronto author and music journalist Nicholas Jennings noted that "along with blues and zydeco, Strachwitz would record Cajun, all manner of Mexican American music, New Orleans jazz and brass bands, klezmer, polka, hillbilly, gospel, street and outsider musicians, free jazz, bluegrass, sacred steel and more. Arhoolie’s catalogue is a wonder to behold."
Sources: Nola.com, Offbeat, Tim Perlich, Nicholas Jennings, The Guardian