Keith Emerson Dead At 71

keith-emerson Keith Emerson, the synth god of a generation, has died at age 71.

His death was announced at the Emerson, Lake & Palmer Facebook page:

We regret to announce that Keith Emerson died last night at his home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, aged 71. We ask that the family’s privacy and grief be respected.

Keith Emerson At Moogfest:

Here’s a performance from the heyday of ELP, Hoedown:

Here’s a great performance of Emerson’s, along with Oscar Peterson, of Honky Tonky Train Blues:

Here’s a performance from Moogfest in NYC, where Emerson was introduced by Bob Moog:

Around the world, musicians and synth designers mourned Emerson’s death, and shared stories of Emerson’s influence on their lives.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music,” said fellow ELP member Carl Palmer.  “Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come. He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz.”

“I’ve been a fan since the days of The Nice and I wore out the first 3 ELP records,” said Echoes host John Diliberto. “Welcome my friends, to another show that has ended.”

“He took Keyboards out of the shadows,” said Spectrasonics founder Eric Persing. “He was our Hendrix.”


Moog Music shared this message:

“Today we must say a difficult goodbye to a beloved member of the Moog Music Family.  He was the first man to tour with the Moog Modular Synthesizer- a true pioneer of the instrument whose technical skill and limitless ability to express himself through electronic sound shaped the contemporary view of the synthesizer as a performance instrument.”

“WIthout him, I would have been a PhD chemist off making generic shampoo for WalMart,” says Synthesis Technology’s Paul Schreiber.

“Totally devastated,” said synthesist John Serrie. “I owe it all to this man.”

“Speechless,” said fellow prog keyboardist Erik Norlander.

If you’ve got your own memories of Keith Emerson and his influence on your life or work, share it in the comments.

Top image: Barrie Wentzell

33 thoughts on “Keith Emerson Dead At 71

  1. Oh shit! The first thing that I blurted out when I saw the headline. This is so sad after his long struggle to get his hands back into playing shape. Condolences to his family and friends. His music and playing was always an inspiration.

  2. NOBODY LIKE HIM. EVER. The man will always be THE Master. This hurts. I’ve been listening and been a fan my whole life. For as long as I can remember when I am asked who is my favorite keyboardist, my brain just instinctively goes to Keith Emerson. You expect the masters to live forever… then this happens. It’s a sad day for music …

    My favorite bit:

  3. I read he was depressed about nerve damage in his right hand. Siupposedly he didn’t learn proper technique and damaged his hands from playing so fast. If true, it shows the value of proper instruction in learning an instrument. Sad, really sad.

    1. I understand what you mean to say, but I doubt that Keith needed proper instruction in learning an instrument.

      Some of us get damage by a great drive from inside to keep on playing and drive ourselves ever further without being realistic. It’s a passion for playing and pushing boundaries that some of us cannot do without. Keith’s boudaries were so much beyond mine, but he set my example and got me pushing my own limits (yes I hurt and damaged my hands too. These things are sad but inherent to what we have to do)

    2. Now that you mention it, I do remember over the years, seeing him play, it looked like his technique was not proper. But then when you play like Keith Emerson, who cares. Was such a huge influence in my life. It was Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman who inspired me to take on synthesis. Their influence will last for generations. RIP Keith, you will be missed!

    3. I was seriously offended by this comment. Proper technique might be somewhat important but not essential to making or playing music. I abandoned music for years because my piano teachers focused on proper playing than music theory or concepts. I’ve learned far more on my own and enjoy music and music making as a result.

      Sad with Keith’s decision but it was his to make. Let’s enjoy music and expression not ‘proper’ technical proficiency.

      1. You are seriously offended? Wow! Chill out. If using proper technique can prevent injuring someone, then what’s so offensive about bringing it up? I have no proof that is what happened with Keith Emerson, which is why I was careful to say “IF”. IF that is what happened, then it IS important to bring up, because then Keith wouldn’t have lost some of his ability to play and he wouldn’t have been depressed about it and he would still be here making great music. So I am enjoying music and I don’t want it squashed prematurely by tragedy.

        1. What part of “We ask that the family’s privacy and grief be respected.” didn’t you understand?

          Seems like that covers speculating about why he died; sharing your ideas on what he should have done differently; and creating self-promotional ‘tribute’ performances.

          FYI – there’s no lack of classically trained musicians that have lost their ability to play because of practicing and performing – just think of Glenn Gould. Let’s not blame people for hard work, repetition and aging.

          1. I understand it perfectly. They have their privacy. Did you actually read anything I wrote? I said it was a tragedy if it could have been avoided. I don’t take anything away from his accomplishments. He influenced me more than any other keyboardist. That’s why it hurts to see this happen. If it something that could have been avoided, then let’s hope it IS avoided and we don’t lose any future genius like Keith. I’m not speculating on other possible health issues like others have.

  4. Oh Lord, this can’t be true …

    Of course it can, we all go, but we expect our beloved ones to live forever. Keith was one of my big four: Joh Lord, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, and Tony Banks. Each of those with incredible skills and with their own individual style and individual grandness. What a skilled and driven keyboard player and performer he was. Only one remains of these gems now.

    Very sad, but indeed we all must go. Though sad, how very lucky we remain here with movies, recordings, and albums to recall and relive the joy, art , and performance brought to us by our giants

  5. You know, he was probably suffering. Cancer is a terrible thing, and in my opinion a human should have the right to end there life if they are suffering from a painful terminal illness. He may be gone, but his influence and memory lives on.

  6. I had a chance to shake hands with Keith ( and the rest of the band ) in the early nineties, when ELP did a record storage promotion in L.A. ELP has always been my favorite band, and I let him know how much ELPs music meant/means to me. His hand was bandaged at the time, but he offered his good hand and had a few kind words for a nervous fan. Words fail to express as to how much he will be missed. He was a truly talented man and visionary.

  7. I’ve written my own reflection on Emerson. The first and only time I saw him play live was a day that changed my life. The next day I started to play keyboards.

    I’ve posted several videos of Keith playing in 2015. Before I learned that the cause of death was suicide, I found a video of him playing “Lucky Man,” but was confused because, well… Emerson was not very good. As an audio engineer with lots of experience doing tours I figured maybe it could be the monitors, but that theory did not fit. Now, looking at the videos I’ve posted, his right hand is incredible and his left nearly useless (link below).

    I can only imagine how painful it must be to lose the thing that defines you, but I wish he knew how much his music mattered to everyone, and even if he could no longer play it his life still had great value.

    A sad, sad day for music.

    1. Maybe his suicide was due to the trouble with his right hand, or as a consequence of what they removed from his intestines not long ago, or both, or something else entirely. This is the last video of Keith Emerson that I was able to find on YouTube today, it’s only a month old or so:
      You can clearly see his right hand isn’t working well, and he’s using mostly his thumb and index finger.

      It’s been a sad year so far, music-wise that is.

      RIP, Keith Noel Emerson.

  8. Way back in 6th grade I went to the science fair at our local arena. The fair was on the mezzanine while the stage below was being set up for a concert that night. I was absolutely amazed by the synthesizer and wire spaghetti I saw that day. I imagined a band of mad scientists. I noted the band’s name- ELP- so I could learn more about that incredible gear. I’ll admit that my young tastes were not ready for prog rock yet, but seeing that synth rig on that stage that day had a huge influence on my tastes and musical style. Now I use synth circuits (and robots!) to teach kids about electronics and engineering. Circle of life. Thanks Keith.

  9. Monumental loss. Huge fan forever .I was lucky enough to grow up when all the greatest diverse rock music was being made. Elp was always at the top of my list. Emersens keybourds, lakes great voice, and Palmers stellar drums created a sound like no other band. Being in my sixties I have been clinging to the great music of the times, and elp was hugely there for me in my youth, bringing back great memories. Rest in peace mr. Emersen, keyboard genius.

  10. I was totaly shocked about Keith’s death and still am. Saw ELP in 1974 in London such an awesome sound. Still cannot believe he is gone a very sad loss.

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