Keith Emerson, founding member of prog rock legends Emerson, Lake and Palmer, died at his home in Los Angeles on Thursday night, according to a band statement. He was 71.
Emerson influenced a generation of progressive rockers both with his grand, distinctive keyboard style as well as his use of technology, becoming one of the first to embrace the Moog synthesizer and use it in rock music.
“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,” ELP drummer Carl Palmer wrote in a statement. “He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz.”
ELP formed in 1970 and landed a record deal with Atlantic Records after stunning concertgoers at the Isle of Wight Festival. Their first five albums landed in the Top 20, though it’s the title track of “Tarkus” that many say turned Emerson from a rising musician into a legend. The band broke up in 1979, but remained on good terms.
“I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft,” Palmer wrote. “I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did, together. Rest in peace, Keith.”
In recent years, Emerson worked on classical music, including “Piano Concerto No. 1,” with Plainview’s Jeffrey Biegel, even performing the piece with the South Shore Symphony in Rockville Centre in 2014. At the performance, Emerson also performed “Tarkus” with members of the symphony.
Biegel said Emerson was like an older brother. “He will be very much missed by so many whose lives he touched in profound ways,” Biegel, who performed an Emerson piece on his recent album, wrote on Facebook. “I promise to uphold his name, his legacy and his music for all my years as a performer . . . Such a talented and generous, honest and loving man. His spirit is forever in my soul.”
No details on Emerson’s death have been released. In a statement announcing his death, the band wrote, “We ask that the family’s privacy and grief be respected.”