Classic Rock Musician Dies From Prostate Cancer: David Sanborn Was 78

The six-time Grammy-winning saxophonist had been battling prostate cancer since 2018.

David Sanborn, the Grammy-winning saxophonist who played at Woodstock and worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and more, has died. Sanborn passed away on Sunday, May 12 following an "an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications," according to a message shared to his social media accounts. He was 78.

"It is with sad and heavy hearts that we convey to you the loss of internationally renowned, 6 time Grammy Award-winning, saxophonist, David Sanborn," the message, posted Monday, read. "Mr. Sanborn passed Sunday afternoon, May 12th, after an extended battle with prostate cancer with complications. Mr. Sanborn had been dealing with prostate cancer since 2018, but had been able to maintain his normal schedule of concerts until just recently. Indeed he already had concerts scheduled into 2025."

2022 Miramar Jazz Festival
(Photo: Johnny Louis/Getty Images)

After contracting polio when he was 3, Sanborn picked up the saxophone when he was 11 as part of his treatment therapy, according to his official biography. By the time he was 14, he was playing with blues legends like Albert King and Little Milton. After studying music at Northwestern University, he transferred to the University of Iowa where he played and studied with the great saxophonist JR Monterose. He later joined the Butterfield Blues Ban after moving to California and played on the final day at Woodstock. Not long after, he began touring with Stevie Wonder and recorded for Wonder's Talking Book album. He also played with The Rolling Stones and recorded/toured with Bowie, performing on the classic song "Young Americans." He also toured and recorded with jazz great Gil Evans.

Sanborn went on to make his solo debut in 1975 with the album Taking Off, which was followed in 1979 by Hideaway. The single "Seduction" from that album was featured in American Gigolo. Just a few years later, Sanborn won his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for the song "All I Need Is You" on the 1981 record, Voyeur.

Throughout his career, Sanborn recorded with musicians including B.B. King, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Chaka Khan, Ron Carter, George Benson, Kenny Loggins, The Eagles, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel, Roger Water, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and more. He released a total of 25 albums, including eight Gold albums and one Platinum, and won six Grammys.

Sanborn also had a TV presence. He co-hosted the syndicated show Night Music from 1988 to 1990. Produced by Lorne Michaels, the show featured films of jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday, as well as banter and memorable music jams. He also hosted a syndicated radio program, The Jazz Show with David Sanborn, and regularly hosted the "After New Year's Eve" TV special on ABC.

In the message confirming his passing, his social account said Sanborn "was a seminal figure in contemporary pop and jazz music. It has been said that he 'put the saxophone back into Rock 'n Roll.'"