6 singers who died before they were appreciated by music-lovers

4 June 2019, 16:46 | Updated: 18 December 2020, 16:07

Eva Cassidy / Nick Drake
Picture: Blix Street/Island

By Tom Eames

Not every artist is able to find fame and success straight away. In fact, some may take a few years to finally get noticed.

Tragically, some artists may never know how much their music was appreciated during their own lifetime.

While they never had to deal with the trappings or problems that fame brings, these are some of the biggest artists of all time who had no idea just how well-respected they would one day become.

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  1. Eva Cassidy

    Eva Cassidy - Over The Rainbow

    American singer Eva Cassidy had been performing for years, but was virtually unknown by the time she tragically died of melanoma in 1996, aged just 33.

    Two years after her death, Cassidy's music was brought to the attention of British fans, when her versions of 'Fields of Gold' and 'Over the Rainbow' were played on national radio.

    Soon after, her album Songbird was number one in the UK, and she has since sold over 10 million records around the world.

  2. Nick Drake

    Nick Drake - Pink Moon

    English singer-songwriter Nick Drake sadly failed to find a large audience during his lifetime.

    He recorded three albums - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon by 1972, but none had sold more than 5,000 copies. He was also reluctant to perform live or give interviews, which didn't help his commercial success.

    He died at the age of 26 from an overdose of prescribed antidepressants, after years of suffering from depression.

    By the 1990s, his music had found new recognition after being credited as an influence by such artists as Robert Smith and Peter Buck, and the use of 'Pink Moon' in a Volkswagen commercial.

    Now, he is considered one of the greatest folk singers of all time, despite never being more than a cult artist in his lifetime.

  3. Jeff Buckley

    Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah (Official Video)

    The son of singer Tim Buckley, Jeff had scored mild success in the mid-1990s.

    His debut album Grace received minimal airplay and achieved slow sales in 1994, despite positive reviews.

    In 1997, Buckley was about to continue recording his second album, but accidentally drowned during a spontaneous night swim, fully clothed, in the Mississippi River. He died aged just 30.

    In the years since his death, his music began to be reappraised, with various compilations of unreleased material getting official releases. His cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' has become a modern classic, and reached number two in the UK in 2008.

  4. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole

    🌈 Israel Kamakawiwo'ole ➖ 'Over The Rainbow' & 'What A Wonderful World' Medley ➖ 1993 🌈

    Also known as Bruddah Iz or IZ, Israel was a Native Hawaiian singer-songwriter and Hawaiian sovereignty activist.

    He had released three albums in his lifetime, but died in 1997 aged 38 due to respiratory, heart, and other medical problems, brought on by his obesity.

    Four years earlier, he had recorded a beautiful medley cover of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' and 'What a Wonderful World', and the song began being used and covered in various TV shows and movies, such as Meet Joe Black, 50 First Dates, Scrubs, Glee, and Life on Mars.

    By 2014, it had sold over 4 million copies around the world, and his music has reached audiences around the world.

  5. Otis Redding

    Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay (Official Music Video)

    Otis Redding was already a popular and successful soul singers by the time of his death, but he wouldn't ever know just how hugely influential he would become.

    Just three days after recording his most famous song - '(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay' - Otis tragically died aged 26 after a plane crash in Wisconsin in December 1967.

    See more: 5 facts you might not know about Otis Redding

    The song became a huge hit, and he went on to be known as one of the greatest singers in the history of American popular music, influencing everyone from The Beatles to Aretha Franklin to the Bee Gees.

  6. Jim Croce

    Jim Croce - Bad Bad Leroy Brown (Midnight Special - 1973)

    American singer-songwriter Jim Croce recorded five albums between 1966 and 1973, but his first two were commercial flops.

    He finally found a breakthrough with 1972's You Don't Mess Around with Jim, but just as he was finding fame he died in a plane crash in early 1973.

    The song 'Time in a Bottle' reached number one after his death, and two more albums were released later that year featuring unreleased material.