Singer Joe Cocker, whose huge, sandpapery voice and wild stage presence thrilled rock audiences for more than 40 years, died early Monday after a battle with lung cancer. He was 70.
Cocker died in Crawford, Colo., where he has lived for the past two decades with his wife, Pam.
The Sheffield, England-born singer was best known for a memorable Woodstock performance in 1969 where he delivered a cover of The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends with almost frightening intensity.
The ballad You Are So Beautiful, with Cocker’s voice cracking on the final emotional note, was a Top 10 hit in 1975. He reached the top of the charts again in the 1980s with the duet Up Where We Belong, with Jennifer Warnes. The song appeared in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman and won them a 1983 Grammy Award for best vocal performance by a duo or group. It also won best original song at the Oscars and the Golden Globes.
“Joe Cocker is a legendary artist of rock and blues history and yet he was one of the most humble men I’ve ever met,” said Edgar Berger, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, in a statement. “His iconic voice will forever be etched in our memories. Joe will live on in the hearts of millions of fans around the world.”
“Joe was one of the most powerful white singers of rock, soul and R&B that we’ve ever had,” says Barney Hoskyns, editor of online library rocksbackpages.com. His voice was “one of the defining sounds of the hippie revolution. When he performed live he got completely lost in his music.”
Cocker made his public debut in Sheffield at 12, when his brother Victor invited him onstage to sing with his skiffle band. “My voice hadn’t really broken, but I could sing all the Lonnie Donegan songs from the skiffle era,” Cocker told USA TODAY in 2012. “My brother and his band loved to hear me sing, because I could do them all in the same key.”
Cocker’s early ’60s band, Vance Arnold & The Avengers, initially missed out on the British Invasion, but he got a second chance during what he called “the Whiter Shade of Pale era.” That 1967 Procol Harum hit reinvigorated the British pop scene and led directly to high-profile appearances by Cocker, including his Sunday afternoon set at Woodstock in 1969. Cocker sang several songs that day, including Delta Lady, Ray Charles’ Let’s Go Get Stoned and Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. But his version of The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends became a career-igniting performance.
“We just had a good day,” Cocker recalled. “We went on real early, and we got a good sound. It took a long time to connect with the audience, though.”
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SOURCE: USA Today
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