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People Who Died 2004

Our Annual Salute to Now-Still Cultural Movers and Little-known Lives

Posted 12/29/2004

Freddie Perren died Dec. 16. We had never heard of him, either. But when we read the brief obituary posted on CNN.com, we discovered that we’d known him our whole lives. He was a producer with the Motown Records team known as the Corporation, and along with his cohorts he produced the Jackson 5’s ebullient early singles. After he left Motown in the early ’70s, he went on to produce hits for the Sylvers (“Boogie Fever”), Tavares (“Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel”), Peaches and Herb (“Reunited”), and Gloria Gaynor (the mighty “I Will Survive,” for which he won a Grammy). The sound of ’70s pop-soul was so slick and machined that it had somehow never occurred to us that there might actually be people behind all those different records, much less one person. Reading of Perren’s passing after a long illness at age 61, we felt we had learned something that changed our understanding of the world as we thought we knew it, and we felt better for having found out who he was, even if we never knew before.

That, in essence, is what compels us each year to add our voice to the chorus of year-end tributes to the departed with our very own alternative (if you’ll forgive the term) roll call. While there has been, and will be, no shortage of ink spilled over Marlon Brando and Ray Charles and Yasser Arafat and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the Big Three of late, great photographers lost this year (Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Helmut Newton), we always keep an eye out for the Freddie Perrens of the world in our compulsive obituary scans. Perhaps it’s just part of our morbid curiosity, or a manifestation of the universal uncertainty as to how we ourselves will be remembered when we’re gone, but it’s mostly because people often affect the world in ways far beyond the proportions of their renown. And that’s well worth remembering.

In the Cut Charlotte Zwerin
The Beautiful Game Leonidas da Silva
Just Dandy John Stephen
Unbeautiful Mercedes McCambridge
Man With a Plan David Wallace
Rhythm King Coxsone Dodd
Border Woman Gloria Anzaldúa
Brinksman Paul Nitze
Not Like Everybody Else Greg Shaw

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