Detroit Cobras singer Rachel Nagy has died

Rachel Nagy onstage
(Image credit: WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

Rachel Nagy, singer and founder of Detroit garage rockers The Detroit Cobras, has died.

The news was confirmed in a social media post (opens in new tab) from longtime Detroit Cobras' guitarist Greg Cartwright, who wrote, "It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that we announce the loss of our beloved friend and musical colleague, Rachel Lee Nagy. There are no words to fully articulate our grief as we remember a life cut short, still vital and inspirational to all who knew and loved her. 

"With the Detroit Cobras Rachel Nagy carried the torch of rock, soul and r&b to fans all over the world. More than just a performer, she embodied the spirit of the music itself and vaulted it to new heights with her own deeply affecting vocal power. I know that I am not alone when I say that I was inspired by her vitality, her fierce intensity and her vulnerability. 

"Once plans have been finalised by the family we will post more information regarding further details to memorialise Rachel and pay tribute to her life. Until then, please know that if you are as devastated by this news as we are, you are not alone. We are with you in your grief. Rachel is survived by her brother Tony Nagy and her mother Marge Nagy."

Nagy formed the Detroit Cobras in 1994, and they swiftly picked up a reputation – particularly in The UK – as a covers band who were much more than a covers band, putting a gritty, feverish twist on R&B and soul tracks from the 1960s (Classic Rock once described them as "the greatest cover band of all time"). They were also a pivotal part of the Detroit garage rock scene that saw the rise of The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, The Dirtbombs and so many more.

In 2016 Jack White's Third Man Records reissued The Detroit Cobras' influential debut album Mink, Rat or Rabbit, which featured covers of songs by artists like Irma Thomas, The Shirelles and The Shangri-Las. At the time, the label said, “The inimitable vocals of Rachel Nagy would no-doubt be a template from which folks like Amy Winehouse would work from years later."

In the wake of Nagy's death, Third Man said, "In both her voice and personality, Rachel Nagy was the perfect balance of tough badass and absolute sweetheart. From the earliest White Stripes shows at the Magic Stick in Detroit through the Third Man 10th anniversary show in Nashville, Rachel and the Detroit Cobras have been a consistent inspiring presence in our world for nearly 25 years. We will truly miss the sound of her room-filling laughter, her no bullshit honesty, and her true friendship."

In 2018 Nagy addressed the "just a covers band" criticism aimed at the Detroit Cobras, telling All I Could See, “People think, ‘Oh, they’re covers, it’s easy, what’s the problem?’ It’s actually harder. When people are playing original songs, they have the freedom to fuck up, they can change something. With us, it is something very specific that we’re after.

“That’s the funny thing when people call us a cover band. Usually, cover bands are at the corner bar playing Creed and songs everyone knows and wants to sing along with… Even those that are very deep into their music, they’re usually pretty surprised to find out what songs are what."

No cause of death has been confirmed. 


Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 37 years in music industry, online for 24. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.