UPDATED: 4:18 p.m. ET, June 10, 2021 —
While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
Keep reading to learn more about the notable Black lives that we’ve lost in 2021.
Martha White, a freedom fighter of the last century died on June 5 at the age of 99, the Associated Press reports. White’s refusal to give up her seat on a crowded Baton Rouge, Lousisiana, bus after a hard day of work in 1953 helped launch a mass bus boycott in the capital city. White was later joined by another Black woman domestic worker and civil rights activist Rev. T.J. Jemison, who helped reinforce that White was within her legal right due to a recently passed ordinance that desegregated buses.
The movement also provided a framework for the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks refused to move to the designated “colored” seating on a city bus two years later in 1955.
Sanyika Shakur, a former street gang leader known as “Monster” Kody Scott who reformed his life of crime as detailed in a memoir he wrote in prison that shot to the top of the New York Times Best Selling list of books, has died, HipHopWired reported. Neither the date nor cause of death was immediately announced.
Shakur was able to turn his life around following a murderous existence as a member of the notorious Crips gang in South Central Los Angeles and become a motivational speaker. The converted Muslim once admitted during a high-profile interview on “60 Minutes” that he relished the role of being a respected and reputed gang leader who was feared and could give orders — including to kill — with obedient impunity.
The same man who said he had killed multiple people was also notable for his undeniable charisma, charm and introspective intelligence, as displayed in the “60 Minutes” interview he conducted as his autobiography, “Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member,” was being released in 1993.
During the interview — which was conducted from prison while he was serving a seven-year sentence — Shakur shrewdly questioned whether his offenses were any worse than, say, Oliver North’s war crimes for which the National Security Council staff member got no prison time for his Iran–Contra crimes.
Born Kody Scott in 1963, Shakur described his gang-affiliated life in cinematic terms while living an insulated lifestyle within South Central while engaging in turf wars over what he would later describe as a duel for respect based on “nothing.”
The New York Times called Shakur’s autobiography “shockingly raw” in a book review in 1993, and anyone who has read it must surely agree.
One of the more tame passages underscores how ruthless of a lifestyle Shakur and his fellow Eight-Tray Crips were living.
“Only when I had put work in could I feel good that day, otherwise I couldn’t sleep,” Shakur wrote in his book. “Work does not always constitute shooting someone, though this is the ultimate. Anything from wallbangin’ (writing your set name on a wall, advertising) to spitting on someone to fighting — it’s all work. And I was a hard worker.”
Shakur’s ability to reform his life from negative to positive was nothing short of remarkable.
Moguldum called “Monster” a must-read and named it as one of the top 10 books that helped scale political and cultural consciousness in the 1990s.
Shakur maintained that he remained a target of law enforcement even after reforming his lifestyle. It was in that context that Shakur was arrested in 2007 for, as NPR reported, “allegedly breaking into a man’s home in December and beating him in order to steal his car.”
At the time, Shakur was on the LAPD’s most wanted list.
Then-Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton all but rejoiced at the arrest.
Shakur once explained in vivid detail during an interview with BET how he got his nickname.
“The name came from a beating that I had given a guy,” Shakur said. “We had robbed him, and the dude hit me in the face. Then we chased him and beat him, and stomped him and disfigured him. And the pigs, police, were saying that whoever had did this to this cat was a monster. And the look on the people’s faces when I came back to the hood that night — it was just power. And I felt it. And I just took that name.”
Keep reading to learn more about some of the other notable Black people who have died this year.
1. Martha White, civil rights activist, 99Source:Twitter
Martha White, organizer of the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott died on June 5 at the age of 99. The movement provided a framework for the Montgomery Bus Boycott after Rosa Parks refused to move to the designated “colored” seating on a city bus two years later in 1955.
2. Clarence Williams III, actor, 81Source:Getty
Clarence Williams III, the enigmatic actor who rose to fame as the character “Linc” On “The Mod Squad,” becoming a Black power icon during the ’70s, died on June 4 at the age of 81. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Williams died after a battle with colon cancer. The actor received a Tony Award nod for his role in the Broadway play “Slow Dance on the Killing Ground,” and went on to appear in a series of TV series and cult classic films over his longstanding career.
Some of Williams’ most notable credits include playing troubled father figure type roles in the smash hits, “Purple Rain” and Sugar Hill,” well as starring in the cult classics, “Sugar Hill, and “Tales from the Hood.” Williams also flexed his comedy muscle in movies like “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka,” and “Half-Baked.”
3. Samuel Wright, actor, 74Source:Getty
Actor Samuel E. Wright, best known for his voice work as the loveable character “Sebastian” in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” died on Monday after a three-year battle with prostate cancer according to his daughter who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter. Wright was 74.
His performance in “Under the Sea” helped earn “The Little Mermaid” win an Oscar in 1990 for Best Original Song. He also did voice work as a bunch-of-grapes character for Fruit of the Loom underwear.
Wright was an acclaimed Broadway actor, nominated for two Tony Awards for his performances in “The Tap Dance Kid” and “The Lion King.” The South Carolina native also appeared on the small and large screen, playing jazz icon Dizzy Gillespie in the 1988 film “Bird,” and appearing on “The Cosby Show,” “All My Children,” and “Law & Order.”
4. Chi Modu, photographer, 54Source:Getty
Chi Modu, a celebrated hip-hop photographer whose lens captured iconic images of the genre’s elite, has died at the age of 54. Little details are known regarding his passing which was announced on May 23 on his official Instagram page.
“Our hearts are broken…We continue the fight,” the post reads. “The family requests privacy at this time.”
For over the last 30 years Modu captured photos of Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Diddy, Dr. Dre, Q-Tip and Mary J. Blige. As director of photography for The Source, Modu’s photos helped the magazine rise in profile with imaginative and groundbreaking covers, as Modu and the outlet grew as an authoritative voice in the genre.
5. Paul Mooney, comedian, writer, 79Source:Getty
Legendary comedian Paul Mooney, whose real name was Paul Gladney, passed away on May 19 at the age of 79 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Oakland, California. The news was first shared on Twitter by journalist Roland Martin.
In the tweet, Martin also alleged that Mooney was battling dementia. The comedian is heralded as an architect of modern comedy who worked with the who’s who of Hollywood and was especially hailed by Black comedians. Mooney launched into the stratosphere of comedy in the ’70s as a writer for comedic icon Richard Pryor. He also pursued a career in acting, starring as Sam Cooke in the 1978 film “The Buddy Holly Story,” and as the character Junebug in Spike Lee’s impactful 2000 film “Bamboozled.” His cultural impact spanned over 50 years, as the head writer for the groundbreaking Black sketch show “In Living Color,” forming the memorable character Homey The Clown, and influenced comedian Dave Chappelle by creating the character Negrodamus on “Chappelle’s Show.”
6. Lee Evans, Olympic champion, 74Source:Getty
Olympic champion Lee Evans, who set a world record while winning the gold medal running for the 400-meter race in the infamous 1968 Summer Olympic Games, has died. Evans May 19 at a hospital in Nigeria at the age of 74, the Washington Post reported.
Evans reportedly suffered a stroke the week before he died.
Evans excelled during the height of the civil rights movement and about six months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. While he was accepting his medal, Evans wore a black beret to match his black socks and raised his fist.
7. Frank McRae, actor and former NFL player, 80Source:Getty
Frank McCrae may not have been a household name, but the character actor had so many roles on TV and film that his face was seemingly ubiquitous — especially to Black folks. Unfortunately, his daughter announced his death to Variety and said he suffered a heart attack before he died last month at his home in California. He was 80 years old.
Some notable roles played by McRae, who was also an NFL player, were from movies such as the James Bond thriller, “License to Kill,” and National Lampoon’s “Vacation.”
8. Eugene Webb, NYC real estate broker, 102Source:Getty
“Eugene H. Webb, who was raised in racially segregated Alabama with modest ambitions, but who after transplanting himself to Harlem established what became the nation’s largest Black-owned real estate management company, died on April 5 at his home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. He was 102.”
Pictured: State Labor Department Commissioner Lillian Roberts and Eugene Webb view a building where state office agencies were going to be transferred.
9. Pervis Staples, singer, 85Source:Getty
“Pervis Staples, whose tenor voice complemented his father’s and sisters’ in the legendary gospel group The Staple Singers, has died, a spokesman announced Wednesday. He was 85.”
Pictured: The Staple Singers, including from left, Pervis, Roebuck ‘Pop’ and Mavis Staples.
10. Curtis Fuller, legendary jazz trombonist, 88Source:Getty
“Curtis Fuller, an acclaimed jazz trombonist who was a key contributor to the bluesy hard-bop style of the 1950s and 1960s and who was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, died May 8 at a nursing home in Detroit. He was 88.”
No cause of death was given.
Curtis Fuller during the Capital Jazz Festival, Knebworth, Hertfordshire, England, July 1982. (Photo by Jazz Services/Heritage Images/Getty Images) microphone,photography,people,one person,arts culture and entertainment,horizontal,musician,usa,portrait,music,uk,england,performance,outdoors,history,dress,1980-1989,black and white,eyeglasses,drinking glass,archival,clothing,jazz music,human interest,nightlife,music festival,competition round,performing arts event,musical instrument,performer,personal accessory,hertfordshire,country and western music,20th century style,jazz festival,trombonist,knebworth,trombone
11. Henrietta Turnquest, pioneering Black woman politician, 73
Henrietta Turnquest, an attorney and one of the first Black women elected to the Georgia General Assembly who helped integrate the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers, died on March 29 following complications from Alzheimer’s disease. She was 73 years old.
“Determination personified Henrietta Turnquest as she became an attorney, state lawmaker and community activist in her adopted home of Georgia. That, plus fearlessness and the ability to spot problems and bring coalitions together made her a trailblazer.”
12. Shock G, rapper-producer, 57Source:Getty
Digital Underground’s Shock G died on April 22 from unknown causes. He was 57. The eccentric and charismatic frontman rose to prominence in the 80’s and 90’s, cultivating the group’s sound to helped steer Oakland, California, as a vital ground in hip-hop. Shock G was also famously known for his persona Humpty Hump.
13. Antron Pippen, 33
Antron Pippen, the oldest son of Hal of Fame NBA champion Scottie Pippen, died April 18 at the age of 33.
Scottie Pippen wrote:
“I’m heartbroken to share that yesterday, I said goodbye to my firstborn son Antron. The two of us shared a love for basketball and we had countless conversations about the game. Antron suffered from chronic asthma and if he hadn’t had it, I truly believe he would’ve made it to the NBA. He never let that get him down, though—Antron stayed positive and worked hard, and I am so proud of the man that he became. Please keep his mom, Karen, and all of his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers. A kind heart and beautiful soul gone way too soon. I love you, son, rest easy until we meet again.”
14. Black Rob, rapper, 51Source:Getty
“Hip-Hop has lost another great artist way too soon. Black Rob of Bad Boy Records and “Whoa” fame has passed away.
“Born Robert Ross, Black Rob aka Banco Popular aka Bacardi Rob was just 51.”
His death was announced April 17.
15. Gerren Taylor, model, 30Source:WENN
“Baldwin Hills” star Ashley Taylor Gerren, also known as Gerren Taylor, 30, died in her sleep on April 12. While her cause of death has not been confirmed, reports speculate that Gerren suffered from complications related to lupus as she was reportedly on dialysis at the time of her death.
Her death was first shared on social media by “Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood” star Ray Cunningham.
16. DMX, rapper, actor, 50Source:Getty
Rapper DMX died on April 9 at the age of 50 after suffering from a heart attack. The influential hip-hop artist was known for his introspective lyrics that explored his trauma and his light. The Grammy-nominated artist, whose real name was Earl Simmons, released a total of eight studio albums during his career which spanned over 20 years. He died after being hospitalized at White Plains Hospital in New York.
17. Midwin Charles, attorney, 47Source:Getty
CNN and MSNBC analyst Midwin Charles died on April 7 , according to a statement posted by her family on social media. The attorney and legal commentator was 47-years-old.
18. Alcee Hastings, congressman, 84Source:Getty
Longtime Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings died on April 6 at the age of 84 after battling pancreatic cancer. Hastings made history on several fronts, becoming the first Black person appointed to be a federal judge in the state of Florida, and the first Black person elected to represent Florida in the House since Reconstruction. Hastings served as Florida’s longest-running congressman.
19. Alvin Sykes, civil rights activist, 64Source:Kansas City Public Library
Alvin Sykes, hailed as a self-taught legal defender and civil rights activist, died at the age of 64 at a hospice in Kansas on March 19. Sykes was most famously known for his work on landmark cold cases and helped reopen the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till.
According to a close friend, Sykes died from complications from a fall that left him partially paralyzed two years ago, The New York Times reports. In addition to his work on cold cases Sykes assisted local, state and federal lawmakers to reform jury selection and advocated for DNA research in murder investigations.
20. Sarah Obama, paternal step-grandmother of Barack Obama, 99Source:Getty
Sarah Obama, the paternal step-grandmother of President Barack Obama died on March 29 after being hospitalized for a week, relatives and officials confirmed. Her death was not related to COVID-19 complications. She was at least 99 years old.
“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman, a matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
Former President Obama tweeted about his grandmother.
“My family and I are mourning the loss of our beloved grandmother, Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, affectionately known to many as ‘Mama Sarah’ but known to us as ‘Dani’ or Granny,” he wrote. “We will miss her dearly, but we’ll celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life.”
21. Craig “muMs” Grant, poet-actorSource:Getty
News circulated on March 25 that renowned poet and actor Craig “muMs” Grant died from an unknown cause. Grant’s death was shared by “Real World” star and fellow writer Kevin Powell, who posted a tribute to Grant on Twitter. Grant was most notably known for his role as Arnold “Poet” Jackson on the groundbreaking HBO series “Oz,” and starred in a series of movies and films including Netflix’s “Luke Cage” and “She’s Gotta Have It.”
22. Elgin Baylor, NBA legend, 86Source:Getty
Elgin Baylor, the NBA legend and Hall of Fame player who wowed as a star on the hardcourt with the Los Angeles Lakers before he did the same in the boardroom as an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers, died March 22 at the age of 86.
His wife confirmed the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s death and said Baylor died of natural causes.
Jeannie Buss, the owner of the Lakers, mourned Baylor in a statement:
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era — his many accolades speak to that,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said in a statement. “He was one of the few Lakers players whose career spanned from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. But more importantly, he was a man of great integrity, even serving his country as a U.S. Army reservist, often playing for the Lakers only during his weekend pass. He is one of the all-time Lakers greats with his No. 22 jersey retired in the rafters and his statue standing guard in front of STAPLES Center. He will always be part of the Lakers legacy. On behalf of the entire Lakers family, I’d like to send my thoughts, prayers, and condolences to Elaine and the Baylor family.”
Baylor’s wife said her husband died of natural causes.
ESPN reported: “Considered one of basketball’s greatest players, Baylor was an 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA selection during his 14 seasons with the Lakers from 1958 to 1971. He was the 1958-59 Rookie of the Year as well as the All-Star Game MVP that year. He averaged a double-double for his career, posting 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.”
Baylor is survived by his wife and daughter.
23. Yaphet Kotto, actor, 81
Actor Yaphet Kotto died March 15 at the age of 81. His wife announced the death via his Facebook page but didn’t offer a cause of death.
Kotto was a classically trained actor who went on to achieve success on the stage as well as the big and small screens. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 1979 for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Fans might remember him from his starring role on the network TV show, “Homicide: Life on the Street,” in the 1990s, as well as his movie roles, including a James Bond villain in “Live and Let Die,” which was filmed in predominately Black settings.
24. Reggie Warren, singer, 52Source:Getty
Celebrated singer Reggie Warren died on March 14 surrounded by loved ones in his Pasadena, California, home. Warren was a founding member of TROOP, a New Jack Swing R&B group that rose to fame in the early 90’s. He was 52.
25. Jo Thompson, muscian-singer, 92
Thompson, a Detroit native, died on March 9 at the age of 92.
26. Paul H. Brock, journalist, 89
Brock, the founding executive director of the The National Association of Journalists (NABJ) died on March 14 at the age of 89, according to the NABJ. Prior to his death Brock served in several high-profile roles in the field of journalism, including news director at Howard University’s WHUR-FM, director of communications for the Democratic National Committee and the campaign communications manager for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign.
27. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxing legend, 66Source:Getty
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, the legendary boxing middleweight champion, died March 13 at the age of 66. Hagler’s wife said in a Facebook post that he “passed away unexpectedly at his home” in New Hampshire. During his career that spanned 14 impressive years, Hagler lost just two times and scored 53 knockouts while amassing 62 wins.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1954 before going on to grow up in Brockton, Massachusetts, Hagler ultimately became a sports legend in nearby Boston.
Hagler defended his title 12 times before he famously lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in a split decision in 1987 during what turned out to be his final boxing match.
28. Robert Ashby, military hero, 95Source:Getty
Robert Ashby, one of the three surviving members of the Tuskegee Air Force died on March 5 at the age of 95, the Associated Press reports.
29. Obe Noir, rapper-activist, 31Source:Instagram
Noir, a respected Houston rapper and activist was gunned down on March 8. He was 31. Police are actively investigating his death.
30. Marshall Latimore, journalist, 36Source:The Atlanta Voice
Latimore, a Birmingham, Alabama, native and award-winning journalist, died on March 10. Latimore worked as editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Voice. He was 36.
31. Lawrence Otis Graham, author, 59Source:Getty
Graham, a New York Times bestseller, died on Feb. 19. He was 59 years old. His works published in the 1990’s examined the intricacies and tensions surrounding Black people who achieved financial mobility in America.
32. Jahmil French, actor, 28Source:Getty
Fans mourned the 28-year-old “Degrassi” actor’s death on March 2.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of a dear friend and client Jahmil French,” his agent Gabrielle Kachman said in a statement. “He will be remembered by many for his passion for the arts, his commitment to his craft, and his vibrant personality. I ask that you keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”
33. Bunny Wailer, reggae icon, 73Source:Getty
Wailer, a reggae icon and musical giant died on Tuesday at the age of 73.
34. Irv Cross, legendary broadcaster, 81Source:Getty
Cross, a former NFL defensive back who made history in the broadcasting industry died on Feb. 28. He was 81. He made history as the first Black man to work as a full-time sports analyst on national television. His death announcement was made by his former team the Philadelphia Eagles. Cross was drafted to the Eagles in the 1961 NFL draft where he spent six years before he was traded to the Rams. During his time in the NFL, he made two Pro Bowls before retiring in 1969.
35. Shelia Washington, founder, Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, 61Source:William H. Hampton
Washington died from a heart attack in January at the age of 61. For over a decade she waged a campaign to exonerate the Scottsboro Boys, a group of Black teens who were falsely accused of raping white women aboard a train in Alabama in the 1930s.
36. Antoine Hodge, opera singer, 38Source:GoFundMe
Antoine Hodge, a respected and celebrated opera singer, died from COVID-19 on Feb. 22. He was 38 years old. Hodge recently appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 production of “Porgy and Bess.”
37. Douglas Turner Ward, actor, Negro Ensemble Company co-founder, 90Source:WENN
Douglas Turner Ward, an actor and champion of Black playwrights who was the co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, died Feb. 20 at the age of 90.
Ward wrote a column in the New York Times that ultimately led to the company’s start.
“If any hope, outside of chance individual fortune, exists for Negro playwrights as a group — or, for that matter, Negro actors and other theater craftsman — the most immediate, pressing, practical, absolutely minimally essential active first step is the development of a permanent Negro repertory company of at least Off-Broadway size and dimension,” Ward wrote at the time. “Not in the future … but now!”
That prompted the Ford Foundation to grant him the funds needed to establish the Negro Ensemble Company, which went on to produce stage classics such as “A Soldiers Play,” starring Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, and “The River Niger.”
Ward, who appeared in Broadway plays such as, “A Raisin in the Sun,” was a champion for Black playwrights at a time when support for them for nearly nonexistent. He said he was proud of the success his company has had over the years.
“I’m proud of the personnel that we trained and the fact that they’re still active in every field of theater, TV, and film,” Ward told the Roundabout Theater Company in an interview published nearly a year ago. “Not just the writers, but the actors, the designers, the stage managers, the backstage personnel, the directors. Everybody. To this day they are all over American show business working. And some creating their own theaters.”
38. Prince Markie Dee, rapper, 52Source:Getty
Prince Markie Dee, who rose to fame as a founding member of the pioneering 1980s rap group, Fat Boys, died Feb. 17 at the age of 52. He reportedly died from congestive heart failure. Hip Hop Wired reports:
“Prince Markie Dee appeared in the ensemble cast of Krush Groove, which was loosely based on the life of Russell Simmons, and with the Fat Boys also starred in their own movie called Disorderlies in 1987. The Fat Boy’s self-titled debut was released in 1984 and produced by Kurtis Blow. Their 1987 album Crushin’ went platinum.
“After the Fat Boys’ run, Markie found success as solo acts, with ‘Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)’ from his 1992 solo album Free. The song became a no. 1 single and he eventually settled in as a producer, as Soul Convention with Cory Rooney, as well as a radio host. Recently he had been hosting a show on SiriusXM’s LL Cool J-founded Rock The Bells.”
39. Vincent Jackson, former NFL star, 38Source:Getty
Vincent Jackson, a former wide receiver for several NFL teams, was found dead in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 15. He was just 38 years old. The circumstances surrounding his death were not immediately reported and condolences poured in from around the professional football community for someone who was universally regarded as a great player and even better person. His family had reported him missing on Feb. 10.
40. Danny Ray, MC who put cape on James Brown, 85Source:Getty
Danny Ray, who worked with James Brown for more than four decades in various roles, including as the man who put the singer’s cape on him while he was performing on stage, died. on Feb. 2 at the age of 85, the Washington Post reported. No cause of death was listed.
In addition to handling Brown’s cape, Ray was effectively his personal fashion stylist, valet and overall personal assistant. Ray would also faithfully introduce Brown before his performances.
41. Frederick K.C. Price, evangelist, 89
Frederick K.C. Price, a televangelist Christian preacher who had one of the first predominately Black megachurches in the U.S., has died following complications from COVID-19. He died on Feb. 12 at the age of 89.
The New York Times reported:
“Mr. Price founded the Crenshaw Christian Center in Inglewood, Calif., in 1973, according to the church’s website. Its membership has grown to over 28,000 from 300 at its inception.
“In addition to services in the FaithDome, a 10,000-seat building, Mr. Price began televising his services locally in 1978 through Ever Increasing Faith Ministries, the missionary outreach arm of the church, after he had ‘received instruction from God,’ according to the church’s website. Mr. Price had begun broadcasting his services on the radio years earlier, and expanded the televised broadcasts ‘in an effort to reach Black America.'”
42. Terez Paylor, sports journalist, 37Source:facebook
Yahoo Sports journalist Terez Paylor died unexpectedly on Feb. 9 at the age of 37.
43. Mary Wilson, co-founder of The Supremes, 76Source:Getty
Mary Wilson, one of the founding members of The Supremes, has died at the age of 76. Her death on Feb. 8 was unexpected. There was no cause of death immediately announced.
A press release announcing Wilson’s death remembered her as someone who “changed the face of pop music to become a trendsetter who broke down social, racial, and gender barriers, which all started with the wild success of their first number one song. Formed in Detroit as The Primettes in 1959, The Supremes were Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s, scoring 12 No. 1 singles. They also continue to reign as America’s most successful vocal group to date. Their influence not only carries on in contemporary R&B, soul and pop, they also helped pave the way for mainstream success by Black artists across all genres.”
44. Karen Lewis, former Chicago Teachers Union president, 67Source:Getty
Former Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis died on Feb. 7 from brain cancer, NBC News Chicago reports. Lewis was known for her fiery activism, spearheading a 2011 effort which in 2012 resulted in the first teachers strike in 25 years. Lewis, a former chemistry teacher will be remembered as a champion for educators in Chicago and helped mobilize the group to fight for equity. She battled a series of health issues before her death. In 2017 she suffered a stroke and in 2018, she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
45. Leon Spinks, former heavyweight champion, 67Source:Getty
Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks died on Feb. 5 after a five-year battle with prostate and other cancers. Spinks, 67, was most famously known for one of the greatest sports upsets of all time during a 1978 boxing match with Muhammad Ali, where he beat the champ, securing the heavyweight title. Several months later Ali reclaimed the title. Although they were fierce competitors the two stayed close well into their later years.
46. Dianne Durham, gymnast, 52Source:Getty
Dianne Durham, a trailblazer in the gymnast world died on Feb. 4 at the age of 52 after suffering from a short, unknown illness according to NBC News. Durham was the first Black person to win a USA Gymnastics national championship. Her vision and fortitude paved the way for other Black women gymnasts like Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles.
47. John Chaney, college basketball coaching legend, 89Source:Getty
48. Cicely Tyson, actresss, 96Source:Getty
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson died on Jan. 28 at the age of 96. Her death was confirmed by Larry Thompson, her manager of 40 years, who released a statement to Variety. Tyson passed just two days after the release of her memoir, “Just as I am.” She paved the way for Black actors in Hollywood and her presence on the screen and in the world will be sorely missed.
Tyson was one of the most acclaimed actresses in Hollywood, paving the way for Black thespians while representing the last of the film industry’s golden age. But her road to success was tested at several points in her career where she was faced with racism, sexism, misogynoir. Throughout her career which spanned over 60 years in television, film, and theatre, Cicely was nominated for 52 awards, with 49 wins.
Her death came just two days after the release of her memoir “Just as I am” in which Tyson reflected on her contributions and her personal trials and tribulations.
49. Hank Aaron, MLB icon, 86Source:Getty
Aaron, a baseball legend who made history in 1974 when he shattered Babe Ruth’s home run record, died on Jan. 22 at the age of 86. Fans and supporters shared their grief on social media, honoring the MLB icon with tributes and thanks for what he gave the game of baseball, as well as his civil rights and philanthropic efforts.
Aaron was a prolific athlete who rose through poverty as a child of the Great Depression to become hailed as baseball’s “home run king.” In 1974 he made history shattering the record held by Babe Ruth of 714 home runs in a career.
50. Duranice Pace, gospel singer, 62Source:Getty
Pace, 62, was the eldest sister of “The Annointed Pace Sisters,” which consisted of Duranice, June Pace–Martin, Melonda Pace, Dejuaii Pace, Leslie Pace, Latrice Pace and Lydia Pace. The Atlanta-based group helped catapult the city into the mainstream as a musical landmark in the south. The Pace Sisters recorded a total of seven albums together including chart toppers, “U-Know,” “Access Granted,” “My Purpose” and “Return.” On social media her fans and supporters continue to reflect on the musical legacy she left behind.
Famed and beloved gospel singer Duranice Pace died on Jan. 14, according to family members who confirmed via social media. She was 62-years-old. Pace was the eldest sister of “The Annointed Pace Sisters,” which consisted of Duranice, June Pace–Martin, Melonda Pace, Dejuaii Pace, Leslie Pace, Latrice Pace and Lydia Pace. The Atlanta-based group helped catapult the city into the mainstream as a musical landmark in the south.
Details surrounding her death are scarce. Those close to Pace confirmed that she battling an unknown illness and was hospitalized last week. On social media Pace’s supporters asked for prayers and well-wishes in hopes that she would recover.
51. Tim Lester, NFL star, 52Source:Getty
Tim Lester, a former NFL star who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Dallas Cowboys, died on Jan. 12 from COVID-19 complications. He was 52. After his almost decade long career in the NFL, he dedicated his life to coaching and philanthropy efforts in Milton, Georgia.
Tim Lester, a former NFL star who was known on the gridiron as “The Bus Driver,” died on Jan. 12 from COVID-19 complications. He was 52. Lester played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Dallas Cowboys during his almost decade long career in the game. Lester’s former teammate all-star Emmitt Smith memorialized him on Twitter after the tragic news broke.
“It’s a sad day to hear of Tim Lester’s passing…My thoughts go out to his family, Steelers Nation and his teammates that he so steadily blocked and protected. RIP to “The Bus Driver,” Smith wrote.
52. Bryan Monroe, former NABJ president, 55Source:Getty
Monroe died from a heart attack at age 55 on Jan. 13. He served as president of the NABJ from 2005-2007. Monroe was a chair at Verizon and taught in the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia. During his career in the news Monroe also worked as an editor for CNN’s political site and accrued acclaim for his leadership at the Biloxi Sun Herald during Hurricane Katrina. Following, the outlet won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage.
Former NABJ President Bryan Monroe died of a heart attack at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on Jan. 13, according to a statement. Monroe served as president of the illustrious organization which provides advocacy and training for Black journalists, from 2005-2007. He was a chair member at Verizon and taught at the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia.
53. Meredith C. Anding Jr., civil rights icon, 79
Meredith C. Anding Jr., a civil rights icon who as a member of the “Tougaloo Nine” was arrested for entering a “whites only” library in 1961, has died. Anding was 79 years old. The cause of death was complications from leukemia.
The Associated Press reported: “The Tougaloo Nine were students at the historically Black institution Tougaloo College who staged a peaceful sit-in at Jackson’s white-only library on March, 27, 1961. It is widely considered the first student protest of segregation at a public institution in Mississippi.”
54. Eric Jerome Dickey, best-selling author, 59Source:Getty
Dickey left a career as a software engineer to pursue his art and worked diligently at his craft for years writing poetry, comedy, and scripts until he published his first novel “Sister, Sister” in 1996.” Over the course of his career Dickey published 29 novels and was honored as a New York Times best-selling author. He also earned a series of NAACP Image Awards, the 2006 Best Contemporary Fiction and Author of The Year, and Storyteller of the Year in 2008 at the 1st Annual Essence Literary Awards.
55. Floyd Little, football legend, 78Source:Getty
College and professional football star Floyd Little died on New Year’s Day. He was 78 years old and died following a brief battle with cancer. In 1964, Little chose to attend Syracuse University, where he was a three-time all-American. That collegiate stardom paved Little’s way to star in the then-AFL for the Denver Broncos, a team that later became part of the larger group of professional football franchises popularly known as the NFL. Speaking of “franchise,” that became Little’s nickname on the Broncos as he went on to set several rushing marks.