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Court Appearances, Digital Downloads, Rock Tours Marked 2008 in Pop Music


Surging digital downloads, money-spinning rock tours, and pop stars in court - 2008 provided plenty of highlights and lowlights.

Although battered by economic recession in 2008, music fans managed to reach a marketing milestone. In December, music tracking system Neilsen SoundScan reported more than one billion tracks were digitally downloaded over the previous 12 months. That total, which eclipsed album sales by more than 250 percent, underscores the music industry's shift from CDs to individual songs. Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" led this year's pack by selling 3.3 million legal downloads.

While Leona dominated singles sales, Lil' Wayne led the field in the album market. The New Orleans rapper broke a three-year-old record with Tha Carter III. Released in June, this album was the first since 50 Cent's 2005 set, The Massacre, to sell more than one million copies in a single week. Lil' Wayne received his reward in September, when the head of his record label gave him $1 million in cash as a 26th birthday present. In November, Lil' Wayne became the first rapper to perform at the Country Music Awards, and he leads all Grammy nominees with eight. Trophies get handed out February 8, 2009, in Los Angeles.

Year held success, tragedy for Jennifer Hudson

While some artists triumphed, others tasted tragedy. Jennifer Hudson began the year on a high note. The Oscar-winning singer/actress appeared in the successful screen comedy Sex And The City, and topped the Rhythm and Blues chart with her single "Spotlight." On October 24, her mother Darnell Donerson and brother Jason Hudson were found fatally shot in their Chicago home. Three days later, the body of her seven-year-old nephew Julian King was discovered inside a parked vehicle. William Balfour, the estranged husband of Jennifer Hudson's sister Julia, was subsequently charged with three counts of first degree murder and one count of home invasion.

While album sales continued their longtime descent, fans flocked to see their favorite acts perform live. Veteran stars Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen shared top touring honors for the year, while The Police guaranteed a comfortable retirement by reuniting for their first public performances since 1986. The trio's global jaunt became the third highest-grossing tour of all time, taking in more than $358 million through 151 shows. The Police gave their farewell performance on August 7 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

R. Kelly courtroom drama ends

On June 13, a Chicago jury ended one of the year's highest-profile courtroom dramas, acquitting R Kelly of all charges in his child pornography case. Neither Kelly nor his alleged victim testified during the trial, which capped six years of legal turmoil for the R&B star. A videotape released in 2002 allegedly showed R Kelly having sex with an underage girl.

On June 2, Bo Diddley succumbed to heart failure at age 79. One of the founding fathers of rock and roll, the Mississippi native was the only musician to ever have a specific beat named after him. His rhythmic, boastful vocal style also pre-dated rap by decades.

Also leaving us in 2008 were Four Tops lead vocalist Levi Stubbs, and two bandmates of Jimi Hendrix: Buddy Miles and Mitch Mitchell. Both drummers anchored Jimi's guitar explorations; Buddy kept the rhythm in the Band Of Gypsies, while Mitch Mitchell played in the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The editors at Billboard Magazine named Chris Brown the top pop artist of 2008. This was the second such honor for the 19-year-old R&B star, who also prevailed in 2006.