It’s a tragic fact that enough musicians have died at the young age of 27 for them to be known, collectively, as members of the “27 Club” or “Forever 27”. Whether through misadventure, foul play or the hard-living lifestyle that some artists embrace, their deaths have left huge gaps not just in the lives of their fans, but in the lives of the loved-ones they left behind. Some of the causes of death remain unresolved, but all of them have left a bigger question behind: the “what if?” of unfulfilled potential – of losing a tragically young artist while they’re still in their prime.
Who is in the 27 Club?
Reluctant “members” of a unique group, the 27 Club includes everyone from blues pioneers to countercultural 60s icons, blossoming hip-hop stars and remarkable singers who, despite their short time on this earth, became hailed as voices for their respective generations.
This chronological – though not exhaustive – look at 20 members of the 27 Club spans a century of music-making, reminding us of the much-loved artists we’ve lost, and the sheer talent it takes to create lasting, world-changing music.
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
All blues myths lead back to Robert Johnson, the man who allegedly sold his soul to The Devil at a crossroads, in return for the ability to play guitar like no other musician before him. Pioneering the Delta blues, Johnson left behind 41 recordings that went on to influence every generation of blues musician since, from Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix and Jack White. The Devil called in the debt in 1938 – but no one knows quite how. Theories ranging from the onset of Marfan syndrome to contracting syphilis or murder by poison fuel the mythology behind one of the earliest entrants to the 27 Club.
Cause of death: Unknown
Must hear: Crossroad Blues