Surviving members of the Chieftans said today they would miss Derek Bell "terribly".
The Belfast-born member of the band died after recovering from minor surgery in the United States.
He joined the band as a full-time member in the early 1970s but had appeared with them previously on tour.
Surviving band members said they would miss him terribly and his death had left a silence that would never be filled.
The world would also be a much less interesting place without him, they added.
James Galway, a friend of Bell since they were students together at the Royal College of Music, said: “It’s a great tragedy.
“Derek was an essential member of the Chieftains professionally and personally. Derek occupied an unique position in the music world.
“He retained a real passion for folk music and will be sadly missed.”
Before joining The Chieftains, Bell appeared with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and symphony orchestras in Pittsburgh, Moscow, London, Budapest and the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra.
The accomplished musician played the harp and among other instruments, the oboe, horn, cor anglais and keyboards.
In their lengthy career, The Chieftains have worked with a variety of artists and in a number of styles.
They have collaborated with singers from Van Morrison, Tom Jones and Elvis Costello to bands like The Corrs and the Rolling Stones.