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Life after death: the best R&B songs released posthumously

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, Dec 1st 2017

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


When musicians die, news reports are often filled with images and footage of fans mourning as though they have lost a friend or family member. That mourning takes on new heights if the musician left music behind. Those songs become unintended elegies, requiems for the potential that's forever lost, and the artistry that will live in perpetuity.

Today we look back at some of the best R&B songs to be released posthumously.

Sam Cooke, 'A Change is Gonna Come'

This song became an anthem for African-American struggle and resistance. A hallmark of the civil rights movement, "A Change is Gonna Come" is also considered one of the greatest songs of all time. Cooke was inspired to create it following an incident where he and his band were turned away from a motel in Louisiana; the motel refused to serve Black people. Cooke performed the song publicly only once on The Tonight Showˆ, and the tape of that performance was not saved. Two weeks before it was released as a single, Cooke died, on Dec. 11, 1964, after being shot at a Los Angeles motel. He was 33 years old.

Otis Redding, '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay'

It was a song unlike any other in his catalogue. Inspired by the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Otis Redding wanted to create a similar sound. His label boss hated the song. His bassist thought it would damage his reputation. His wife gave it a thumbs down. But Redding was stubborn. He declared "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" his best song to date, and told everyone that it would be at the top of the charts.

Three days after recording it, Redding died in a plane crash on Dec. 10, 1967, along with four members of the Bar Kays Band and the pilot of the plane. He was 26 years old. As Redding predicted, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" went to No. 1 after its release in March of the following year, becoming the first posthumous No. 1 record in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Aaliyah, 'I Miss You'

When Aaliyah died in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001, at the age of 22, the music world went into shock. Her album had been released a month earlier and the songs "Rock the Boat," "More than a Woman" and "I Care 4 U" were all released as posthumous singles. However, in the following year, the album I Care 4 U was released with the lead single "I Miss You," and it became the signature song for Aaliyah fans still mourning her departure. The accompanying music video opened with a heartfelt tribute by rapper DMX and featured many of the biggest musical acts of the day singing along to the lyrics. "I Miss You" was a top 10 hit, and for many of Aaliyah's fans it became the soft and soulful lament they needed to mourn her passing.

Marvin's Room Playlist for Dec. 1, 2017

  1. En Vogue, "Hold On"
  2. Aretha Franklin, "Rock Steady"
  3. Claire Mortifee, "Summer Sun"
  4. Casey MQ feat. Junia-T, "Redbird"
  5. Rihanna, "Same Ol’ Mistakes"
  6. The Chi-Lites, "Oh Girl"
  7. Otis Redding, "(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay"
  8. Nick Hakim, "Needy Bees"
  9. Sylo Nozra feat. Art of Shades, "Meadows"
  10. Tyler the Creator feat. Kali Uchis, "See You Again"
  11. Rhye, "Taste"
  12. Maylee Todd, "Afanyala"