Pegi Young, a singer, songwriter and activist who co-founded the Bridge School in Northern California for severely disabled students and their families with her ex-husband, rock musician Neil Young, and went on to help create the annual fundraising concerts that became one of pop music’s most respected benefit shows, died Jan. 1. She was 66.
Her death was announced Tuesday on her official Facebook page. The cause was cancer.
For most of her 36-year marriage to Neil Young, Ms. Young devoted much of her time and energy to raising their two children, Ben and Amber Jean. In particular, after Ben was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy, she could not find a school that could provide the kind of services they wanted for their son, which led her to co-found the Bridge School.
To help fund and sustain it, Neil Young headlined annual Bridge School benefit shows that attracted a Who’s Who of rock, pop, country, folk, R&B and hip-hop artists.
In recent years, however, Pegi Young, who had sometimes sung backup for her husband, began devoting more attention to her own musical endeavors, and in 2007, at age 55, released her debut album, “Pegi Young.”
Her fifth album, “Raw,” was issued in 2017 and largely tracked the brutal emotions she experienced with the breakup of her marriage after Neil Young filed for divorce in 2014. He had telegraphed their troubled relationship on his 2010 album “Le Noise,” in the song “Love and War,” when he sang “The saddest thing in the whole wide world is to break the heart of your lover/I made a mistake and I did it again and we struggle to recover.”
He started a new relationship with actress and activist Daryl Hannah, whom he married last year. Pegi Young kept the Northern California ranch they had shared since the late 1970s and Neil Young moved back to Southern California. In the wake of their split, the Bridge School benefit concerts went on hiatus.
“At the time I wrote [‘Raw’], my life had been turned upside down,” Ms. Young told the Los Angeles Times when the album was released. “I didn’t want to mince words. . . . ‘Rollercoaster’ would be the operative word. In the immediate aftermath of the separation I just wrote and wrote and wrote.”
Other song titles carried the theme through: “A Thousand Tears,” “Trying To Live My Life Without You” and “Too Little, Too Late.”
She teamed with some of Neil Young’s longtime collaborators, including steel guitarist Ben Keith, who died in 2010, and bassist Rick Rosas, who died in 2014.
During a show she played in Los Angeles a few months after the divorce filing, Ms. Young told an audience at the Mint, “What do you do when you get dumped after 36 years? You just start over.”
With other players including esteemed Muscle Shoals, Ala., keyboardist Spooner Oldham, she named her band the Survivors and continued recording and touring periodically.
Although she was not a formally schooled singer or instrumentalist, she prized emotion in her music.
“Be authentic, be true, sing what’s in your heart,” she said after “Raw” was released. “It’s not about making it perfect, it’s about letting it be real, sometimes raw and flawed, as long as it’s true.”
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