Musicians in bronze
There are statues of conquerors, presidents and soldiers, so why shouldn’t we pay similar homage to the great musicians of the 20th century? Here’s a guide to tributes rendered in metal and stone.
TEXT: MARCOS ORTIZ FINCH | ILLUSTRATIONS: MANUEL CÓRDOVA
Queen fans find their pilgrimage site on the shores of Lake Geneva. They make the trip every year in early September to commemorate the birth of their idol, Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara).
Right fist held high, his customary microphone stand in his left and the bearing of someone who knows that his songs have conquered the world, Mercury’s monument was erected in 1996, five years after his death. Today it stands as an enduring tribute to the man who wrote anthems like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “We Are the Champions.”
Mercury’s ashes were scattered on the lake, next to the city that he first visited in 1978 and where he spent the last years of his life. As the man himself said, “If you want peace of soul, come to Montreux.”
There are plenty of places to remember John Lennon: his childhood home on Menlove Avenue, his memorial in New York’s Central Park or the crossing in front of Abbey Road, where he recorded with The Beatles for years. But Havana is the site of the most famous statue of the musician. Inaugurated by Fidel Castro himself, the work of Cuban sculptor José Ramón Villa depicts Lennon sitting comfortably on a park bench that bears his name. Lennon’s statue wears the classic boots from the early 1960s, as well as his trademark round glasses (which have been stolen on more than one occasion). He was a revolutionary, but one who used guitars and lyrics as his weapons.
Lubbock, Texas, USA
The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton – these are just some of the names on the long list of artists that Buddy Holly influenced. And the singer-songwriter’s résumé is even more impressive when you consider that he had already made three albums before his untimely death at age 22 on a frosty winter night in 1959.
In Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, the 200,000 inhabitants proudly admire the local statue showing Holly in a suit jacket and trademark thick-frame glasses. The musician’s gravesite, also in Lubbock, bears his full given name: Charles Hardin Holley.
Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
There may be dozens of statues dedicated to monarchs throughout Europe, but the King of Rock and Roll has one of his own in Memphis, Tennessee.
Cast in bronze by Andrea Lugar in 1997, this monument replaced the statue that artist Eric Parks unveiled in 1980. Fans had stolen guitar strings and other elements from the first Presley tribute.
The statue on Beale Street depicts the King as he looked in the mid-1950s, when the then-twenty-something Presley hung out here, playing his future hits and buying clothes at nearby stores. It’s a fitting location, and now, there’s a small fence that prevents tourists from getting too close to the monument. After all, no one can touch the King.
Yonkers, New York, USA.
Less than two miles north of Manhattan, bordering the Bronx, you’ll find Yonkers, where Ella Fitzgerald moved at a very young age. Originally from Virginia, the First Lady of Jazz struggled with poverty, the tragic loss of her mother at 15, problems with the police and life in reform school.
But challenging beginnings couldn’t stop Fitzgerald from becoming one of the city’s most illustrious daughters, honored with statue by Vinnie Bagwell that was inaugurated just four months after the musician passed away in 1996.
Before her death, Fitzgerald endured serious complications stemming from diabetes (including a double amputation, as well as cardiac and vision problems), but the monument near the Metro North train station showcases the legend at her most radiant, capturing the spirit that lives on in her classic recordings with Verve, Capitol and Reprise. It’s fine tribute to one of the most influential voices of all time.
Seattle, Washington, USA.
Birthplace of rock icons like Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain, the city of Seattle honors one of its most famous sons – Jimi Hendrix – with a monument befitting his legend.
A left-handed guitar player who died at age 27 – traits that the African American musician shares with Nirvana frontman Cobain – Hendrix is commemorated with a statue that captures his essence. He kneels, eye closed, wailing on his Fender Stratocaster like he did at Woodstock.
It’s easy to get a picture with this titan of rock. Just head to Capitol Hill and find the corner of Broadway and Pine. The visit is a great way to whet your appetite for the Experience Music Project, a museum sure to delight any music lover with spaces dedicated exclusively to Hendrix.