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Conflicts with Law Enforcement, Untimely Deaths Dominated Pop News - 2003-12-24

This story is part of VOA's 2003 in Review Series

Across the United States and the globe pop music artists and even music listeners frequently found themselves at odds with the authorities. VOA's Ray McDonald is here with a look at this conflict-ridden year in music.

The year 2003 began on a disquieting note for a most unlikely star. Pete Townshend of The Who, long regarded as a distinguished elder statesman of rock, was arrested in January for purchasing child pornography over the Internet. He claimed he was doing research for his autobiography, and also asserted he believes he himself was abused as a child. Authorities declined to charge Townshend with any crimes, but his name was placed on a British registry of sex offenders, where it will remain for five years.

As always, the month of February brought a respite, in the form of the U.S. music industry's highest awards, the Grammies. Pop-jazz pianist Norah Jones dominated the February 23 ceremony, walking away with eight awards, including Record Of The Year, for Don't Know Why.

Norah's the daughter of the great Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar; she's currently finishing her next album, slated for a February release.

The real world again intruded on February 5, when legendary record producer Phil Spector was arrested and later charged with first-degree murder. He's accused of fatally shooting actress Lana Clarkson, whose body was found at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra. Phil Spector has pleaded innocent, and is due back on court on January 23.

Music lovers lost several great artists in 2003, but hope runs high that at least one may someday perform again. Rhythm and Blues superstar Luther Vandross suffered an April 16 stroke, four days before his 52nd birthday. Initially unconscious and suffering from pneumonia, Luther has since improved to the point where he hopes to attend the February 8 Grammy Awards. He received five nominations, including Song Of The Year, for Dance With My Father.

September brought what many fans consider the greatest musical loss of 2003. Johnny Cash, who resides in both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Halls Of Fame, died at age 71 due to complications from diabetes. His friends say the Man In Black had lost the will to live after the May 15 death of June Carter Cash, his wife of 35 years. Two weeks before his death, Johnny Cash received six MTV Music Video nominations for his first video in nine years, an adaptation of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt.

While plenty of artists got in trouble this year, music listeners also found themselves in the legal crosshairs. The Recording Industry Association Of America, the trade group representing the five major record labels, decided to aggressively prosecute fans who trade music via computer without paying. Starting in September, the Association's lawyers began suing file sharers for copyright infringement. To date, nearly 400 people have been sent letters notifying them of pending legal action.

The year is ending much as it began with a superstar in trouble. On December 18, authorities in Santa Barbara County, CA formally charged Michael Jackson with seven counts of child molestation. The charges echo a 1993 case, which was settled out of court with no criminal charges being filed. He's due for arraignment on January 16. While millions of fans maintain Michael's innocence, industry experts speculate his long-suffering career may never recover. The same week he was formally charged, Michael Jackson's new single, One More Chance, debuted in 95th place on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop singles chart.