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Published on January 3, 2007
Soul Heaven : Remembering Deaths of 2006

2006 was a year of notable deaths.  Here is a list of artists who passed on to what Johnnie Taylor called "soul heaven."

James Brown - One of the greatest artists of all time, Brown's relentless intensity and rhythmic innovations influenced rock, soul, funk, disco and rap. Earned several titles including "Soul Brother Number One," "Mr. Dynamite," and "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business."  His 1967 single "Cold Sweat" is often cited as the first funk record.  Died of pneumonia on December 25 at the age of 73.

Bruce Carter - Drummer for Pleasure, the ensemble that recorded the funk classics "Glide" and "Joyous."  Died of a heart attack on August 12.

Ahmet Ertegun - Founder of the legendary Atlantic label, Ertegun helped bring r&b and soul music to national prominence with his signings of Ray Charles, the Coasters and Ruth Brown in the 1950s as well as his support for the Memphis sound typified by the Stax label. Died December 13 at the age of 83.

Maynard Ferguson - Trumpeter whose distinctive high register made him a legend, Ferguson enjoyed a long career that spanned big band to funkier works like his cover of Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon."  Died of kidney failure on August 23 at the age of 78.

King Floyd - Singer best remembered for the southern classic "Groove Me."  Died March 6 of a stroke at the age of 61. 

Freddie Gorman - Singer for the Originals, best known for "Baby I'm For Real" and "Down to Love Town."  Gorman also wrote "Please Mr. Postman" for the Marvelettes. Died June 13 at the age of 67.

Gerald Levert - Singer, writer and producer Levert was one of the most consistent artists in adult r&b.  Died November 10 of a heart attack at the age of 40. 

Arif Mardin - Producer whose artists ranged from Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan to Norah Jones, Mardin was also an essential foundation of Atlantic Records, cultivating the label's legacy as a pioneer in soul. Died of cancer on June 25 at the age of 74.

Gene McFadden - Half of the duo McFadden and Whitehead, McFadden was a writer and producer of some of the biggest hits on the Philadelphia International label. Died January 27 of cancer at the age of 57.

Wilson Pickett - Responsible for some of the most memorable songs of the 1960s, Pickett was a crucial performer for the Atlantic label, earning the nickname "Wicked."  Among his hits are "Mustang Sally," "In the Midnight Hour," "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Funky Broadway," many of which remain staples of performers' repertoire. Also recorded "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" and "Don't Knock My Love" in the 1970s.  Was featured in the film The Commitments. Died of a heart attack on January 19 at the age of 64.

June Pointer - Member of the Pointer Sisters, June was also a writer of "Fairytale," for which they were nominated for a Grammy in the country category.  Died April 11of cancer at the age of 52.

Billy Preston - Versatile performer also known as the "Fifth Beatle," Preston excelled across musical genres, playing gospel, rock and soul. His keyboard playing made him a sought-out musician and he worked with nearly every major artist dating from the 1960s through today. Became a solo star with his tunes "Outta Space," "You Are So Beautiful" and "Will It Go Round In Circles."  Was one of the first musical guests on Saturday Night Live. Died on June 5 of kidney failure at the age of 59.

Lou Rawls - Prolific velvet-voiced singer who recorded gospel, soul and jazz.  Sang background vocals on Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me."  Enjoyed a successful run on Capitol Records in the 1960s, where he recorded "Dead End Street," "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing," and "Your Good Thing Is About To Come To An End" with producer David Axelrod.  Won the R&B Grammy in 1972 in an upset over Marvin Gaye.  Experienced career rebirth when he signed to Philadelphia International, for whom he recorded his best known tune "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine."  Instrumental in raising millions of dollars for education via his United Negro College Fund Parade of Stars telethon. Died January 6 of cancer at the age of 72.

Charles Smith - Original member and guitarist of Kool and the Gang, Smith co-wrote some of their biggest hits, including "Joanna" and the title cut of the 1974 Light of Worlds LP. Died June 20 of cancer at the age of 57. 

Tony Sylvester - Member of the Main Ingredient, he also released a solo album entitled The Magic Touch in 1976. Died November 26 at the age of 65.

Johnnie Wilder - Singer of the group Heatwave, the voice behind the classic ballad "Always and Forever."  He was involved in a car accident in 1979 that left him paralyzed, but he continued to record.  Died May 13. 

Milan Williams - Keyboardist and co-founder of the Commodores.  He wrote the group's first hit, "Machine Gun," and earned the name "Quick Draw" for his playing abilities. Also refused to perform in apartheid-era South Africa. Died July 9 of cancer at the age of 58. 

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