He was a classically trained pianist who, as a rocker in the 1970s, fostered what some critics described as a “flamboyant and aggressive approach to keyboards.”
And until his death on March 11, Keith Emerson (1944–2016) was—just like the title of one of his group’s early songs—“A Lucky Man.”
From 1970 until 1979, he was part of a popular and commercially successful progressive rock band, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (ELP), which he formed with singer and bassist Greg Lake, and drummer and percussionist Carl Palmer.
Even though the group disbanded nine years after it was formed—over the years, ELP made several comeback attempts that yielded two further albums—Emerson is fondly remembered by his former bandmates.
“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,” Palmer said.
He also called Emerson, widely considered as the best virtuoso keyboardist on the rock scene, “a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz.”
As a testimony to his trailblazing streak, in 1970, long before most rock musicians knew what a Moog synthesizer was, Emerson used one. Thirty-four years later, Moog Music had recreated Emerson’s iconic modular synthesizer after the original one had reportedly fallen into disuse.
Emerson and the band also had a long association with Moogfest, an annual art and technology festival started by the synthesizer’s inventor, the late Bob Moog.
When Emerson headlined the 2014 Moogfest, he ominously told USA Today that the performance could be one of his last shows. “I’ve reached my 70th year,” he said. “This might be the last year that I’ll actually perform in public.”
His last concert, however, took place in July 2015 at the Barbican in his native Britain, where he performed a tribute to Moog on a synthesizer alongside the BBC Concert Orchestra.
In April of this year, Emerson was scheduled to tour Japan.
“What I will always remember about Keith was his remarkable talent as a musician and composer and his gift and passion to entertain,” his former bandmate Lake said in tribute. “Music was his life and I am sure that the music he created will live on forever.”