The music plays on: Gord Downie's Introduce Yerself and 11 other notable posthumous albums

Whether a poignant final work from an artist facing advanced age or illness, a vibrant release by a musician suddenly struck down or perhaps a cobbled-together creation, posthumous albums can be important musical monuments.

From Notorious B.I.G. to Selena to Ray Charles: Important albums that emerged after artists pass on

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie's solo album Introduce Yerself, out Friday, is the latest significant posthumous release by a notable musician. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Not unlike David Bowie's Blackstarand Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker, (released just before their deaths in January 2016 and November 2016, respectively), the late Gord Downie's Introduce Yerself is a poignant final album from an artist grappling with and coming to peace with the darkness, as death looms. 

"The tracks unfold like love letters and thank yous, bequests and graceful goodbyes, and tucked in between those things, a few moments of fear, anger and regret," writes CBC Music's Andrea Warner. 

"Introduce Yerself is a devastating masterpiece, sprawling yet intimate."

A musician facing a terminal illness or advanced age — but still compelled to channel the artistic impulse — is just one possible reason for a posthumous release. Sometimes, it's because a vibrant artist in the midst of active creation is suddenly struck down. Or perhaps, after the loss of a phenom, those left behind hunt for demos, unfinished sessions and remnants to cobble together something to soothe grieving fans (and lend financial support to survivors). 

Here's a look back at other notable albums from the past 30-odd years that emerged after their creators' passing.

Chuckby Chuck Berry, 2017

Chuck Berry finished recording his final album, Chuck, before his death in March. (Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images)

Berry's 20th album, Chuck, was announced with fanfare in October 2016, on the rock legend's 90th birthday. He completed work on it before his death this past March. The 10-track album, which mainly features new material and was his first studio album in decades, emerged in June, welcomed by critics with a host of positive reviews.

Xscapeby Michael Jackson, 2014

Contemporary producers remixed unreleased Michael Jackson tracks for Xscape. (Associated Press)

Emerging five years after Jackson's overdose death in 2009Xscape comprised unreleased tracks from the King of Pop's vault, each given a boost by contemporary producers. For instance, the catchy lead single Love Never Felt So Good — co-written by Canadian Paul Anka — became a duet featuring Jackson and Justin Timberlake. The song rocketed to No. 1 in 17 countries within 24 hours and the album as a whole received generally favourable reviews, ultimately selling more than 1.7 million copies worldwide.

Life After Deathby The Notorious B.I.G., 1997

Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death is one of rap's seminal albums. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

B.I.G. (the rapper born Christopher Wallace) had already laid down tracks for Life After Death — a swaggering follow-up to his critically acclaimed and ominously named 1994 studio debut Ready to Die — when he was killed in a Los Angeles drive-by shooting in 1997. The double album emerged two weeks later and rocketed to the top of the charts. It achieved diamond status (more than  five million copies sold) from the Recording Industry Association of America, earned several Grammy Award nominations and is now considered a seminal album of the rap genre.

American V: A Hundred Highways by Johnny Cash, 2006

Johnny Cash's first posthumous album A Hundred Highways marked his first No. 1 in nearly four decades. (Joe Tabacca/Associated Press)

Cash's American series with producer Rick Rubin continued after the beloved artist's 2003 death, first with American V: A Hundred Highways and eventually with American VI: Ain't No Grave in 2010. A Hundred Highways featured covers (such as Gordon Lightfoot's If You Could Read My Mind and Ian and Sylvia's Four Strong Winds) as well as Cash originals, including Like the 309, the final song Cash wrote just weeks before his death. A Hundred Highways became the Man in Black's first No. 1 album in 37 years and was certified gold (500,000 units sold). 

The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theoryby Tupac Shakur (as Makaveli), 1996

Tupac Shakur is a king of posthumous album releases. (Columbia Pictures/Associated Press)

You could call Shakur the king of posthumous releases, with more albums, mixes and collaborations released since his death in 1996 than while he was alive. The first, however, was The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, a studio album intended as an underground release under 2Pac's Makaveli alias. Slated for spring 1997, it was rushed out by producer Suge Knight just two months after the rapper's shooting death. Along with hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, the album was eventually certified platinum (one million in sales) four times over. 

Lioness: Hidden Treasures by Amy Winehouse, 2011

Amy Winehouse's posthumous album Lioness: Hidden Treasures benefitted her namesake charitable foundation. (Associated Press)

About five months after Winehouse's 2011 death, her estate unveiled an album of previously unreleased songs and demo recordings selected by her producers and family. Lioness also included her duet with Tony Bennett, Body and Soul, which would ultimately win her a posthumous Grammy. The album reached the top five on music charts across North America, Europe and in New Zealand, ultimately selling approximately 2.5 million copies worldwide by year's end.

Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles, 2004

Genius Loves Company, the posthumous Ray Charles duets album, is among the biggest sellers of his career. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

This duets album that arrived two months after the death of Charles paired the soul pioneer dubbed The Genius with an eclectic mix of musicians, from Diana Krall, B.B. King and Elton John to Willie Nelson, Gladys Knight and Van Morrison. One of his most commercially successful albums ever, it topped the charts, won eight Grammy Awards (including record and album of the year) and sold more than three million copies.

Dreaming of You by Selena, 1995

More than 20 years after her death, Selena continues to influence musicians. (Dave Einsel/Houston Chronicle/Associated Press)

Meant to be Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla's English-language crossover album Dreaming of You debuted three months after the 23-year-old Texan was shot and killed by her friend and fan club president after a falling out. Dreaming of You topped the Billboard album chart (the first Latino artist to do so) and has sold more than five million copies worldwide. The Queen of Tejano, who would go on to inspire a 1997 biopic (starring Jennifer Lopez) and a stage musical, remains one of the most influential Latino artists ever.

Milk and Honey by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 1984

Yoko Ono took four years to complete Milk and Honey after John Lennon's death. (Steve Sands/Associated Press)

Milk and Honey features tracks John Lennon and wife, Yoko Ono, recorded during their Double Fantasy sessions for a planned follow-up. Three weeks after Double Fantasy's 1980 debut, however, Lennon was shot dead outside their New York flat. Ono took four years to finish the project, and, though not as rapturously welcomed as Double FantasyMilk and Honey sold more than 500,000 copies.

Mystery Girl by Roy Orbison, 1989

Mystery Girl returned Roy Orbison to the music charts, at the same time that he was being celebrated in The Traveling Wilburys. (Associated Press)

Mystery Girl was meant to be a comeback album for 1960s balladeer Orbison, who lost his first wife and two eldest sons in separate accidents and saw his career tank in the 1970s. He returned to the limelight in the late 1980s, in part due to his membership in the rock supergroup The Traveling Wilburys. Invigorated, he began to work with collaborators new and old (including Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, T-Bone Burnett and U2's Bono and the Edge), but a heart attack ended the 52-year-old's revival plans. His colleagues put the finishing touches on Mystery Girl, which charted worldwide and was Orbison's first album to reach platinum status (one million copies sold) at home.

Closer by Joy Division, 1980

Though its time was brief, Joy Division was a major influencer of the post-punk genre. (Martin O'Neill/Redferns/Getty)

Despite its brief existence, British band Joy Division influenced the post-punk movement with its dark and moody music. The suicide of vocalist and lyricist Ian Curtis — who was grappling with ill health and a disintegrating marriage — came in May 1980 on the eve of the troupe's first U.S. tour and just before the release of the band's sophomore album, Closer. Joy Division's most enduring hit, Love Will Tear Us Apart, was released the following month and Closer followed in July 1980. Sans Curtis, the remaining members reformed as New Order.

With files from Daniel Buzzelli

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