Gary Brooker, Procol Harum Singer, Dead at 76

Gary Brooker of Procol Harum
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Brian Cooke/Redferns

Gary Brooker, whose vocal and piano fronted British rock band Procol Harum for their entire tenure, has died. He was 76 years old.

The band's official site confirmed his passing on Feb. 19. He had been undergoing cancer treatment. "Gary’s charisma was by no means confined to the stage," the band's official post read in part. "He lit up any room he entered, and his kindness to a multilingual family of fans was legendary. He was notable for his individuality, integrity, and occasionally stubborn eccentricity."

Born in London and raised primarily in Essex, Brooker took after his father, a guitarist in a Hawaiian ensemble, and pursued music seriously after a brief stint in college. His first major band was The Paramounts, assembled with future Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower; they most notably opened for The Rolling Stones during the beginning of their career.

Procol Harum was formed in 1965, offering a deft mix of psychedelia with some baroque and classical influences that set them apart from other British bands. Their debut single, "A Whiter Shade of Pale," topped the U.K. charts and was a Top 5 smash in America; immortalized by its Bach-inspired keyboard section and Brooker's engaging vocals, it remains one of England's most defining pop/rock singles and a cornerstone of late '60s rock, having been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's brief singles category in 2018.

Though Procol Harum never scored as big a hit again - a 1972 live single, "Conquistador," went Top 5 in the U.K. and Top 20 in the U.S. - they were a consistent live draw until their initial break-up in 1977. Brooker reunited the band in 1991 with various line-ups, most recently issuing the album Novum in 2017.

In the interim, Brooker became a respected contributing musician, working on albums by George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Kate Bush. He toured as a part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band and former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. He also had a supporting role in the 1996 film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Evita. A keen organizer and participator in charity concerts, Brooker was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for his work in 2003.

Brooker is survived by Françoise "Franky" Riedo, his wife of 53 years.

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