Jessi Zazu, the guitarist, singer and co-founder of Those Darlins who blended indie rock with country, died Tuesday following a lengthy and public battle with cervical cancer. Zazu was 28.
Zazu, born Jessi Zazu Wariner, died surrounded by friends and family at Centennial Hospital in the singer’s native Nashville, The Tennessean reports.
“Yesterday I said goodbye to my best friend, longtime partner in crime and hero, Jessi Zazu Wariner,” Those Darlins drummer Linwood Regensburg said in a statement. “She maintained a sense of humor and a commanding presence up until and through her final moments. She was in the company of those who cared deeply about her and who she cared deeply about.”
Over the course of three albums, Those Darlins won both critical acclaim and an ardent fanbase thanks to the group’s ability to blend elements of alt-country, Appalachia, garage rock and punk in their music.
Those Darlins’ self-titled 2009 debut quickly established them as a band to watch – raw, spit-flecked takes on bluegrass and country like “Wild One” and “Snaggle Tooth Mama” had loads of punk attitude, but also savvy blend of pop and tradition. On their 2011 follow-up Screws Get Loose, they leaned in to their garage rock influences, cranking the electric guitars on the scuzzy title track and calling up some girl group-style pop while banishing a suitor to the friend zone in “Be Your Bro.”Their most recent full-length, 2013’s Blur the Line, expanded their sonic template farther, mixing Zazu’s snarl with softer, gauzy textures and more straightforward balladry.
Two years later, in December 2015, Those Darlins announced their breakup; it was during their farewell tour in February 2016 that Zazu began hemorrhaging, and a month later she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, the Nashville Scene writes.
In December 2016, Zazu revealed that she was battling cervical cancer in a video that crowd-funded to help pay medical costs in her fight against the disease. A T-shirt that the singer designed, with the phrase “Ain’t Afraid” emblazoned it, helped raise $50,000.
“This is typically what they would call a ‘no cure scenario,'” Zazu said in a statement at the time, “but I refuse to believe that to be the case. I feel healthy, happy, hopeful, determined, positive, and full of sparks and nails. In a sense: there’s a tumor growing on my body, I don’t know what lays in store, but I ain’t afraid anymore. Yes, I guess I am a mystic mind after all.”
The singer also detailed her cancer battle in a Nashville Scene cover story in June.
“Before I felt defeated, because I had put so much energy into the band, and it was imploding. I didn’t think anybody heard what I had been trying to say all those years,” Zazu said in June. “But after the ‘Ain’t Afraid’ video, I realized people had heard me the whole time. They wrote me about how our music impacted their lives in a significant way. I don’t have words to say how much that meant to me.”
“Shout-out to your contagious spirit that inspired all who crossed it,” Regensburg said following the musician’s death. “Shout-out to the creative dynamo who continued to flourish even against insurmountable odds. Shout-out to all the little triumphs over the last 16 months. Shout-out to the ridiculous van rides and the fights and to the fact that we never turned our backs on one another over the last decade. Shout-out to the dreams we made and the ones left to come. And shout-out to all of you who have supported her until the end.”