Aaron Spears, who helped shape the sound of pop drumming by incorporating his blazing-fast “gospel chops” with Usher, Ariana Grande, Lil Wayne, and other major pop and hip-hop artists, has died at the age of 47, his wife confirmed in a social media post on Monday.

Born on October 26th, 1976, Spears developed his signature drumming style playing gospel music in church in his native Washington, D.C. He started playing when he was so young he could not yet reach the bass drum pedal, so he would sit on someone’s lap and play just “the stuff on top” while they worked the pedals, he explained in an interview with drumtalk.

After moving on from the local D.C. music scene, Spears earned a Grammy nomination as a producer for Usher’s album Confessions and achieved widespread recognition in 2004 with an impressive performance at the Grammys combining Usher’s “Caught Up” and James Brown‘s “Sex Machine”. His Grammy appearance made him a household name among drummers, and soon videos of his playing, including another famous performance of “Caught Up” from the 2006 Modern Drummer Drum Festival, became popular on sites like Drummerworld, back before YouTube caught on culturally.

Aaron Spears – “Caught Up” (Usher) – 2006 Modern Drummer Drum Festival

Spears would go on to be one of the music industry’s most in-demand drummers, playing with Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and many more. He also performed on Late Night with Seth Meyers and was the music coordinator and drummer for a season of The Masked Singer.

“You’ve seen Aaron drum prolly 5-10 times in your life if you attend concerts & sometimes without knowing,” fellow drummer/producer Questlove said. “That’s how much in demand his services were.”

In addition to being one of the world’s most prolific pop drummers, Spears was a dedicated supporter of the arts and music community. In a touching tribute posted to Instagram, Nikki Glaspie described how he would go out of his way to support other artists, calling him “a big brother of sorts to me and many others.” She shared a story of meeting him during her time playing with Beyoncé.

“He encouraged me and lots of others to be as great as we could possibly be, and I just wanna say how grateful I am to him,” she said through tears.

Spears is survived by his wife Jessica and son August. His spirit and drumming will be greatly missed as his legacy continues to influence young drummers for generations to come.


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