Keith Emerson, Keyboardist for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Dies at 71

Keith Emerson, Keyboardist for Emerson, Lake
Ilpo Musto/REX/Shutterstock

Keith Emerson, the flamboyant, English prog-rock pioneer who rose to fame as the keyboardist for supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the ’70s, died in Santa Monica, Calif. on Thursday at age 71.

Update: Emerson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, as confirmed by the Santa Monica Police Department. His death is being investigated as a possible suicide.

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson,” wrote Palmer in the statement. “Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come. He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did, together. Rest in peace, Keith.”

Emerson, born Nov. 2, 1944 in Todmorden, Yorkshire, was weaned on Western classical music and was a pioneer in combining classical, jazz and rock themes. The Hammond organ would become his instrument of choice in the late 1960s but he would soon incorporate an entire battery of keyboards, including the Moog synthesizer, the Yamaha GX1 polyphonic synthesizer and the pipe organ, in his performances.

In 1970, he was a founding member of ELP, two years after the formation of Yes and three years after the birth of Genesis, the two other prog-rock giants of the era that achieved similar success.

The nature of progressive rock meant that the group had few radio-friendly singles, but the ballad “Lucky Man” from their debut album did garner some play, as did “From the Beginning” and “Still You Turn Me On.”

The power trio made a huge splash at the Isle of Wight that year, its first proper concert, playing in front of more than a half million people on a bill that included the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. But ELP’s set was something never seen before, combining classical selections such as Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and an amped-up version of the Dave Brubeck jazz classic, “Blue Rondo ala Turk” with the kind of showmanship that would become the band’s signature. It was a stunning display of virtuosity that would characterize the band’s recording output through the decade.

Those first four albums, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer” (1970), “Tarkus” (1971), “Trilogy” (1972) and “Brain Salad Surgery” (1973) would help set the standard for all prog-rock in its wake, with pristine production, a pronounced level of experimentalism and a high level of musicianship. The recordings were all top five sellers in England, and certified gold in the U.S.

Among his innovations in the pop realm, Emerson would sometimes pluck or strum the strings of his piano, a method evidenced in “Take a Pebble,” from ELP’s debut LP.

The group split in 1979, with Emerson enjoying modest success in his solo career before the band reunited breifly in the 1980s and then again in the early 1990s with the album “Black Moon.”

Emerson also reunited the first notable group in which he was a member, the Nice, in 2002 for a tour. His last album, “The Three Fates Project,” was released in 2012.

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    1. Marion Evans says:

      so sad…why a suicide?? it’s upsetting ..

    2. His girlfriend found him, how terrible, RIP Keith Emerson.

    3. OOh. What a lucky man. He was.

    4. Jim says:

      My best friend in the world said, “One thing I know for sure: if you were God, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer would be the house band.”

      Alleluah. And most of it because of the incomparable music of Keith Emerson.

    5. Sean Lane says:

      R.I.P. Keith
      From the first time I heard The Nice on Radio Caroline,
      and the time I saw The Nice at the Royal Albert Hall in 1968 I was always taken with Keith’s playing.
      Anyone that knows me knows that I have always been a HUGE Keith Emerson fan.
      My soul feels crushed now. I haven’t felt like this since Duane Allman died.
      This man, this genius is no more. I don’t know of anyone that could ever
      come close to his abilities on keyboard. Exquisite musicianship and sense of melody were his trademarks.
      Keith, you will be sorely missed. Play on brother, play on.

    6. Lost a very dear friend, like an older brother to me. My dear friend Keith Emerson has left the world. He will be very much missed by so many whose lives he touched in profound ways. I promise to uphold his name, his legacy and his music for all my years as a performer. He was so happy with the recording of his piano concerto, and for that, I am beyond grateful. Such a talented and generous, honest and loving man. His spirit is forever in my soul.

    7. johnny rocker says:

      I was not a fan of ELP but my brother loved them. I found them boring but he was a great musician.
      Like Jon Lord they could play keyboards like nobody else and there will never be one like them again!

    8. jerry says:

      I saw ELP in Memphis back in August, 1972 (2 tickets for less than $20!). A friend and I got 3rd row seats right in the middle and again for their BSS tour a couple years later. Great shows by a great band. The old guard is fading fast with the losses of Emerson, Henley, and Chris Squire. I did get my picture taken with Chris and Yes a few years ago in Tunica and have it framed and hanging in my man cave. RIP.

    9. sinafterdark says:

      RIP! Real Solid Music Keith!! #Legacy! You certainly made a huge difference in the Music world! ♥

    10. The Observer says:

      You were a true original. Thank you for the years of listening pleasure you provided me.

      One of my favorite composers and musicians.

      You will be missed Maestro.

    11. liko says:

      Thank you Keith, my heart is broken.

    12. John Kuehne says:

      God Bless Keith Emerson. A real musical GIANT and trail blazer.

    13. Michael Grover says:

      Nicely written. Thank you for publishing such a respectful piece.

    14. mac says:

      One of the best band to grow up to. I truly enjoyed there style and arrangements. They were so far ahead of there time I’m lucky to have been around to enjoy there many hits. RIP you made a difference here.

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