One-Hit Wonders You Didn't Know Passed Away

It feels wrong to call most of the folks on this list one-hit wonders because the term gives the illusion that these musicians materialized out of nowhere, exploded onto the airwaves, and then disappeared into dust. In reality, the majority of these acts were well respected in their profession for years before and after becoming a household name. For some of the less-seasoned singers and songwriters, their fame came too soon, upending the potential trajectory of their careers.

Another reason it is difficult to call these artists one-hit wonders is because many of them created songs that could be considered hits in their home or other countries, but that never made it to the U.S. charts. Plenty of these singer-songwriters released tracks that the majority of their fans loved and would consider hits. A lot of one-hit wonders made a lot of wonderful music, but are only remembered by the majority of the U.S. for one true hit. A few on this list may have had more than one, if only they had lived long enough to do it. Meet the one-hit wonders you didn't know passed away.

Biz Markie

The world recently lost one of the biggest one-hit wonders of all time, Biz Markie. His song "Just a Friend" peaked at No. 9 on Billboard in 1990, and stayed on the charts for 22 weeks. The song is a rap by Markie mixed with some of the beat and lyrics of the 1968 song "(You) Got What I Need" by Freddie Scott. It went platinum in the year of its release.

Biz Markie was born Marcel Theo Hall in Harlem, New York in 1964. According to Vulture, Markie "made his way onto the rap scene in 1985 as a reputed beatboxer." He came up alongside famous rappers such as Doug E. Fresh and often worked with Big Daddy Kane. His hip hop talents mixed with his humorous lyrics earned him the title the Clown Prince of Hip Hop. Markie released a few more albums after the success of "Just a Friend," and continued to perform for decades, but he never entered the charts again.

Per Vulture, the rapper's health took a downturn starting in April 2020. He died July 16, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland at just 57 years old. Markie's cause of death is unconfirmed, but he was known to have struggled with Type 2 diabetes.

M-Bone and JayAre

In 2010, Cali Swag District's first single, "Teach Me How to Dougie" became a national dance sensation. Michelle Obama could be found doing the Dougie at her "Let's Move!" events and on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." According to the Guardian, the Dougie was inspired by the dance moves of 1980s hip-hop artist, Doug E. Fresh. Doug E. Fresh said that the song allowed people to "get back to what hip-hop was about, which is about having fun."

In May 2011, one of the members of Cali Swag District, Montae "M-Bone" Talbert, was murdered in Inglewood, California in a drive-by shooting. According to Billboard, he was the "comedic center of the group" and "helped launch the Dougie to mainstream audiences". Talbert was only 22 years old. After his death, the remaining three members continued, and released an album, "The Kickback."

In 2014, the group lost a second member, Cahron "JayAre" Childs. He was suffering from sickle cell anemia and died of a cardiac arrest after being admitted to a hospital. He was 25 years old. According to Rolling Stone, the group had just released a mixtape with a Nipsey Hussle collaboration. Following these two tragedies, Cali Swag District dissolved.

Adam Schlesinger

Adam Schlesinger formed Fountains of Wayne with Chris Collingwood in the mid-'90s. The band didn't have a hit until 2003, when they released the song, "Stacy's Mom." According to UDiscoverMusic.com, Schlesinger and Collingwood wrote the song based on a friend of Schlesinger's who was attracted to his grandma. It was an ode to early puberty. Schlesinger said, "It's a combination of sexual awakening and limited contact with a large number of people." The song earned them a Grammy Nomination for Best Vocal Performance and Best New Artist.

Adam Schlesinger was a talented writer and musician who wrote a lot of music for television in addition to his Fountains of Wayne success. According to NPR, he won a Grammy for "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!" He won three Emmys, one for his work on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," and two for co-writing for the Tony Awards telecast. He was nominated for an Oscar for the title track in "That Thing You Do!" On April 1, 2020, it was announced that Schlesinger had died from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 52 years old.

Melanie Thornton

Melanie Thornton was one half of the Euro-pop group La Bouche (French for "mouth"), along with singer Lane McCray. According to Songfacts, La Bouche "is the creation of the German producer Frank Farian, who is the same guy who brought us Boney M and Milli Vanilli." In 1995, the group hit the Billboard charts with their song "Be My Lover."

Thornton grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. According to Billboard, "she got hooked on singing as a child, mimicking the Motown classics that her mother listened to." She moved to Germany in 1992, and a few years later formed LaBouche with McCray. While "Be My Lover" is the song the band is best known for, LaBouche had other popular songs within the dance music scene. Thornton decided to leave the group in 2000 to produce a solo album. While out promoting that album she died in a plane crash, at just 34 years old. After her death, her song "Wonderful Dream" was used in a Coca-Cola commercial, as had been planned before her fateful crash.

Rob Pilatus

Rob Pilatus was one half of the infamous duo Milli Vanilli, along with Fab Morvan. The act rose to fame with the hit song "Girl You Know It's True" in 1989. That same year, while performing a concert in Connecticut, the song that they were mouthing along to skipped. Per Biography, Pilatus said, "I knew right then and there, it was the beginning of the end for Milli Vanilli." It took the rest of the world a bit longer, but a year later it became widely known that Milli Vanilli was lip-syncing and not the true artists behind the hit.

"Girl You Know It's True" was not even a new song. It was first released by the band Numarx. Music producer Frank Farian reportedly heard the track and knew he could make it better. He remixed the song with new vocals and hired Pilatus and Morvan to be the frontmen. According to Billboard, Numarx member Ky Adeyemo, said, "All Frank did was take the back hook ["Girl you know it's true, my love ... ooh ooh ooh I love you"] and put it with the other hook and the rest is music history."

When the news that the performers were not the same artists who recorded their album broke, Pilatus and Morvan were stripped of their Grammys and ostracized. Though the two tried to make a comeback on an album of their own, they were never able to reach the level of success made with Milli Vanilli. Pilatus died in 1998 of a suspected drug overdose. He was just 33 years old.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Shannon Hoon

Shannon Hoon was the long-haired, 20-something lead singer for the band Blind Melon. The group's hit song, "No Rain," invaded the public's consciousness in 1993. Released in MTV's glory days, lots of people remember it from watching the video. It featured a young girl tap dancing in a bee costume on stage and then wandering around Los Angeles looking for applause until she finds a field full of bee people just like her.

Hoon was born in Lafayette, Indiana — the same hometown as Axl Rose — in 1967. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the Blind Melon frontman sang backing vocals on several Guns N' Roses tracks, and also shared lead vocals with Rose on the song, "Don't Cry." At the same time, Hoon was working with Blind Melon, which formed in 1990.

According to Billboard, in 1995, Hoon was found dead from a cocaine overdose on his tour bus in New Orleans. His daughter, Nico Blue, had been born only three months prior. Blind Melon had just released its second album "Soup," and Hoon had turned 28 just a month before.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Falco

Johann "Hans" Holzel went by the stage name Falco, and his song "Rock Me Amadeus" hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1986. While only known for "Rock Me Amadeus" in the U.S., Holzel's 1982 debut hit "Der Kommissar" hit European charts when he was only 25 years old. According to Der Spiegel, Holzel was philosophical about his fame. He said, "Today platinum, tomorrow tin, today they kiss your feet and tomorrow the dog won't even look at you."

Technically, "Rock Me Amadeus" is a rap song, meaning that the Austrian singer holds the distinct recognition of being the first rap artist to reach No. 1 on the U.S. charts. History explains, "it wasn't Doug E. Fresh or Kool Moe Dee or Kurtis Blow or Run-D.M.C. but an Austrian in a powdered wig." While Falco never had another hit at the same level, he did sell 60 million records over the course of his career.

While vacationing in the Domnican Republic in 1988, a car Holzel was driving was hit by a truck. He died at age 40. While he was not widely known in the U.S., per History, for Austrians he was, "possibly the biggest star to emerge from Austria since Herr Mozart himself."

Doug Fieger

Doug Fieger was the lead singer of the band the Knack, whose hit "My Sharona" was No. 1 in the summer of 1979. The song gained attention again in 1994, when it was part of the film Reality Bites's soundtrack. According to NPR, "Doug Fieger wrote the song for the then-teenager who would become his girlfriend, Sharona Alperin." While the two did date, they never married, but remained friends. In an interview for Variety, Alperin said the song took Fieger less than 15 minutes to write.

Fieger was born in Detroit in 1952, and grew up in Oak Park, Michigan. According to the New York Times, before graduating high school, his band Sky signed to RCA. Sky recorded two albums, but then the band dissolved. In 1978, Fieger created the Knack. After the success of their debut album and the hit "My Sharona," the Knack went on to release a few more albums, but never again reached the success of their first run. In 2010, Fieger died of lung cancer, aged 57.

Pete Burns

Pete Burns was the lead singer of the band Dead or Alive, whose song "You Spin Me Right Round" reached the Billboard Top 20 in 1985. According to Newsweek, "The track was also covered by Adam Sandler in the movie 'The Wedding Singer,' Jessica Simpson in 2005 and had even greater success in 2009 when it was sampled on Flo Rida and Kesha's 'Right Round.'" The song was produced by S.A.W., a trio that went on to create other hits such as Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." 

Burns was born in Cheshire, England in 1959. His father was English and his mother, who was German, had survived the Holocaust. He dropped out of school at age 14 and had formed the band Dead or Alive by 1980. According to the Guardian, "Burns became famous for his androgynous style and his progressive approach to gender." He even accused Boy George of stealing his style.

Dead or Alive recorded several albums, but never again achieved the same level of success as with "You Spin Me Right Round." Burns remained in the limelight through appearing on reality shows including "Big Brother" and "Celebrity Wife Swap," and was a well known figure in the U.K. According to the BBC, Burns died of a cardiac arrest in 2016. He was 57 years old.

Minnie Riperton

Minnie Riperton is most famous for her song "Lovin' You," which was released in 1974. The song is a high-pitched lullaby that was originally created for Riperton's daughter, Maya Rudolph. Yes, the well known comedian from "Saturday Night Live" and "Bridesmaids" and the voice of many mom characters in kid's movies. According to Songfacts, "Lovin' You" has been featured in commercials for large companies such as Burger King and Visa. It has also been used in films such as "Vegas Vacation" and "The Nutty Professor."

Riperton was born in Chicago in 1947. According to All Music, "she studied music, drama, and dance at the city's Abraham Lincoln Center and later contemplated a career in opera." Before graduating high school, she joined a band called the Gems, which signed with Chess. She also performed back up vocals for the Dells and Etta James. In the late '60s she partnered with her husband, Richard Rudolph, a prolific composer.

Because she had worked as a backup singer for Stevie Wonder, the legendary musician agreed to help her produce her album, "Perfect Angel," which featured the song "Lovin' You". Per KCRW, Riperton's fame grew slowly, but soon she was doing appearances on "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train.2 Just as she was offered the opportunity to release another album, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued to perform for live audiences until her death in 1979, aged just 31.

Stuart Adamson

Stuart Adamson was the lead singer of the band Big Country, best known for their hit song, "In a Big Country." The song made it to the U.S. Billboard charts in 1983. According to Songfacts, Adamson said of the song, "The lyrical idea was about having hope, a sense of self in times of trouble." Big Country was nominated for two Grammys, for best new artist and for best rock performance by a duo or group for their song "In A Big Country."

Born in 1958 in Manchester, England, but raised in Dunfermline, Scotland, Adamson began singing in the punk band the Skids in his teens. He formed Big Country in the 1980s, and, according to the Guardian, "the band were once touted as contenders with U2 for the 'Celtic Rock' crown." Big Country continued to make records and perform until 2000, when Adamson decided to leave the group. They never had another hit in the U.S. Adamson moved to Nashville to start an alternative country band called the Raphaels. In 2001, it was reported that Adamson had died by suicide in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 43 years old.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Pauly Fuemana

Pauly Fuemana was the lead singer of OMC, whose song "How Bizarre" was No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Charts in 1997, and stayed on the charts for 32 weeks. OMC stood for Otara Millionaires Club, in homage to the neighborhood where Fuemana grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. According to the Guardian, Otara was one of New Zealand's poorest communities, hence the irony of the name.

Fuemara was born to a Maori mother and a Niuean father and spoke Niuean first. He reportedly had a rough childhood, joining gangs and later spending time in youth prison. Then, success came at him fast and he did not handle it well. He was sued by his producer Alan Jansson for royalties and by 2006 had declared bankruptcy, per the Guardian. Fuemana continued to work at building his music career, but never reached the success of "How Bizarre" again. In 2010, Fuemana died of a rare autoimmune disorder. He was 40 years old, and left behind his wife and six children. According to UDiscoverMusic.com, the hit continues to be popular. It reports that more than 100,000 TikTok videos "cleverly incorporate the song's lyrics" and that the #HowBizarre hashtag has generated more than 1.4 billion views.

Natina Reed

Natina Reed was a singer in the trio Blaque, who became well known in 1999 for their hit "Bring it all to Me." The girl group was discovered and mentored by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC. According to the Guardian, "With 1.5m debut album sales and tour dates with NSYNC and TLC, they were poised to become 00s pop's next mammoth girl group." Reed and the other two members, Brandi Williams and Shamari DeVoe, also had minor roles in the film "Bring it On" in 2000.

From the time Reed was 8 years old, she was in entertainment. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, she began as a model for Macy's and Bloomingdales. Blaque formed in 1996, when the girls were still in high school. After their debut's major success, the trio released a few more studio albums but never had another hit. In 2012, just as Reed was planning a comeback, she was hit by car while crossing a street in Atlanta, per the Hollywood Reporter. She was 32 years old, and a mother to a 10-year-old son.

Chrissy Amphlett

Chrissy Amphlett was the lead singer of the Australian rock band the Divinyls, best known for their 1991 hit song "I Touch Myself."  Per People, the song was a collaboration between the band and songwriters Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg, who are famous for hits including Madonna's "Like a Virgin" and "True Colors." The music video for the song was directed by none other than Michael Bay. While the band released seven albums between 1983 and 1996, none of their songs reached the same level of success as "I Touch Myself."

Amphlett was born in 1959 in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. She formed the Divynals in 1980. Along with singing and songwriting, Amphlett was an actress, appearing in an Australian film called "Monkey Grip" and a stage production of "Blood Brothers." In the late '90s, Amphlett left the band to pursue acting further. Per the New York Times, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006, and breast cancer in 2010. Fittingly, the song "I Touch Myself" has been used in a campaign to educate women about breast cancer. In 2013, Amphlett died of breast cancer. She was 53 years old.

Jermaine Stewart

R&B singer Jermaine Stewart's hit song "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" reached No. 5 on the Billboard 100 charts in 1986. The song has popped up on the soundtracks for the film "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" and TV shows such as "Scrubs" and "Superstore." According to All Music, Stewart started off as a dancer on "Soul Train" and moved on to be a backup singer for large acts such as Shalamar and Boy George. He landed a deal with Arista records, and released four albums, with "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" his biggest success.

Stewart was born in Columbus, Ohio, but his family moved to Chicago when he was still young. He died in 1997 of liver cancer caused by AIDS according to a book written by AIDS advocate Dr. Terri Easley. He was only 39 years old. The AIDS Memorial says that Stewart was buried in an unmarked grave for 17 years.

Mark Hollis

Not to be confused with the Bon Jovi song released in 2000, "It's My Life" was written and sung by Mark Hollis in 1983. No Doubt covered it in 2003. "It's My Life" initially entered the charts in 1984, and it was the first and last hit for the band Talk Talk. The band was formed in 1981 in London by Hollis. Shortly after, it signed with EMI and began touring with Duran Duran, per All Music. After the success of "It's My Life," the band decided to change its sound, which made them less commercial, but nevertheless they continued to work together until they released their final album in 1991.

Hollis was born in Tottenham, London in 1955. He was heavily influenced by his older brother, Ed, who was a music producer. According to the Guardian, after Talk Talk released its last album, Hollis dropped out of public life to focus on his family. He later released a solo album, and was commissioned to do the music for the TV show "Boss" in 2012, but other than that, he flew under the radar until his death in 2019. Per NPR, Hollis's manager stated that the musician died "due to 'a short illness from which he never recovered." The style and genius of Mark Hollis has been credited as the inspiration for many bands, including Radiohead.

Kevin MacMichael

"(I Just) Died in Your Arms" was a No. 1 Billboard hit in 1987 for the band Cutting Crew. Kevin MacMichael was not the singer, but the lead guitarist and writer for the group. "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" earned the band a Grammy nomination for best new artist, and Cutting Crew released a few more albums after their debut success, but failed to enter the charts again. They ultimately disbanded in 1993.

MacMichael was born in New Brunswick, Canada in 1951. According to TGILMORE.com, MacMichael started playing guitar in high school, and learned hundreds of Beatles songs. He formed Cutting Crew with Nick Van Eede, the band's lead singer, in 1985. When MacMichael left the group, he went to work with Robert Plant as a guitarist and writer. In 2002, MacMicheal was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died later that year, at the age of 51.

Dan Hartman

It's hard to call Dan Hartman a one-hit wonder, because he wrote many great songs, but he is only known for singing one. Aside from writing and performing, "I Can Dream About You," which peaked at No. 6 in 1984, he wrote and produced James Brown's "Living in America," which made it to No. 4. Hartman also wrote "Living in America" for "Rocky IV," which earned Hartman a Grammy nomination. 

According to Songfacts, "I Can Dream About You" was initially written for the film "Streets of Fire." It was sung by a fictional group, thee Sorels, and the vocals were provided by Winston Ford. It is Hartman's voice on the soundtrack and the single released that same year.

Hartman was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1950. According to DanHartman.com, he began playing piano at age 7 and by 13 was writing songs for his brother's band, the Legends. Dan worked with the Edgar Winter Group in the '70s, until he broke out with his first solo album in 1976. While his music did well in the U.K., it was not until "I Can Dream About You" that he reached the U.S. charts. Though he continued to write and produce, nothing else he released had the same success. According to Metro Source, "Those close to him believe he contracted HIV some time in the late 1980s. He kept his status a secret, although he died in 1994 from a brain tumor considered related to his AIDS diagnosis."