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Singers from the 40's, 50's & 60's that Died Young

Updated on September 20, 2014

April 2, 2012

RITCHIE VALENS 17

Ritchie was born Richard Steven Valenzuela on May 13, 1941 in Pacoima, California. He was a rock and roll artist with only eight months of living his dream. Ritchie recorded La Bamba in 1958 which became a huge hit.

On February 3, 1959 Ritchie was killed in an airplane crash in Iowa along with The Big Bopper and Buddy Holley.

Ritchie Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

HANK WILLIAMS 29

Hank was born Hiram King Williams on September 17, 1923 in Mount Olive, Alabama. Hank is still considered one of the greatest country music artists of all time.

His greatest hits included, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your cheatin Heart.

Hanks addiction to alcohol and painkillers took over his life to the point where the Grand Ole Opry let him go.

Hank died on New Year's Day in 1953.

EDDIE COCHRAN 21

Eddie was born on October 3, 1938 in Albert Lea, Minnesota. He was a Rock and Roll pioneer with songs such as C'mon Everybody, Summertime Blues and Somethin Else produced in the 50's.

Eddie got his first taste of fame when he sang in the movie, The Girl Can't Help It starring Jayne Mansfield.

Cochran died in an accident on April 17, 1960 in England while touring. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

BUDDY HOLLY 22

Buddy was born, Charles Hardin Holley on September 7, 1936 in Lubbock, TX. Notice he dropped the E in his last name.

He was another pioneer of Rock and Roll as well as a song writer and influenced many of the greats to come such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

Some of his most memorable hits were Peggy Sue, Oh Boy and That'll Be the Day. The last song was taken from my favorite John Wayne film, The Searchers. The Duke repeated often in the film, "That'll be the day."

Buddy created a band which he named, The Crickets. The band included Waylon Jennings playing bass before his illustrious singing career took off. Holly, along with Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and the pilot were killed in a plane crash in route to their next stop on tour. Waylon gave up his seat to take a bus. Holly and the others died on February 2, 1959.


FRANKIE LYMON 25

Frankie was born on September 30, 1942 in Harlem. He was a rock and roll as well as a rythm and blues singer. Frankie was part of a group called The Teenagers. Their first single was Why Do Fools Fall in Love in 1956 and would remain their biggest hit song.

Frankie ventured out on his own only to find it was harder without the other teenagers. He got hooked on heroin and was found dead on February 27, 1968 at his grandmother's home in Harlem.

OTIS REDDING 26

Otis was born on September 9, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia. Otis was both soul and R & B singer and would later be a producer, song writer and talent scout.

His biggest hit, he wrote and recorded. Sitting On the Dock of the Bay became number one after his death. Otis and members of his group were flying to Madison, Wisconsin and crashed into Lake Monona on December 10, 1967. Musicians everywhere asked for the family to postpone the funeral in order for them to attend including the Beatles who cancelled their London gig to do so. There were over 4,500 in attendance.

THE BIG BOPPER 28

The Big Bopper was born, Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr. on October 24, 1930 in Sabine Pass, Texas. J.P. started as a disc jockey and with his strong personality he took the world by storm as a Rock and Roll singer with his recording of Chantilly Lace.

J.P. was on that infamous flight on February 3, 1959 in Iowa that crashed. The Big Bopper along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens all perished.

DOROTHY DANDRIDGE 42

Dorothy was born on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio. She was both a singer and actress and was the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award. Her nomination came in Carmen Jones with Dorothy in the title role.

She is best remembered for Porgy and Bess in 1959. She recorded Pop music throughout the 40's, 50's and 60's until her death from a drug overdose on September 8, 1965 in West Hollywood, California.

PATSY CLINE 30

Patsy was born, Virginia Patterson Hensley on September 8, 1932 in Gore, Virginia. One of the most famous Country music stars of all time, Patsy crossed over into Pop music in the 60's.

She has been often imitated because of her very gifted voice. Her songs, Crazy, Walkin After Midnight and I fall to Pieces are still as popular today and often re-recorded.

Patsy died in a plane crash on March 5, 1963 in Camden, Tennessee.


GENE VINCENT 36

Gene was born, Vincent Eugene Craddock on February 11, 1935 in Norfolk, Virginia. Gene was a Rockabilly and Rock and Roll singer. His most famous song was Be-Bop-A-Lula in 1956.

Gene was the first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 1997 and later was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Gene died on October 12, 1971 from a ruptured stomach ulcer in Newhall, California.

BOBBY DARIN 37

Bobby was born, Walden Robert Cassotto on May 14, 1936 in The Bronx, New York. I had the pleasure of sitting at the very first table next to the stage in Vegas and watch him perform. He is one of the two or three greatest performers of all time. It was May 1, 1967. I remember the date because Elvis just got married next door at the Alladin Hotel.

The man could sing, dance, do impressions, tell jokes and play just about any instrument. He along with Mickey Rooney and Sammy Davis, Jr. are the greatest entertainers of them all.

Bobby sang Pop, Jazz, Rock; you name it, he could sing it. He first recorded Splish Splash in 1958 which was a hit. He followed with Dream Lover, Mack the Knife and Beyond the Sea and his star continued to rise.

He enjoyed a movie career, a recording career and a stage career and in the middle married Sandra Dee.

Bobby died on December 20, 1973 following a heart operation in Los Angeles, California.

SAM COOKE 33

Sam Cooke was born, Samuel Cook on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He was a singer of Gospel, Pop, R&B and Soul music. Cooke had dozens of hits throughout the 50's and 60's including Twistin the Night Away.

Sam was shot to death on December 11, 1964 by the manager of a hotel in Los Angeles related to Sam being drunk and disorderly. It was ruled justifiable by the court.

ELVIS PRESLEY 42

Elvis was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Often referred to as the King of Rock and Roll, he influenced many great singers and groups such as the Beatles.

Elvis sang everything from gospel to country to pop and was insanely popular in all of them. One of the most famous names in history regardless of vocation, the single name, Elvis stands alone.

I remember his first single, Heartbreak Hotel in 1956 like it was yesterday. His popularity increased year after year and led to movies and huge sellout audiences in Vegas.

Elvis died on August 16, 1977 in Memphis, Tennessee from medication related issues and possible heart attack. 

JIM CROCE 30

Jim was born on January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

His big hit was Bad, Bad Leroy Brown in the 60's which made it to number one on the Billboard.

On September 20, 1973, Croce and several others died in a plane crash upon takeoff in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He had just released a single that day titled, I Got a Name. He was on his way to play at Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

MARIO LANZA 38

Mario was a favorite of mine back in the 50's. He was an outstanding tenor who made the crossover from opera to Hollywood musicals and did it well.

I remember his first hit, Be My Love from one of his films, The Toast of New Orleans. He played Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor in the movie of Caruso's life, The Great Caruso. Ironic that Caruso was his childhood idol and he became almost if not as good as his idol.

Mario died October 7, 1959 from a heart attack following a weight loss surgical procedure.

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    • profile image

      Emerald Strachan 4 years ago

      What a list you have here! I have heard of and listened to most of them. In those days, it seems there were quite a few plane crashes. I remember the movie that was later filmed about "La Bamba". They were all so talented. I saw Carmen just a couple of months ago and I do remember Porgy and Bess too. I can't believe how familiar I am with these stars.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Great Hub!

      So many singers that died in their prime. It is sad. But I guess it is like the song says "If there is a rock n' roll heaven I'm sure they have a hell of a band"

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      You are so welcome and thanks for stopping by.

    • discovery2020 profile image
      Author

      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Yes, I am so glad they continue to show those old films so you can appreciate what Dorothy Dandridge and others contributed to both music and film.

    • discovery2020 profile image
      Author

      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Don't you know they are grooving up there right now? Thanks for your comments.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I don't know what it is about singers dying young. While some happen to be purely accidental like Redding, Valens and Holly, others have a self-destructive instinct that taints them like Elvis and Lymon. It's always tragic but unfortunately it still keeps happening up through this day. Lovely hub!

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Appreciate your stopping by Alecia.

    • BizVT34 profile image

      BizVT34 4 years ago from USA

      Wow, what a trip down memory lane. Good work.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

      I had forgotten how young some of these genius musicians were! Jim Croce, I had no idea he was only 30! Ritchie Valens at 17! Patsy Cline! Their music has all had an impact on my life. Fabulous article.

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Thanks, BB. Appreciate the feedback.

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Thank you. You just brought sunshine to my life!

    • TycoonSam profile image

      TycoonSam 4 years ago from Washington, MI

      Wow, very well written and informative Hub. Like Sunshine625 I had forgotten how young these singers were at the time of their death. All tragic whether accidental of self inflicted.

      Voted up and Awesome

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Thanks, Tycoon! Glad you enjoyed it.

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      candysullwold 4 years ago

      Every black american and whites knew . that Sam Cooke was murder because he will in a motel with a white woman. Back then it was taboo.(like Sammy Davie Jr.). Now people still hate the idea. But they have to deal with it. he was a good singer during that time period.but what hurt me the most was when ELVIS PRESLEY die. He was every young , old,black,and white etc. belove singer.One of his best song to me was you're aint nothing but a "Hound Dog" on the Ed Sullivan show.

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Thanks for your comments, Candy

    • profile image

      candysullwold 4 years ago

      You arewelcome Discovery

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      Ritchie Valens looked very much older for his age. ;)

      Well, I guess up heaven they're smiling broadly... for many people have been touched and influenced by their music. Lovely and wonderful piece of work there, Discovery. :)

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 4 years ago from TEXAS

      Appreciate the comments Vibesites! You are so right.

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      ArthurGrech 2 years ago

      You have mentioned some great and wonderful singers and entertainers of the 50's and 60's but I fail to understand as to why you have not added Neil Sedaka to your list, who was a great singer and song writer for many famous singers, and now we can also add Phil Everly, from the Everly Brothers to the list, also great singers of the 50's & 60's

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 2 years ago from TEXAS

      Best answer for Neil Sedaka is that he is still alive and well. As for Phil Everly, he died this January at age 74. The title of my article is "Singers of the 40's, 50's & 60's who died YOUNG.

    • profile image

      ArthurGrech 2 years ago

      My apology, Your site does state singers that have died at a young age, and I honestly thought Neil Sedaka had passed away, but again even if he had passed on, his still a ripe old age of 75 yrs old.

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 2 years ago from TEXAS

      No problem. I admire anyone that admits to mistakes.

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      Johnk878 2 years ago

      I think you have noted some very interesting points , appreciate it for the post. fbkfdfdffddk

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 2 years ago from TEXAS

      You're welcome!

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      Pharmf683 2 years ago

      Very nice site!

    • discovery2020 profile image
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      discovery2020 2 years ago from TEXAS

      Thanks so much!

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