by Georgia Kotsinis
photography courtesy of Rachel Callahan
Music plays such an integral role in our lives that oftentimes we find personal connections to the artists that make it. We get to know them on some level, relating to their experiences of struggle and of triumph. Through listening, we feel their emotions alongside them — the pain, joy and love.
“We may not be able to express ourselves verbally, but when we hear someone’s music, it touches us in a way that helps us to communicate our own feelings,” said Maria Farlekas, a DePaul School of Music alum. “One feels connected to the artist [and] therefore clings to the particular music of that artist.”
With this said, the death of an artist can have a great impact on those who feel close to that artist. It fossilizes their existing discography, and marks the end of any new music. In short, what you already have is what you get. For someone who has a particularly meaningful relationship with the artist, it can feel as if an era of his or her own life has ended as well.
There have been quite a few big-name artists that passed away in recent months: Avicii, XXXTentacion, Mac Miller and Aretha Franklin, among others. Most of these were completely unexpected, premature occurrences that shocked their fans.
The death of Mac Miller specifically took an extraordinary toll on the fan base for several reasons. Miller released his fifth album just a month before he passed away. The music on the album indicated a period of healing for him. He was recovering from heartbreak following the end of his relationship with Ariana Grande, and with regard to his lifelong struggles with drug addiction, it appeared that he was doing well. He even had tour dates established.
The reaction to Miller’s sudden death was widespread. For days, his image and his story dominated social media platforms. There was an undeniable sorrow on site, with fans expressing both shock and sadness.
Senior Patrick Burke (COM ‘19) expressed that he felt close to Miller and his music by relating his life experiences to his own.
“It's still tough to listen to his music,” Burke said. “I have never felt the way I did that day about any other celebrity death in my lifetime.” It has been a little over a month since the tragedy.
It is clear that an artist’s death not only has an impact on their individual fans; the grief ripples across the entire music industry, affecting artists that admired, knew or worked with them. Miller was a pillar in hip-hop. He collaborated with, and even mentored, dozens of A-list artists who didn’t seem to give him the credit he deserved while alive.
“Every single artist that worked with him, from Kendrick Lamar to G-Eazy to Snoop Dogg, had a story to share about how talented, funny and kind he was,” Sidney McKenzie (COM ‘20) said.
This year also marked the end of Aretha Franklin’s life, taken away by pancreatic cancer. She was a legend, named the Queen of Soul, who performed for a lifetime. Her funeral was attended by the likes of Steve Wonder, Janet Jackson, Gladys Knight, former presidents and so many more, demonstrating the impact she had.
She played such a vital role in the evolution of American music, and her legacy will undoubtedly live on.
“She never compromised her career to fit a mold as times and music changed,” said Farlekas. “She remained true to her gospel roots and true to herself. Her legacy will never die because her deep faith and her love for her music rooted in that faith is timeless.”
Additionally, in a tweet paying tribute to her, former President Barack Obama said, “Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace.”
Her influence shines through the soul and R&B genres, as she paved the way for other legends to make their name.
Whether it be an artist as aged and established Aretha Franklin, or an influential force in a genre who passed on too early, the death of an artist has a derailing effect on the music community, fans and fellow artists alike.