One of the truly signature voices of hard rock and heavy metal was silenced yesterday, May 16, when the inimitable Ronnie James Dio passed away from stomach cancer. His enormous voice, which had near perfect pitch and could growl, howl, and moan as well as croon and roar above a band playing at full throttle, was instantly recognizable no matter who he played with. Born in New Hampshire, in 1942, and raised in New York, Dio literally spent his life in rock & roll. He began performing in rock & roll and doo wop groups in the 50s. The recorded evidence is on the single "Lover"/"Conquest," by Ronnie and the Redcaps issued in 1958! Dio was a multi-instrumentalist, playing bass, guitar, piano, drums, and even trumpet. In 1967 he and his cousin formed the Electric Elves, who later transformed themselves into the hard boogieing party band Elf, in which Dio sang and played bass. The band was discovered by Roger Glover and Ian Paice, who took them on the road to open for Deep Purple. When Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple in 1975 to form Rainbow, Elf became his backing band, but shortly thereafter only Dio remained. It was a stormy but creative partnership. Rainbow stormed the charts with tracks that bore Dio's signature vocal, including the immortal "Man on the Silver Mountain" and "Stargazer." Dio wrote or co-wrote many of the band's songs and served as its chief arranger.

Rainbow - "Man on the Silver Mountain"

Dio left Rainbow in 1978 to front Black Sabbath after Ozzy Osborne left. He recorded two studio albums with the legendary unit, including Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules. Unsatisfied with the band's direction, Dio left to form his own self-monikered group with Vinny Appice (drums), Jimmy Bain (bass), Vivian Campbell (guitar), and Claude Schnell (keyboards). He wrote, arranged, and sang, and held complete creative control over the band. Given the time period -- 1982 -- the dawn of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and MTV's newfound power in breaking acts, the arrival of Dio couldn't have been better timed. The original band issued four classic albums and a slew of singles, including "Holy Diver" "Sunset Superman," "All the Fool Sailed Away," "The Last in Line," "Rainbow in the Dark," and others; they sold literally millions of records. The videos for "Rock 'n' Roll Children," "Holy Diver," and "The Last in Line" helped to define '80s metal as a prime video medium.

Dio - "Holy Diver"

Dio rejoined a new version of Black Sabbath for 1992's Dehumanizer and left again to perform on his own with a revolving cast of musicians -- including Yngwie Malmsteen. Dio reunited with original Black Sabbath members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler (drummer Bill Ward dropped out early due to "musical differences" and was replaced by Vinny Appice). The band renamed itself Heaven and Hell and recorded the stellar Live from Radio City Music Hall. Released in 2007, it received universal acclaim and sold well. In April of 2009 the band released its lone studio album The Devil You Know. After returning from a long tour, Dio was diagnosed with cancer in November. He aggressively fought it with multiple chemotherapy rounds and other aggressive treatments. His health appeared to be improving at the beginning of the year and Heaven and Hell planned on returning to the stage for a spring and summer tour. Dio's health took a turn for the worse in the early spring and Heaven and Hell canceled their touring plans just after releasing a split single with Metallica for Record Store Day in April of 2010.

Dio was a true rock & roll icon; his enormous talent as a vocalist and songwriter seemed to refute age rather than be dissipated by it. He will be missed by not only fans of hard rock, but also by those whose respect he gained from over 50 years in the trenches.

Heaven and Hell - "Mob Rules"