Most of our readers have probably heard the song Video Killed the Radio Star. Older people (like me) may remember it fondly from its first release in 1980, and some who are interested in the history of popular culture may also know that, despite being the creation of Buggles, a British band, it was the first music video ever played on MTV (US), on 1August 1981, exactly 40 years ago.
When MTV came to Europe in 1987 on 1 August 1987, its first ever play also featured a British band – Dire Straits with their video Money for Nothing.
A hidden star
Until recently, I was unaware that the female voices on Video Killed the Radio Star, which played a very strong part in the overall sound of the record, were not supplied by regular band members, but by session singers Debi Dos and Linda Jardim (later Allan).
The girls did briefly appear on the video but never became a formal part of the group. It is Linda Allan’s soaring voice that is heard in solo towards the end of the song, making an important contribution to the history of popular music.
Sadly, Linda died in 2015, but despite her significance, references to her are extremely difficult to find on the internet.
She gets a brief mention on her ex-husband’s Wikipedia page as the mother of their two daughters and as a successful session singer and the lead vocal in the Buggles hit Video Killed the Radio Star. Her brother also tweeted a brief obituary for her at the time of her death.
Some backing singers and musicians go on to find fame for themselves. But many don’t. And of course, some do not wish to. But when they have contributed to a historic event of this type, as Linda did, we might expect at least a brief obituary in mainstream media.
When it comes to obituaries, some are more equal than others
So, what influences the appearance and impact of a national or international press obituary, and why?
This is a more nuanced question than it may first appear. For example, the obituaries written for internationally famous writers CS Lewis (of Narnia fame) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) sank almost without trace, because they died on the same day that John F Kennedy was assassinated, giving rise to a novel, which imagined all three meeting in the hereafter to discuss the issue.
But some people never receive a mainstream media obituary at all, despite making a significant contribution to international events.
In 2018, New York Times journalists Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett researched the obituary archives of their publication and found that historically, women and people of colour were far less likely to receive obituaries than white men.
Even if they had played significant roles in the history of the world, women and people of colour tend to have their contributions overlooked at the time of the events, due to credit being given solely to white men involved with the project. In this sense, then, they become doubly invisible.
Shining a light on the hidden stars
Padnani and Bennett set about correcting this situation. The ongoing archive they are building on the New York Times website, ‘Overlooked no more’ now contains obituaries for Ida B. Wells, Qui Jin, Madhubala, Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Ada Lovelace, Scott Joplin and many more.
Perhaps then, ‘Overlooked no more’ might create an obituary for Linda so that her contribution to the history of popular music is fully acknowledged for posterity, as the fortieth anniversary of the event rolls around this year.
Yorkshire Bylines will submit the suggestion, and keep readers updated on what happens next.
If Yorkshire Bylines readers have additional suggestions for ‘Overlooked no More’ nominations can be submitted here.