As 2019 comes to a close, we remember and honor Eurovision stars, writers, and producers who passed away this year. Stars whose participation and performances provided so much joy to Eurovision fans at the contest and beyond.
In no particular order, here are the notable Eurovision stars we lost in 2019.
Kenny Lynch – United Kingdom – A Song for Europe 1962
Legendary British singer, actor and songwriter Kenny Lynch passed away on December 18, 2019 after a long battle with cancer. Born in London’s East End on March 18, 1938 to a father from Barbados and a mother from Jamaica, Lynch was a pioneering black performer who excelled despite having to put up with a considerable amount of racism from fellow performers and music and television executives.
Lynch entered A Song for Europe in 1962 with “There’s never been a girl”, coming in 6th to Ronnie Carroll’s “Ring-a-ding Girl,” which came in 4th at Eurovision 1962.
Lynch’s career told off shortly afterwards, touring with the Beatles in 1963. Lynch also wrote song for others, having considerable success in the United Kingdom with Small Faces’ “Sha-la-la-la-lee” (Number 3) and Cilla Black’s “Love’s just a broken heart” (Number 5).
Lynch found fame in the United States, with his “You can’t fight it” being the opening song to the classic John Carpenter action film “Assault on Precinct 13.” As Carpenter is infamous for writing everything on his soundtracks, it is telling the one exception is a song by Lynch. And if you look closely, you will see Lynch as one of six non-band members on Wings’ 1973 album cover for “Band on the Run” (including Christopher Lee, Michael Parkinson and James Coburn).
British journalist Samira Ahmed said Lynch was a “hugely important & stylish figure in British culture … proving to kids like me that we belonged.” His elder sister, famous British jazz singer Maxine Daniels, passed away in 2003.
Dina – Portugal – 1992
Ondina Veloso, known professionally as Dina, passed away on April 12, 2019, at age 62. Dina will be familiar to Eurovision fans for her 1992 entry “Amor d’água fresca” (“Fresh Water Love”) which came in 17th in the 23 country field. “Amor d’água fresca” is an up-tempo acoustic ballad where Dina recounts a stroll through an orchard and comparing the fruits to past lovers and the titular water being the love that sustains them.
Outside of Eurovision, Dina released six albums, starting with “Dinamite” in 1982. Dina was also well-known for her soundtrack work, and if you watched Portuguese telenovelas during the 1980s and 1990s, you will most likely have come across her work. Though she did not address her sexuality much in interviews, Dina came out as a lesbian in 1996. At the time, she said she felt obligated to as few public figures at time in Portugal were willing or brave enough to do so.
Portuguese singer Ana Bacalhau led the tributes online by saying “she was a pioneer, and opened the road for female songwriters in my generation.”
Tamar Babilua – Georgian National Selection 2015 and Georgian Idol – 2019
On March 26, 2019, 32-year-old vocalist and pianist for Niutone lost her three year long battle with cancer. Niutone came in 2nd at Georgia’s national selection in 2015 with “Run Away,” with 31.9% of the televote to Nina Sublatti’s “Warrior” with 38.1%.
Babilua was a piano prodigy, and outside of Niutone attempted some audacious records. She broke the Georgian domestic record for continuous playing at 25 hours. She did train to break the international record of 127 hours, but her doctors advised her against it due to her health condition.
And Babilua’s condition was plain to see when she appeared during the final of Georgian Idol 2019. She submitted her song “I Believe” to Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the song was selected by Giorgi Pruidze to be performed in the Grand Final. During the Final, they showed clips of Pruidze meeting Babilua and taking notes from her. Pruidze came in 4th, though he earned a record deal and a scholarship to a music conservatory in Paris, France.
A popular performer within Georgia, it is tragic her life was cut short at 32, just as she was in a position to catapult herself into the top tier of Georgian singer-songwriters and Eurovision itself will never know what this talented artist could have contributed.
Les Reed – United Kingdom – 1965
He was more well-known in the United Kingdom for writing “Marching on Together,” a soccer anthem for one of the most intense fanbases in the world, but earlier in his career Les Reed wrote a song for a fanbase almost as intense. As with Leeds United in 1972, Reed paired up with lyricist Barry Mason to craft a Eurovision entry for Kathy Kirby in 1965. “I’ll try not to cry” came in a close second at A Song for Europe to the eventual Eurovision 1965 entry for the United Kingdom, “I Belong,” which itself came in a close second to Luxembourg and the juggernaut combo of Frances Gall and Serge Gainsbourg.
Reed and Mason crafted many hits after “I’ll Try not to cry,” including early hits for legendary Welsh singer Tom Jones such as “It’s not unusual” and “Delilah.” Reed and Mason also struck gold with Engelbert Humperdinck (Eurovision 2012) and his 1967 smash hit “The Last Waltz.” Other hits followed for acts such as Pickettywitch, The Dave Clark Five, Lulu, Petula Clark, and after his songwriting career faded, Reed returned to stage musicals.
Reed passed away in April 2019 at age 83, and left behind an amazing body of work for us to enjoy in several different realms from Leeds United’s South Stand to London’s West End.
Sandie Jones – Ireland – 1972
Sandie Jones, Ireland’s representative at Eurovision 1972, passed away at the age of 68 on September 19, 2019.
Jones, who came in 15th at Eurovision 1972 in Edinburgh, Scotland, with “Ceol an Ghrá,” made history as the first and only singer to perform a song in Irish at Eurovision. Aimee Banks picked up the tradition of mostly-Irish language songs in 2015 at Ireland’s debut at Junior Eurovision.
Born in 1954 in Crumlin, Ireland, Jones was one of 11 children. She began her recording career in 1969, releasing five singles before she was selected by Ireland to perform the Joe Burkett and Liam Mac Uistin penned “Ceol an Ghrá.” Though she did not fare too well in Edinburgh, the single made it to Number 1 on the Irish charts. She followed it up with “What do I do?” later that year, another smash hit for Jones that landed at Number 1.
Jones continued recording throughout the decade, and had further Top 20 hits. Jones moved to the United States in 1980, and after 1981, largely remained absent from the limelight.
Karel Gott – Austria – 1965
Karel Gott, a much beloved singer and Austria’s entrant at Eurovision 1968, passed away on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at age 80 after a long battle with acute myeloid leukemia.
Shortly before Soviet tanks rolled in to Prague in August 1968 to snuff out Czechoslovakia’s brief liberalization from Communist rule, known as the Prague Spring, Gott performed “Tausend Fenster” for Austria at Eurovision 1968 in London.
In what is often interpreted as a melancholic, yet hopeful, chanson about the loneliness and soul crushing obliteration of the individual and its resulting corrosion of human interaction under the repressive rule of the communist government in power in Czechoslovakia, “Tausend Fenster” (A Thousand Windows) came in 13th at a very controversial edition of Eurovision.
Prior to his tilt at Eurovision, Gott was a rare performer popular both inside and out of the Iron Curtain, singing in Czech, German, English, Italian and Russian (his biggest album to date is his 1977 album “Melodiya,” which sold 4.5 million copies in the former Soviet Union alone). Gott toured the United States in 1967, picking up several tips from Frank Sinatra, and after Eurovision 1968, Gott had a six month residency at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas (the site where the Wynn Las Vegas is currently located).
Success continued in both the West and the East for Gott, even though he recorded music that was highly critical of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the repressive Leninist-Marxist government. When the Velvet Revolution began in 1989 that threw out the communists, Gott was right there in the thick of the action singing to the pro-democracy protestors.
Eduardo Nascimento – Portugal – 1967
Nascimento was the first black male artist to perform at Eurovision with his 5th-placed 1967 entry “O Vento Mudou” (“The Wind has Changed”), one year after Surinamese singer Milly Scott became the first black female artist to perform at Eurovision 1966 for The Netherlands.
Born on June 26, 1943, in the then-Portuguese occupied Angola, Nascimento formed Os Rocks in the Angolan capital Luanda in 1962, and as lead singer led Os Rocks to success in both his native Angola and in Portugal, regularly touring both countries. In 1966, Os Rocks scored a major hit with the fun yé-yé single “Wish I May.”
In 1969, Nascimento decided to retire from the music industry and focused on his other passion – aviation. Nascimento returned to his home city of Luanda and trained as a commercial airline pilot for TAP Air Portugal. Over the decades Nascimento excelled in his new profession, though he did return for an occasional performance, including a performance of his Eurovision 1967 hit “O Vento Mudou” at Festival da Canção 2019 alongside Cais Sodre Funk Connection.
Nascimento was taken ill, and passed away age 76 at a hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, on Friday, November 22, 2019.
Mamuka Gaganidze – The Shin & Mariko – Georgia – 2014
Vocalist and percussionist Mamuka Gaganidze passed away on August 12, 2019, in Germany, having lost his battle with melanoma.
As a member of The Shin, he was the male vocalist and drummer for “Three Minutes to Earth,” Georgia’s 2014 entry which is commonly referenced on fan lists of eccentric entries at Eurovision. Though the band’s effort with vocalist Mariko Ebralidze failed to qualify for the Grand Final, there is no doubting the quality of The Shin and their unique blending of Western jazz, Georgian polyphonic singing and Eastern instrumentation that made them so beloved in both Georgia and several jazz communities across Europe, particularly Germany.
The Shin was formed in Germany in 1998 by Zaza Miminoshvili and Zurab Gagnidze, and Gaganidze joined them in 2002. As they traveled, The Shin collected many more influences to their sound, including flamenco and funk, an appropriate sentiment as the word “shin” means “coming home” in Georgian. And considering the volume of famous collaborations over the years, including the likes of Chaka Khan, Gaganidze was just as happy to share the music of his home with the rest of the world.
Natalya Pugacheva – Buranovskiye Babushki – Russia – 2012
Though her group did not win Eurovision 2012, no-one will ever forget the Buranovskiye Babushki and their vocalist Natalya Pugacheva, who in their performance of “Party for everybody” held aloft bread to the audience in what is one of the most unique stage performances in Eurovision history and an apt symbolic gesture for the spirit of Eurovision.
Combining the traditional sounds of their native Udmurtia with pop, they set out to enter Eurovision with the purpose of rebuilding a church in Buranovo that was demolished by the Soviet authorities in 1939. They entered Eurovision 2010 but were successfully on their second attempt in 2012, beating out Eurovision 2008 winner Dima Bilan and his duet with T.A.T.u.’s Yulia Volkova.
A poignant moment for Pugacheva came after the contest when a group of historians in Udmurtia heard her mention in interviews that her father was missing in action fighting the Nazis in 1942. Historians who had been collecting troop identity tags from fallen Soviet soldiers (approximately 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians were killed by the Nazis during World War 2) scoured their databases to find Pugacheva’s father, and in October 2012 they led her to a mass grave in Voronezh where her father had died in a battle described by historians as vicious in its intensity and Soviet soldiers brave in their resolve to fight back the fascist invaders. Pugacheva, though after seven decades, was at least able to get closure and find out that her father had died bravely protecting her homeland shortly before her own passing in October 2019.
Fuldi Schwartz – Israel – Construction worker – 2019
Fuldi Schwartz, 66 (pictured right – photo: The Times of Israel) was killed on May 13, 2019, in the final stages of bringing Eurovision 2019 to completion. From Pardes Hanna, Schwartz was killed when a lighting rig fell on top of him in an accident that Israel’s Welfare Ministry’s Safety and Workplace Health Department initially said could have been prevented had proper safety protocols been followed.
Schwartz is survived by his wife Dalia and his children Enez and May, and as he worked behind the scenes to bring Eurovision 2019 to fans in Israel and abroad on time, it is only appropriate that we honor him and his family.
Do #YOU know of any Eurovision stars accidentally omitted? If anyone is missing from this list, please let us know in the comments below, on our forum, or on social media.