Ronnie Van Zant

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SkynyrdRonnie.jpg
On stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd

Ronnie Van Zant (January 15 1948October 20 1977) was the lead vocalist, primary songwriter, and a founding member of the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. He is the oldest brother of .38 Special founder & vocalist Donnie Van Zant and Southern rock vocalist Johnny Van Zant.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Van Zant formed the band in the summer of 1964 with friends and schoolmates Allen Collins (guitar), Gary Rossington (guitar), Larry Junstrom (bass), and Bob Burns (drums).

The band's national exposure began in 1973 with the release of their debut album, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd, which included their signature song, "Free Bird", a tribute to Van Zant's recently deceased friend, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's biggest hit single, "Sweet Home Alabama", was an answer song to Neil Young's "Alabama" and "Southern Man". The common belief that Van Zant and Young were rivals is incorrect—they were actually fans of each other and considered collaborating together on several occasions.

On October 20, 1977, a plane carrying the band between shows from Greenville, South Carolina to Baton Rouge, Louisiana crashed outside of Gillsburg, Mississippi. The crash killed Van Zant, as well as bandmates Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray. The other band members were safe, although seriously injured.

Van Zant's younger brother, Johnny, took over as the new lead singer when the band reunited in 1987.

Van Zant was buried in Orange Park, Florida in 1977, but was relocated to an undisclosed location after vandals broke into his and bandmate's Steve Gaines tombs on June 29, 2000. Their mausoleums remain as memorials for fans to visit.

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