MUSIC - DEATH

Lynyrd Skynyrd pianist Billy Powell dies at 56

The 1970s group Lynyrd Skynyrd announced on its website the loss of Billy Powell, one of the band's longest-serving members. Powell helped produce classic rock anthems including "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird".

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AFP - Lynyrd Skynyrd pianist Billy Powell, one of the longest-serving members of the 1970s supergroup, has died aged 56, the band announced on its website Wednesday.

Powell, a survivor of the 1977 plane crash in Mississippi that claimed the lives of six people including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, died on Tuesday, the statement said without giving further details.

"Beloved pianist for the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band, Billy Powell, passed away last night," the statement said. "The family and band request your respect and understanding during this difficult time. Thank you."

According to celebrity news website TMZ.com, Powell died in the southeastern state of Florida.

The Texas-born Powell worked as a roadie for Skynyrd during the group's early years before his keyboard skills were noticed by Van Zant during preparations for a concert.

He appeared on the band's debut album and was part of the group's meteoric success through the next four years, a period which saw them produce classic rock anthems including "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird."

Powell was seriously injured in the 1977 plane crash that decimated the group, killing Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines. Powell rejoined the group in 1987 for a tribute tour.
 

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