15 Touching Musical Tributes to Legends and Loved Ones

Through their craft, artists express a vulnerability that resonates with us, creating a shared understanding of joy, pain, love, and loss. As an audience, we demand and cherish these moments of raw emotion and honesty. Yet, it's easy to forget that behind these moments are real individuals navigating their struggles and tragedies. So, when someone manages to break through and understands all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get there, you bet they're gonna thank those they are grateful for. 

Included are songs of longing, celebration, gratitude, and tribute of artists.

1 – Tony Bennett's Soulful City Salute

Tony Bennett
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In his illustrious career, Tony Bennett has paid tribute to several artists through his interpretations of their songs. From classics by Frank Sinatra to Billie Holiday, Bennett's soulful voice has celebrated the legacies of many music icons, leaving an indelible mark on the world of jazz and popular music.

And then there was “I left my heart in San Francisco.” It fits a man who spent his career humbly and happily paying tribute to writers and artists who wrote the songs he interpreted; the one most associated with him is a tribute to a city he wasn't from but somehow needed to be.

2 – Grammy Honors Joe Strummer of The Clash

The Clash
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At the 45th Annual Grammy Awards in 2003, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl, and Bruce Springsteen performed “London Calling” in honor of the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer. This captivating performance introduced a generation of grunge rockers and Jersey kids born to run to the actual cost of a long-distance call.

Strummer once said, “Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control, and it didn't have any inherent wisdom.”

3 – Eric Clapton's Poignant “Tears in Heaven”

Eric Clapton
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Artists process emotion through the lens of art. Some songs, like Eric Clapton's “Tears in Heaven,” are so tender, vulnerable, and raw – it feels voyeuristic to listen to…until one day, you relate to it, and knowing you're not alone in your feelings is akin to a lifeboat in an ocean of misery. The song reflects Clapton's profound grief and emotional journey following the loss of his child, touching the hearts of millions worldwide.

4 – Heart's Heavenly Homage To Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin
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Wanna know if that guy wearing the “Tolkein Feminist” at board game night is the real deal? Tell him the best Led Zeppelin Song is “Stairway to Heaven” by Heart. If he doesn't agree immediately, tell that hobbit to get hoppin'. 

Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson of Heart owned Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven,” making the world's most overplayed song sound new again, earning a standing ovation from the audience, including the members of Led Zeppelin themselves. Their powerful vocals and harmonious instrumentals breathed new life into the classic, proving why Heart is considered one of the best rock bands in history.

5 – Elton John's Touching Tribute to Princess Diana

Elton John
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Elton John, the real Queen of England, performed a reworked version of “Candle in the Wind” at the funeral of Princess Diana. The song, originally written about Marilyn Monroe, was adapted to serve as a heartfelt tribute to Princess Diana. It reflected the collective mourning of a nation for their beloved princess.

6 – Tracy Chapman's Moving Homage to Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan
Image Credit: Wiki Commons, Rowland Scherman.

Tracy Chapman's soulful, haunting, powerful, and unique voice brought all the hope and cynicism of someone caught in the institutional, intersectional onslaught of growing up as a minority in America. This was evident in her soul-stirring cover of Dylan's “The Times They Are A-Changin'” at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert.

7 – George Michael's Emotional Tribute to Queen's Freddie Mercury

George Michael
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Appearing on the underrated ‘Queen's Greatest Hits III' CD, this live George Michael performance of “Somebody to Love” celebrated the life and legacy of Freddie Mercury. He performed an optimistic version of this classic in the face of bitter tragedy, rousing the crowd in the process.

8 – Yellowcard's Sentimental Ode to Big Fish

Leeds, united kingdom, 28th may 2023, Yellowcard performs live at slam dunk festival north uk.
Image Credit: ChrisJamesRyanPhotography / Shutterstock.com.

Yellowcard's alternative rock ballad, “How I Go,” was inspired by the themes of storytelling, life, and death in the movie Big Fish. The song enhances the movie by illustrating the themes in a way the movie sometimes loses sight of. “How I Go” is a hidden gem and an ode to life lived large, at least, in our minds.

9 – Prince's Electrifying Tribute to George Harrison

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Want to fix the second half of A Star is Born? Throw on the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, head to the George Harrison tribute, and play it for an hour and 12 minutes. Instead of completely cratering, you can watch Prince make love to his guitar in front of an audience of thousands as he shreds one of the most important guitar riffs in history.

10 – Michael Jackson's Soulful Homage to James Brown

Image of Michael Jackson
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Was 2003 the last time Michael Jackson was a welcome, if not quirky, presence in the American mainstream? It's a shame because seeing the man act human and in awe of James Brown is something to behold and reminds you, oh yeah, we used to love this guy.

He doesn't even have to do much, but it is a rare moment to see the King of Pop honor previous monarchies. As far as the things said about Mr. Jackson, he might as well start with the nosiest neighbors on the planet.

11 – Ben Folds' Touching Tribute to Elliott Smith “Late”

COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 21: Ben Folds performs live at the LC Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio on February 21, 2009.
Image Credit: 3 song photography / Shutterstock.com

Ben Folds wrote “Late” as a heartfelt tribute to his friend and fellow musician, Elliott Smith, after Smith's tragic death in 2003. The song makes a note of Smith's wonderful talent and, interestingly, his not-so-sportsmanlike basketball skills. It's a reminder of the unique and personal memories we hold onto about those we've lost.

12 – Linkin Park's Tribute to Chester Bennington

Chester Bennington
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When Linkin Park held a tribute concert in honor of Chester Bennington, their emotional performance of “Numb,” with an empty microphone in the spotlight, was a poignant reminder of Bennington's essential contributions to Linkin Park and his profound impact on fans worldwide.

Profoundly, the audio of the music and the crowd were out of sync. Whether this was on purpose or not, the discordance somehow matched the collective mourning of this tragedy.

13 – Red Hot Chili Peppers' Tribute to Stevie Wonder

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Image Credit: Rob C. Croes (ANEFO)

Red Hot Chili Peppers have often paid tribute to their musical influences in their performances. Their energetic cover of Stevie Wonder's “Higher Ground” demonstrated RHCP's ability to forge a new path while paying tribute to the ones who came before.

14 – Nirvana's Tribute to David Bowie

David Bowie
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Hey youths, want a pop? “Smells Like Teen Spirit” has roots in disco. Nirvana's cover of David Bowie's “The Man Who Sold the World” during their MTV Unplugged performance is a seminal cross-generational moment.

15 – “I Need A Doctor” – Eminem

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Nakedly grateful, emotional, and devoid of anything other than heart-spilling melodrama, “I Need a Doctor” was a cap on Eminem's 2009-ish comeback tour of sobriety. 

16 – “Nothing Compares 2 U” – Sinead O'Conner

Sinead O'Connor
Image Credit: Wiki Commons, Bryan Ledgard.

It's okay if you feel just a touch guilty for rolling your eyes at the antics of O'Conner before realizing they were likely cries for help. The more you read about the life of this woman and listen to her music, the more you'll come to the same conclusion. “Nothing Compares 2 U” was written by Prince in 1984. Sinead's version is quite simple a tribute, and in many ways, the actual soundtrack to devastating heartbreak.