Procol Harum Singer, Founding Member Gary Brooker Dies, 76; Ringo Starr, Billy Joel, Paul Stanley, and More Pay Tribute

Gary Brooker, singer and founding member of British rock band Procol Harum died on Feb. 19, following a battle with cancer. He was 76. 

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“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 band in a statement. “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. 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.”

Billy Joel took to Twitter to share his condolences. “Sorry to hear about the passing of Gary Brooker. Rest in Peace,” he wrote.

Another statement on fan website, which was approved by Brooker’s family, added that he “died peacefully at home” and had been undergoing treatment for cancer. “Gary’s voice and piano were the single defining constant of Procol’s 50-year international concert career,” read the statement. “Without any stage antics or other gimmicks he was invariably the most watchable musician in the show.”

Following Brooker’s death, a number of tributes have come in for the late singer, songwriter, and pianist. “God bless Gary Brooker,” said Ringo Starr in a Twitter post. “Peace and love to the family.” Cat Stevens posted that the two shared the same record label in 1966 and last collaborated in 2020. “God bless him with a brighter shade of peace,” wrote Stevens.

Paul Stanley of Kiss added, “RIP Gary Brooker. You could identify that voice as soon as you heard him sing. Procol Harum… Who can forget ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale?’ The man sang with a captivating, grand authority and soul.”

Born May 29, 1945, Brooker founded the band the Paramounts in 1962 with guitarist Robin Trower The band gained some success within the British R&B scene and made some big fans, including The Rolling Stones, who added them as their supporting act during the early 1960s.

In 1967, Brooker founded Procol Harum with bandmate Keith Reid. That same year, the pair also wrote the band’s biggest hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” along with Procol bandmate Matthew Fisher. Reid said that he had overheard someone use the title phrase at a party. 

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” topped the UK charts for six weeks and peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains one of the few singles to sell more than 10 million physical copies. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and was one of six songs inducted into the new Singles category by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Though it was the biggest hit for the band, they also found additional success with their 1972 single “Conquistador.”

Throughout his career, Brooker also released three solo albums, including the debut No More Fear of Flying in 1979 and Echoes in the Night in 1985. Brooker also collaborated with other artists, including Paul McCartney and George Harrison, in addition to playing, writing, and singing for Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, Eric Clapton’s band, and Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band.

In 2003, Brooker was also made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his charitable work.

Though disbanded in 1977, Procol Harum reunited in 1991 with Brooker remaining its only constant member until his death. The band continued to perform through 2019 and released their 12th and final album, Novum, in 2017.

“I’ve always rejected the idea of labeling groups or types of music,” said Brooker in a 2019 interview. “I don’t think Procol has ever fit into a particular pigeonhole, as we call them here in the filing cabinet. You don’t really know what to put them under. They come under ‘P’—‘Progressive?’ ‘Psychedelic?’—and I say, ‘They come under ‘P’ and ‘P’ is for ‘Procol.’” 

Brooker is survived by his wife of 54 years, Franky Brooker. The couple had no children. A private funeral is planned, and a memorial celebration will be announced at a later date.

Read our Behind the Song: “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images

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