Chris Whitley, the eclectic singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the ’90s with a series of genre-hopping albums, died Sunday following a battle with lung cancer, Billboard reports. He was 45.
Whitley is survived by a daughter, Trixie, his girlfriend Susanne, and brother, Dan, who urged fans to mourn his brother’s death while celebrating his life. “Chris was all about life and living,” Dan wrote on Whitley’s official Web site.
Over the course of 11 albums (a 12th is due soon), Whitley explored styles ranging from country to jazz to pop to grunge. A native of Houston, he cut his chops as a street musician in New York before moving to Belgium, where he led a pop group with relative success.
In 1990, Whitley returned to New York, where he met producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan), who ushered Whitley onto Columbia Records for his major label debut, Living With the Law, which spawned a radio hit, “Big Sky Country.”
Whitley’s next albums varied in style from hard rock to the bare-bones style of 1998’s Dirt Floor, recorded during one day in a cabin in Vermont.
In 2001 Whitley recorded Rocket House for Dave Matthews’ label ATO. At the time, Matthews told Billboard, “I have a fervent, religious devotion to the magic that Chris makes.”
Whitley’s last release, Reiter In, will be released on vinyl in December and on CD next year.