Gary Brooker, the Procol Harum frontman whose soaring vocals on the band’s 1967 proto-prog rock classic “A Whiter Shade of Pale” helped make the song a mainstay of 1970s FM radio, died February 19 of cancer. He was 76.
“With the deepest regret we must announce the death on 19 February 2022 of Gary Brooker MBE, singer, pianist and composer of Procol Harum, and a brightly-shining, irreplaceable light in the music industry,” said the UK band in a statement today.
“From his earliest onstage duets with his musician father, through his youthful recording career with Southend’s The Paramounts, Gary exhibited and developed a highly-individual talent,” the statement continues. “His first single with Procol Harum, 1967’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, is widely regarded as defining ‘The Summer of Love’, yet it could scarcely have been more different from the characteristic records of that era.”
With an organ melody indebted to Bach, a then-unusual style that melded symphony and psychedelia with Brooker’s moody, powerhouse vocals delivering a Baroque, heartfelt take of the very obscure lyrics, “A White Shade of Pale” became a signifier of the age. So ubiquitous was the song that even in 1983, “A White Shade of Pale” could serve as a ready-made punchline in The Big Chill: “Don’t you have any other music, you know, from this century?”, asks Jeff Goldblum’s hipster character Michael Gold as his yuppie friends listen to the song.
The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Brooker co-composed the song’s music with the band’s organist Matthew Fisher, who for years went uncredited until a highly publicized lawsuit was decided in his favor in 2006. Keith Reid wrote the lyrics, later saying that he had overheard someone use the title phrase at a party. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was released as a single in May of 1967, and a worldwide hit throughout that summer.
Though the song’s outsize success would relegate Procol Harum to the status of one-hit wonder in much of the public mind, the group remained an album-oriented presence until its disbandment in 1977. Among its more notable post-‘Pale” highlights was 1972’s “Conquistador,” another staple of progressive FM radio in the ’70s.
As a solo artist following the band’s breakup, Brooker worked with Eric Clapton before forming a reassembled version of Procol Harum in 1991, recording and performing until several years ago.
At various points, Brooker also played with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. His charity work was cited in 2003 when he was given an MBE.
Brooker is survived by his wife of 54 years, Franky Brooker. A private funeral is planned, with a memorial celebration to be announced at a later date.
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