Awards

Selena, Buddy Holly & More Musicians Who Died in Their 20s But Received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards

Selena
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Selena in the press room at the 1994 Grammy Awards in New York City.

Selena played a key role in Latin music’s move to the mainstream, even though she didn’t live to see it.

Selena was just 23 when she was died in 1995, which makes her selection for a 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy remarkable. This year’s selections were announced on Tuesday (Dec. 22).

Only one other artist who had such a brief life has received that top Grammy honor, which was first presented in 1963. That artist? Buddy Holly, who was just 22 when he died in 1959.

Both Holly and Selena were highly influential. Holly’s songcraft had a major influence on such artists as The Beatles, Elton John and Elvis Costello. And Selena played a key role in Latin music’s move to the mainstream, even though she didn’t live to see it. She died four years before the 1999 Latin pop boom that centered around Ricky Martin and Santana and decades before Latin pop’s current re-emergence.

Both stars’ dramatic life stories inspired hit movies. Gary Busey received an Oscar nomination for playing the bespectacled singer/songwriter in the 1978 film The Buddy Holly Story.  Jennifer Lopez received acclaim for playing the Tejano star in the 1997 film Selena.

Keef Cowboy, a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was 28 when he died in 1989. That rap ensemble was also selected this year to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

All of this year’s honorees will be briefly acknowledged on the 63rd annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 31. They’ll be honored more fully at a later date.

Here are 14 solo artists or group members who died before turning 30, but who have received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Recording Academy. They are listed in descending order of their age when they died, youngest last.

Hank Williams: The country legend was 29 years and 11 months old when he died of alcohol and drug abuse on Jan. 1, 1953. He left behind such classic songs as “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Tony Bennett had a 1951 smash with Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” George Hamilton played Williams in the 1964 movie Your Cheatin’ Heart. Lifetime Achievement Award: 1987

Keef Cowboy: The hip-hop artist, a member of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was 28 years and 11 months old when he died of a drug overdose on Sept. 8, 1989. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which recorded the 1982 classic “The Message,” is slated to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.

Jimi Hendrix: The rock guitarist was 27 years and nine months old when he died of a drug overdose on Sept. 18, 1970. Hendrix hit his zenith in 1968 with Electric Ladyland, a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, and a hit version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Lifetime Achievement Award: 1992

Janis Joplin: Joplin was 27 years and eight months old when she died of a heroin overdose on Oct. 4, 1970. With Big Brother & The Holding Company, she had a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, Cheap Thrills, in 1968. Joplin returned to the top spot on her own after her death with Pearl and also hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the classic “Me and Bobby McGee.” Lifetime Achievement Award: 2005

Jim Morrison: The charismatic front-man for The Doors was 27 years and six months old when he died of heart failure on July 3, 1971. The Doors exploded in 1967 with “Light My Fire,” a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100. They returned to the top spot the following year with “Hello, I Love You.” They also topped the Billboard 200 in 1968 with Waiting for the Sun. Val Kilmer played Morrison in Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie The Doors. The Doors received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Ron “Pigpen” McKernan: The founding member of Grateful Dead was 27 years and six months old when he died of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage on March 8, 1973. Grateful Dead received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Brian Jones: The former guitarist for The Rolling Stones was 27 years and four months old when he drowned on July 3, 1969. He died less than a month after he was dismissed from the group, which had at that point amassed 11 top 10 hits on the Hot 100, including such classics as “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Ruby Tuesday.” The Rolling Stones received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986.

Robert Johnson: Johnson, dubbed “the king of the delta blues singers,” was 27 years and three months old when he died of strychnine poisoning on Aug. 16, 1938. The singer/guitarist’s works were collected on The Complete Recordings in 1990. Eric Clapton paid tribute to Johnson on his 2004 album, Me and Mr. Johnson. Lifetime Achievement Award: 2006

Otis Redding: Redding was 26 years and three months old when he died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. He died just six months after Aretha Franklin topped the Hot 100 with her classic version of his composition, “Respect.” Redding went on to have a posthumous No. 1 hit of his own with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Lifetime Achievement Award: 1999

John Mills Jr.: Mills, a founding member of The Mills Brothers, was 25 years and three months old when he fell ill and died on Jan. 23, 1936. He had performed on such hits as “Tiger Rag” and “Dinah,” a collab with Crosby. He was replaced in the line-up by his father, John Mills Sr. The Mills Brothers received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

Duane Allman: The lead guitarist for The Allman Brothers Band was 24 years and 11 months old when he died in a motorcycle crash on Oct. 29, 1971. Allman was featured on such albums as At Fillmore East and Eat A Peach. The Allman Brothers Band received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Berry Oakley: Oakley, bassist for The Allman Brothers Band, died in a motorcycle crash on Nov. 11, 1972 -- a little more than a year after Duane Allman’s death in similar circumstances. Oakley was 24 years and seven months old. The Allman Brothers Band received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Selena: The budding Tejano star was shot to death by the founder of her fan club on March 31, 1995. Selena was 23 years and 11 months old. Her fifth and final studio album, Dreaming of You, opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 four months later.  Lifetime Achievement Award: 2021

Buddy Holly: Holly was 22 years and four months old when he died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. He co-wrote such songs as “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue” and “Maybe Baby.” Lifetime Achievement Award: 1997

'Selena', 'Straight Outta Compton' & More Music Biopics to Binge Watch | Billboard News