Kevin Junior in 2010 Credit: Ray Borchers

According to Billboard magazine, singer-songwriter Kevin Junior—who spent his most prolific and fruitful years in Chicago—has died at age 46. The story says “the cause of death is not clear,” but as Gossip Wolf reported in 2011, he’d suffered from the life-threatening heart disease endocarditis, which required open-heart surgery. He moved back to his native Akron, Ohio, a couple years ago, putting together a new version of his band Chamber Strings. Junior’s troubles over the years with heroin were well-documented—Bob Mehr chronicled them in a heartbreaking Reader feature in 2007—and they had the unfortunate side effect of preventing his music from ever reaching the audience it deserved.

Junior’s sartorial sensibility and roosterlike hairdo telegraphed the kinship he felt with Johnny Thunders, and he eventually worked closely with Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks (of legendary British group Swell Maps). He first led a trashy glam band called Mystery Girls, which morphed into the Rosehips; then he blossomed as a pop auteur with Chamber Strings in the mid-90s. The group made two two terrific albums of delicate, soul-streaked orchestral pop, but not long after the 2002 release of the second, Month of Sundays, Junior’s life disintegrated. He spent much of the rest of his years fighting drug addiction and health problems, trying to get back on his feet. But today I think it’s better to celebrate Junior’s music than his troubles, and to that end, today’s 12 O’Clock Track is one of his greatest achievements, the song “Make It Through the Summer.”

Today’s playlist:

Joseph Holbrooke, ’98 (Incus)
Titina, Canta B. Leza (Sterns)
Howard Riley Trio, Overground (Emanem)
Philip Thomas, Christopher Fox: Works for Piano (Hat Art)
Louis Hayes, Louis Hayes (Collectables/Vee-Jay)