Obituaries: Canadian Artist manager Larry Wanagas, Toby Keith & More
This week we also acknowledge the passing of Wayne Kramer, Carol Brown, Chita Rivera, Wayne Patton and Austin 'Family Man' Barrett.
Carol Brown, an award-winning Jamaican-Canadian reggae singer, died on Jan. 31. Her age and cause of death has not been reported.
Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, she gained attention as one half of The Loving Sisters duo, where she began winning talent shows at age 14, and then as the resident female singer with the Tornadoes band alongside Junior Murvin (later to become a major reggae star).
Reggae Northreports that "in 1972, she migrated to Canada, where she continued to develop her solo career. However, her roots called her back, and in 1974, she reunited with her hometown band, now known as The Young Experience, with Junior Murvin and trumpeter Bobby Ellis." That group became very popular in Jamaica.
As a solo artist, from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, Brown shared stages in Canada, the U.S. and England with such genre stars as Leroy Sibbles, Yellow Man and Sugar Minott. She also collaborated with the likes of Alton Ellis, John Holt and Beres Hammond solidified her status as a respected figure in the genre.
Such singles as "Touch Me Baby," "I Won’t Hurt Your Feeling," and "Feel So Good" made the British Reggae charts.
In the 1980s and 90s, Brown won awards as Top Female Performer and Top Female Reggae Singer at the Canada Reggae Music Awards
In 2019, she was honoured as one of the Titans of Toronto Reggae, joining such fellow honorees as Leroy Sibbles, Stranger Cole, Jay Douglas, Liberty Silver and Otis Gayle in a celebratory concert at The Opera House.
In acknowledging her passing on Facebook, Toronto music authority Nicholas Jennings termed Brown "one of the queens of the Toronto reggae scene. A popular artist for many years, she was also the wife of reggae legend Jackie Mittoo."
Also on Facebook, Friendlyness of Toronto reggae band the Human Rights recalled that "I always loved her from back in the '80s when she used to perform on the big stage shows at the Concert Hall. Thankful to have got to know her and have her consider us friends. 'Wha’ppen Friendly?' Thankful we did some works together right up until this time. Thankful for the phone calls."
Wayne Whildon Patton, a Canadian record label executive, died on Jan. 24, at age 80.
An obituary published in The Globe and Mail stated that "Patton's love of music helped him forge a career in the music business, beginning in the late 1960s and onwards into the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. He was given the opportunity to work for several major record companies, including Capitol Records, CBS Records [as VP Music Publishing] and Sony Music.
"He worked as a business executive and public relations man in charge of music publishing for most of those years, developed a global network of friends and associates, and participated in international corporate conferences that took him to the annual Cannes Music Festival in France as well as to major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris.
"Before he retired from the world of work, he also taught music publishing and related courses at the Toronto International School of Design and Technology, and enjoyed mentoring young college students eager to build their own futures within the music industry."
The obituary also noted that "During his working years he travelled widely, made and maintained friends both near and far, and did well because he was a good listener and was always glad to offer helpful advice where and when he could."
A funeral service was held in Guelph on Feb. 2. Donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation would be appreciated. In lieu of flowers, a tree may be planted in a Memorial Forest of your choice.
Connie Sinclair, a broadcaster best known as a newsreader at CBC Radio in Toronto, died on Feb. 2. The announcement of Sinclair's death did not specify her age or the cause of her death, though she had been battling cancer.
A CBC obituary noted that “Sinclair began her career in radio before leaving the sector to focus on family, bringing with it a pivot to childhood learning and parent education. She eventually returned to broadcasting as an anchor at NewsTalk 1010 before her time as an afternoon newsreader for CBC Radio in Toronto."
Larry Wanagas, a veteran artist manager and record label head who boosted the careers of k.d. lang, The Trews, and many more, died on Jan. 31. His age and a cause of death have not been reported.
Wanagas began his music business career in Edmonton as Entertainment Director at the University of Alberta. After two years there, he opened his own recording studio, Homestead Recorders and simultaneously launched Bumstead Productions, focusing on artist management, an independent label, and music publishing.
He made a major mark by signing a young k.d. lang to a 360 deal which encompassed, artist management, recording and publishing agreements. Under Wanagas’ guidance led to a 15 year run of successful international tours, multi-platinum album sales, accolades and countless awards for lang.
Artists releasing albums and singles on Bumstead included lang, Colin James, Modern Minds (featuring Moe Berg), Glen Stace, The Trews, BOY, Two Hours Traffic, The Blue Shadows, Yukon Blonde, Tim Chaisson and Poor Young Things.
Many of those artists were handled by the label's management arm, Bumstead Productions Ltd, alongside such other Canadian and international artists as Susan Aglukark, Big Sugar, Erasure, Emma-Lee, Madeleine Peyroux, Staggered Crossing, The East Pointers, The Lazys, John Ford and Peter Elkas.
During the 1980s, Bumstead Productions was based in Vancouver for a period. In 1995, Wanagas took the position of President of independent label MUTE Records U.S. in New York City, a tenure that lasted two years. He relocated to Toronto in 1999, where Bumstead Productions remained based until Wanagas' retirement in 2017.
In 2014, Wanagas decided to focus exclusively on artist management, and he sold the recording division of Bumstead Productions to Toronto-based music entrepreneur Khaled Verjee in partnership with Nettwerk Music Group, as HOME Music Company. At the time, the CIMA newsletter quoted Wanagas as stating "My focus has always been primarily on management. It's what I enjoy most and do best and where I have had my biggest success."
Wanagas is also remembered for his tireless work for many Canadian music industry organizations. He was a Director of the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings (FACTOR) and served on the boards of the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) and Music Managers Forum Canada, which honoured Wanagas with a lifetime achievement award in 2012.
He was the co-founder and General Manager of the Alberta Recording Industry Association, and served on the Music Industry Advisory Committee of the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC).
Tim Des Islets of Noisemaker Management (The East Pointers, Great Lake Swimmers) offered this Facebook tribute: "The four years I spent at Bumstead were my Master's education in artist management and the music industry. Everything I know now about the industry can be traced back to what Larry taught me and he brought me in to everything.
"In my first week working for Larry he told me I had to book a 20-date US tour for the fall... and it had to get done quickly. For four years he would throw any assignment at me and it was an opportunity to learn. He took me and sent me around Canada and the world to conferences and on tour, introduced me to everyone he knew, and let me work with bands I believed in.
"We started with The East Pointers just as I was leaving the company to start Noisemaker Management. I am beyond grateful for my time at Bumstead working with Larry and I know my life would be completely different if it wasn't for those four years."
Colin James forwarded this tribute to Billboard Canada: "I was saddened to hear about Larry’s passing. He played a large part in my early career after asking me to meet him for lunch at the Palliser Hotel restaurant after opening for kd lang there as a member of Billy Cowsill’s band in 1984.
"He told me he was moving to Vancouver and if I was interested in being managed by him and Steve Macklam when he got there. I had just played with Stevie Ray Vaughan at the time and lots was starting to happen. Very exciting times for me, and there, lo and behold, was Larry Wanagas. Always a champion of the music. RIP Larry W."
Now one of Canada's biggest rock bands, The Trews were signed to Bumstead Productions until Wanagas' retirement in 2017. On Facebook, the group posted this homage: "It’s no exaggeration to say that we would not be where we are today, would probably not have gotten off the ground at all, were it not for Larry Wanagas. He believed in our band, and put his money where his mouth was, at a time when very few others did.
"We first met him in 2002 when he was one of only a handful of people checking us out at Healey’s in Toronto and he spent the next 15 years managing our career. A ride that had many ups and downs, euphoric highs and painful lows. We lost him on Wednesday but we’ll always be grateful for the time, energy and passion he put in to helping our band live out it’s dream. Our thoughts are with Sheryl, Tim and Dusty at this time. Rest easy Lars."
Julian Taylor, frontman of Staggered Crossing, contributed this tribute to Billboard Canada: "Me and all the members of Staggered Crossing send out our prayers and condolences to the Wanagas family. Larry was our first and only manager and managed the band in our early years. We were just naive kids back then and he taught us a lot about how the music business worked. We are saddened to hear of his passing and send our love to Sheryl, Dusty and Tim."
Toronto music publicist Erin Kinghorn on Facebook: "Bumstead was one of eEK! first long-term clients…I was only hired for a 4 month contract and ended up staying for 7 years. It would have been even longer if he had not retired. I will always be grateful to him for giving me 'a shot' as he put it. He is someone who truly loved music and his love of his clients was only shadowed by his love of his family and friends. Goodbye dear friend, you will be missed."
Moe Berg (The Pursuit Of Happiness) posted this tribute on his Facebook page: "Very sad to hear of the passing of Larry Wanagas. He was my first real manager back in Edmonton and The Modern Minds recorded their first tracks at his 8-Track studio, Homestead Recorders. Travel well, Larry."
Former Warner Music Canada head Steve Kane (on Facebook): "Larry was one of the good guys in my book. He wasn’t flash but he got shit done and always put his artists first. He had a sly sense of humour and could spin a tale. My condolences to his family, friends and all the folks out there who were touched by his kind and gentle soul."
Australian rock band The Lazys (on Facebook): "We are saddened to hear of the passing of Larry Wanagas. After performing at Canadian Music Week back in 2014, Larry became our first manager in Canada and was one of the very first few who believed in us. Sending our deepest condolences to Larry’s family and friends. Rest in peace Larry. Thanks for the memories mate."
On Facebook, Canadian music business veteran Brian Allen termed Wanagas "An unusually calm figure amidst the storms of the industry. Thank you, Larry."
Aston Francis "Family Man" Barrett, a reggae bassist best known for his role in Bob Marley & The Wailers, died on Feb. 3, at age 77.
His son, Aston Barrett Jr., shared the news on social media: “With the heaviest of hearts, we share the news of the passing of our beloved Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett after a long medical battle. This morning, the world lost not just an iconic musician and the backbone of The Wailers but a remarkable human being whose legacy is as immense as his talent."
The Kingston-based Barrett initially played in Lee 'Scratch' Perry’s house band, The Upsetters, before joining The Wailers with his brother Carlton in 1971. As a member of The Wailers, Aston was in charge of song arrangements and also co-produced & engineered several of the group’s albums, including Catch a Fire and Exodus.
Barrett left The Wailers in 1981.In 2006, he unsuccessfully sued Island Records, the group’s label, asking for £60 million in unpaid royalties.
In its obituary, The Guardian noted that Barrett " was also a mentor to many Jamaican musicians including Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare of the reggae production duo Sly & Robbie. But his legacy stretched much further, as he continued to tour with later iterations of the Wailers."
In 2021, Barrett was honoured with the Order of Distinction (Commander class) in the National Honours and Awards on Jamaica’s 59th Anniversary of Independence.
Of note: Barrett's son, Aston Barrett Jr., currently leads a version of The Wailers that continues to tour internationally. He will portray his father in the upcoming Bob Marley biopic, One Love.
Toby Keith (Covel), one of the biggest country music stars of the Nineties and 2000s, died on Feb. 5, at age 62, following a diagnosis of stomach cancer.
Last December, December 2023, Keith performed at Park MGM in Las Vegas, his first official headlining shows since he revealed his cancer diagnosis.
In its obituary, Rolling Stone wrote that "Keith performed country music with an unapologetic dose of patriotism and an unrelenting swagger in songs like “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” “How Do You Like Me Now?!” and “Who’s Your Daddy?”
The extensive obituary in Billboard noted that the Oklahoma-born Keith “worked in the oil industry and played in the USFL football league before pivoting to music. His big break came when a flight attendant handed his demo to Mercury Records exec Harold Shedd, who signed him to the label.
"Keith’s 1993 self-titled Mercury debut featured such traditional country tunes as “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action" and following albums 1994’s Boomtown ,1996’s Blue Moon, and Dream Walkin’ spawned multiple hit singles."
“He moved over to Dreamworks Records in 1999 for How Do You Like Me Now?, whose title track proved to be his mainstream breakthrough also making the pop charts."
That run of success continued until recently. Over his career, Keith scored 52 top 10 hits and 32 No. 1s on the country charts, many being his own compositions. His last album, a 13-track collection entitled 100% Songwriter, was released in November.
Over the years, Keith played for U.S. presidents including George W Bush. Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Keith was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2021, and he received the Merle Haggard Spirit Award from the ACM in 2020, as well as the National Medal of the Arts in 2021.
Tributes from many of his peers are included in this Billboard feature.
Wayne Kramer, guitarist and co-founder of the influential Detroit rock band the MC5, died on Feb. 2, at age 75, of pancreatic cancer.
His passing was reported on his official Facebook page, along with a statement that "He will be remembered for starting a revolution in music, culture, and kindness."
An AP obituary noted that "the protopunk band the MC5 thrashed out such hardcore anthems as “Kick Out the Jams” and influenced everyone from The Clash to Rage Against the Machine. From the late 1960s to early 1970s, no band was closer to the revolutionary spirit of the time than the MC5, which featured Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith on guitars, Rob Tyner on vocals, Michael Davis on bass and Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson on drums.
Managed for a time by White Panther co-founder John Sinclair, they were known for their raw, uncompromising music, which they envisioned as the soundtrack for the uprising to come."
The MC5 was considered one of the most political rock bands of the counterculture, and it played the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention, in Chicago, featuring police violence upon anti-war protesters.
The group only released three albums, beginning with a live debut, Kick Out the Jams that reached No. 30 on the Billboard 200 in 1969, their highest-charting release. It was followed by Back in the USA and High Time, prior to the band breaking up at the end of 1972.
Kramer was arrested on drug charges in 1975 and given a four year prison term. That incident is cited in The Clash song, "Jail Guitar Doors," referencing "Wayne and his deals of cocaine.”
Upon his release in 1979, Kramer went on to play with the bands Was (Not Was), with Don Was, and Gang War, with punk icon Johnny Thunders. released solo albums, and led assorted lineups of the MC5 over the years, including a 50th anniversary tour in 2018.
In 2022, Kramer linked up with veteran Canadian rock producer Bob Ezrin, collaborating on Alice Cooper’s Detroit Stories album and working on material for a proposed new MC5 album.
Beyond his music projects, Kramer had continued his work with Jail Guitar Doors, the nonprofit prison outreach program he cofounded in 2009, including its youth initiative — the CAPO Center (Community Arts, Programming and Outreach) — that opened in his adopted home of Los Angeles.
He has also composed for film and television, including a score for the award-winning 2018 Red Wings documentary The Russian Five, and another documentary, Coldwater Kitchen.
If you would like to honour Kramer, donations are appreciated to his nonprofit organization, Jail Guitar Doors, here
Chita Rivera, a pioneering Tony-winning dancer and singer, died on Jan. 30, at age 91.
A Billboard obituary called Rivera "a Broadway legend," one who found fame via roles in such hits as West Side Story, Chicago and Kiss of the Spider Woman.
"Rivera first gained wide notice in 1957 as Anita in the original production of West Side Story and was still dancing on Broadway with her trademark energy a half-century later in 2015’s The Visit," reported Billboard.
Rivera was nominated for ten Tony awards, tying her with Julie Harris for the most nominations for an actress at the ceremony. She won two out of the 10: in 1984 for The Rink and in 1993 for Kiss of the Spider Woman. She was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 2018.
Outside of Broadway, Rivera's TV roles included The Outer Limits and TheThe New Dick Van Dyke Show.
In 2002, Rivera was the first Latina to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, and, in 2009, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.