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Scandals, Tragedy Dominated Music News - 2003-12-24

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

In 2003, the music industry had its share of scandals and tragedies, along with some political statements from popular bands, and new artists whose careers were launched on a television talent competition. VOA's Bernie Bernard tells us about some of the year's major stories in the world of rock, pop and rhythm & blues.

Heavy metal pioneer Ozzy Osbourne and his family continued to make news in 2003. Their MTV reality television show, The Osbournes, has maintained its popularity and remains the network's highest-rated show. In April, Ozzy's son Jack checked himself into a California rehabilitation clinic to deal with his drug and alcohol abuse. The younger Osbourne said living in the media spotlight caused him to suffer from depression and insomnia. The patriarch of the Osbourne family was forced to postpone a European tour due to tremors in his hands from a neurological problem. In December, Ozzy crashed his all-terrain bike and nearly lost his life. He was hospitalized with several broken bones, and was temporarily on a respirator. His recovery is expected to take at least six months, which will affect production of The Osbournes television show. A week after the accident, Ozzy and daughter Kelly scored their first Number One single in the U.K. with their remake of the Black Sabbath song, Changes.

While touring Europe in early-2003, Texas country trio The Dixie Chicks created some controversy when member Natalie Maines told a London audience, "We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." The statement, which came on the eve of the war in Iraq, drew some protests and boycotts from the country music community. The Chicks' overall record sales and concert earnings were not affected, however. They were named one of the highest-grossing concert artists of the year. And they were given the Country Music Association's International Artist Achievement Award, as well as the United Way's Defender of Democracy Award.

R&B singer R. Kelly is currently under indictment on child pornography charges. Arrested in June 2002 after a videotape was introduced as evidence, R. Kelly saw his troubles continue into 2003. In January, he was arrested on 12 counts of possession of child pornography when police found a digital camera containing compromising photos of the singer with an underage girl. Denying all charges, R. Kelly is alleging that former managers might have found people that look like him and superimposed their images onto the offending videotape. His next scheduled court date is in February. In the meantime, he scored a hit album in 2003 with Chocolate Factory.

In February 2003, a deadly fire broke out at The Station club in Warwick, Rhode Island, during a performance by 1980s heavy metal band Great White. The fire started when fireworks, part of the band's act, ignited the foam-covered wall behind the stage, and engulfed the small club in a matter of minutes. Fans in the overcrowded venue were crushed as they mobbed the front door exit. More than 100 people were killed, and dozens sustained permanent injuries. In December, the band's tour manager and the owners of the club were indicted on multiple charges of manslaughter. The Rhode Island fire is now considered the biggest tragedy in rock concert history.

In 2003, we lost several major performers from different eras and genres of music. In November, 63-year-old Bobby Hatfield, part of hit 1960s duo The Righteous Brothers, was found dead in a Michigan hotel room shortly before he was to go onstage with partner Bill Medley. In July, 58-year-old R&B legend Barry White died of kidney failure, and Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees, whose career extended from the late-1950s to the present, died of a heart attack in January. Also succumbing to heart problems was 1970s and 80s singer Robert Palmer, who passed away in September at age 54.

One of the most poignant stories of the year belonged to singer and songwriter Warren Zevon. After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2002, Warren defied his doctors' predictions, and finished one more album, The Wind, before his death in August 2003. The CD debuted in the Top 20 and received five Grammy Award nominations. The second season of the American Idol television talent competition ended with soul crooner Ruben Studdard as the winner, with former teacher and North Carolina pop singer Clay Aiken in second place. Clay beat Ruben to the marketplace with his first album Measure of a Man, which debuted at Number One on Billboard magazine's albums chart in October. Clay also was named one of Rolling Stone magazine's People of the Year.