We have lost so many greats over the years from original Supremes member Florence Ballard to Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, whose 48th birthday is today. Below is a tribute to the queens we lost too soon.
Whitney Houston, a legendary songstress who had a scintillating voice and a talent beyond compare, passed away at age 48. Recognized by the Guinness World Records as the “Most Awarded Female Act of All Time,” Houston sold more than 170-million albums, videos, and singles worldwide during her career. Houston’s artistic talents also spilled over on to the big screen, where she graced audiences with her acting abilities. Houston was found dead on February 11, 2012, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel only one day before the 2012 Grammy Awards. The cause of death is still unofficial but there is suspicion that a cocktail of drugs and alcohol might have been the culprit.
Minnie Riperton left her fans in awe of her five-and-a-half octave singing voice as evidenced in her 1975 timeless hit “Loving You.” During her short-lived career, she managed to sing backup for such greats as Etta James, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. In 1976, when Riperton was only 29 years old, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since the cancer had spread, Riperton was given only six months to live. Riperton, Mother of actress Maya Rudolph, became one of the first celebs to go public with her diagnosis and became a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. She passed away at age 31 on July 12, 1979.
Florence Ballard was a founding member of the most-heralded girl group of the sixties, The Supremes. Ballard sang in the group from 1963 to 1967, and during her reign, she helped spawn 10 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Ballard, whose voice was often described as “commanding,” battled Motown boss Berry Gordy throughout her time with the group. When Diana Ross was placed front and center and the trio became Diana Ross and the Supremes, Ballard’s days were numbered. After Ballard was released from the group, a failed solo career and marriage left her destitute with three children. Ballard was forced to apply for welfare and this news spread like wildfire. Soon after, she tried to resurrect her career and marriage, but on February 21, 1976 at the age of 32, Ballard died from a blood clot in one of her coronary arteries.
Billy Holiday or “Lady Day” had a musical persona that just never fades. She was inimitable with a voice that was haunting, vulnerable, and so reflective of the tragic life she led from the time she entered this earth. Holiday’s mother was a prostitute, and Holiday became one too before she even turned 14. After a stint in jail for prostitution charges, Holiday turned her attention to singing, and by 17, she was already performing at local Harlem, New York, haunts. Holiday was 20 years old when she was signed to a record label, and two years later, she found herself touring with such greats as Count Basie and Artie Shaw. The latter made her one of the first Black women to work with a white orchestra. By the time Holiday reached 30, she had established herself as a vocal force to be reckoned with. Soon Holiday’s light was dimmed by drug problems with weekly earnings of more than $1,000 spent on heroin. Holiday’s life became plagued with booze, drugs, and battles with abusive men, causing her health to spiral downward and her voice to lose its vibrancy. Diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, doctors ordered her to stop drinking but she didn’t. On May 31, 1959, Holiday was rushed to a hospital for liver and heart disease, and while there, she was placed under arrest for drug possession as she lay dying. Holiday remained under police guard at the hospital until she died two months later at age 44 on July 19, 1959, from pulmonary edema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver.
Tammi Terrell, who accompanied Marvin Gaye, made the pair a Motown phenom. By age 15, she had already signed with major record label Scepter Records as a solo artist. Terrell caught James Brown‘s eye when she was 17 and became one of his first female headliners. She and Brown became lovers, but the two-year relationship was fraught with the Godfather of Soul’s physical abuse. Berry Gordy became enamored with Terrell’s voice when he heard her perform at a venue and signed her on to Motown at age 20. She soon began touring and became involved with the Temptations lead singer David Ruffin, who also allegedly beat her unmercifully, striking her at one point with a hammer, machete, and motorcycle helmet in the face. Terrell’s success soared when she began singing with Gaye and their first hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” flew off the charts. Soon the young singer began experiencing unbearable headaches and migraines, which turned out to be a malignant brain tumor. Eight operations later, Terrell lapsed into a coma and died from complications of brain cancer on March 16, 1970. She was only 24 years young.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was a member of the famed hip-hop R&B girl group TLC. As the most vocal member of the group, she began speaking out against the group and eventually went her own way. She was featured on albums, collaborated with other vocalists like Toni Braxton, and even appeared on a couple of television shows. Lopes was never one to be silent about her personal life. She came from an abusive and alcoholic home and even struggled with alcohol herself. The petite performer also made headlines when she was accused and convicted of setting fire to the home of ex-lover NFL player Andre Rison. Lopes told police that he had beat her and she retaliated by setting his tennis shoes on fire in a tub and the flames spread, completely destroying his home. The young rebel rouser was sentenced to five years probation and therapy at a halfway house, but was never able to shake the incident from her reputation. On April 25, 2002, in La Ceiba, Honduras, Lopes, age 30, died of neck injuries and severe head trauma as the result of a fatal crash. There were three other passengers in the SUV that Lopes was driving. Lopes was the only fatality. See one of her classic moments below:
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was a multi-platinum recording artist, fashion icon, philanthropist, and burgeoning actress. She left behind a body of work that made an undeniable impact on R&B music and remains a testament to her many talents. Her debut album in 1994, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” was a hit due to her debut single “Back and Forth.” However, it was her collaboration with a then unknown Missy Elliott and Timbaland for the album “One in a A Million” that blew her career up.
Before her death, she also had an up-and-coming acting career in films like “Romeo Must Die” and a role in the “Matrix” sequel. Aaliyah once told VIBE, “Of course, I would love to get into acting and I am talking to a few producers now. That would be really exciting to be a jack of all trades and do music, movies and TV. I love drama and I think I could be a good dramatic actress. I have to ‘act out’ emotions in my videos a lot and I try to seem as realistic as possible.”
She continued, “I also would like to make bigger impact on the world by giving back, and using my celebrity to raise money for people who need it the most. What good is having money and being famous if you can’t share it with others less fortunate than yourself? I always felt that you should treat others how you yourself want to be treated.”
Sadly, we lost the singer in a plane crash on August 25, 2001 in the Bahamas. She was only 22 years old.
See Aaliyah below at the Apollo Theater in 1997.
Rest in peace to all of the icons.