UPDATED: 11:30 a.m. ET, Dec. 26, 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.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away early Sunday, Dec. 26, leaving behind an amazing legacy of justice and advocacy. A 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tutu is best known as an international human rights activist and voice of moral leadership.
Apartheid would officially end ten years later, finally ending white minority political rule in the country. According to Reuters, Tutu was considered the nation’s conscience by Black and white South Africans.
Born on Oct. 7, 1931, Tutu was the first Black African to hold the posts of Bishop of Johannesburg and later Archbishop of Cape Town. Although his cause of death is unknown, Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the 1990s and had a few infections associated with ongoing treatment in recent years.
Dr. Bernice King, daughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, called Tutu a “great, influential elder.”
“I’m saddened to learn of the death of global sage, human rights leader, and powerful pilgrim on earth, Archbishop #DesmondTutu,” tweeted King. “A great, influential elder is now an eternal, witnessing ancestor. And we are better because he was here. I’m praying for Archbishop Tutu’s family.”
Actress Thandiwe Newton reflected on the first time she heard the archbishop speak about the concept of ubuntu. In his memoir “No Future Without Forgiveness,” Tutu said that Ubuntu was difficult to translate into “western languages” but at its core “speaks of the very essence of being human.”
“Noooooooooo #DesmondTutu,” tweeted Newton. “Oh my heart my heart my heart. I heard him speak @ForgivenessProj when he shared the concept of #Ubuntu which changed my life. I had the privilege of meeting him that day, and we talked about Africa #Ubuntu Desmond *I am because you were* Rest now.”
His powerful teachings have been influencing minds for generations. Tutu was a voice of reason who broke through the noise and complacency to make sure people understood what was right.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Another powerful quote from Tutu had to do with rejecting crumbs in a fight for justice.
“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of human rights.”
Keep reading to learn more about the notable Black lives we’ve lost in 2021.
1. Wanda YoungSource:Getty
Wanda Young, one-third of the legendary The Marvelettes, passed away at 78. News reports quote her daughter saying Young passed away a week and a half ago on Dec. 15, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease complications.
Known for classic hits like “Please Mr. Postman” and “Don’t Mess with Bill,” The Marvelettes were a part of the legendary Motown Records officially joining the label in 1961. Young’s soulful voice can be heard on the lead “I’ll Keep Holding On” and “Don’t Mess with Bill.”
Born on Aug. 9, 1941, Young joined The Marvelettes while a student at Inkster High School in the greater Detroit area. She continued to perform a little after the group broke up but retired from music after a few years. Young performed on a 1990 Marvelettes album, “The Marvelettes: Now!” alongside group member Gladys Horton.
In an interview with the New York Times, Young’s daughter Meta Ventress said that she would often tell her mother that people still loved her music.
“I told her constantly, ‘All these people love you,’” Ventress told the New York Times in an interview. “And she’d say, ‘Wow.’” She added, “She didn’t wake up every day thinking of the Marvelettes, but she never lost that glamour.”
2. Kangol KidSource:Getty
Rap pioneer Kangol Kid, born Shaun Shiller Fequiere, died early Saturday morning less than a year after being diagnosed with colon cancer. A member of the 80’s rap group UTFO, Kid was known for his affinity for Kangol hats. He is said to be the first rapper to sign an endorsement deal, later followed by Run DMC.
Best known for the 1980s single “Roxanne, Roxanne” UTFO is reportedly the first hip-hop group to hit the charts for a ballad. During an April interview with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, Kid said the group’s song “Fairytale Lover” turned heads due to their singing.
He also spoke about wanting to change the way people, particularly Black men, dealt with the disease. Kid told the Colorectal Cancer Alliance he waited too long after first noticing issues before seeking help.
“We ignore it. We don’t take it seriously. That’s how we deal with the facts,” he told the organization. “Some of us are too proud to get help. I had nothing but men in my family. My dad had five boys. My brothers all had sons. It’s that whole man-like mentality. You’re raised to deal with things and keep it in.”
Colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, impacts Black men far greater than their white counterparts. In fact, Black men are 24% times more likely to get colorectal cancer and 47% times more likely to die from it. According to WebMD, Black women are also highly susceptible to the disease.
The disease made major headlines two years ago with the death of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman. Boseman silently battled with the disease for four years before his untimely passing.
Long before his own diagnosis, Kid was a supporter of the Mama Luke Foundation raising awareness about breast cancer. Inspired into action after the passing of his manager’s mom Gay Frances Lucas, affectionately called “Mama Luke,” Kid reached out to his friends in the music industry to bring attention to the cause.
“I’m just one of those cats I just can’t sit there and let stuff happen,” Kid said in an interview in 2011. “This right here is becoming the biggest hip hop movement since Self Destruction.”
3. Kimera Bartee, MLB coach and former playerSource:Getty
Kimera Bartee, the first base coach for the Detroit Tigers and a former Major League Baseball player, died suddenly on Dec. 20 at the age of 49. He died while visiting his father in his native Omaha, Nebraska. Bartee’s cause of death was not immediately reported.
“All of us in the Tigers baseball family were shocked and saddened to learn that first-base coach Kimera Bartee suddenly passed away on Monday at the age of 49,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in a statement. “Throughout his time in our organization, as both a player and a coach, Kimera was known as a kind soul but [an] intense competitor who did his best every day to elevate those around him to do great things.
4. Leonard HubbardSource:Getty
Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, a member of the legendary band the Roots, passed away Thursday after battling cancer for over a decade. A skilled bassist, Hubbard was 62.
Diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, multiple myeloma, Hubbard left the Roots in 2007. His wife told Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate that Hubbard had been in remission, but his health took a turn for the worse Wednesday evening. She was not allowed to stay with him because of COVID-19 protocols.
Hubbard marks the second high-profile death stemming from multiple myeloma in the past month. Commonly found in older people, multiple myeloma is considered a “silent killer” of Black people. As previously reported by NewsOne, there are disparities based on race at all stages of the disease. The cause for the disparities remains unclear.
Hubbard first joined the group in 1992, shortly before recording their first LP, “Organix.” According to Rolling Stone, Hubbard made a couple of appearances with the group after retiring notably in 2008 at the Roots Picnic and on stage with John Legend in 2010.
Although he stopped touring with the band, Hubbard continued writing music. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, his wife shared that he wrote songs for Jill Scott, Ben Harper, Vernon Reid, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Philadelphia-based artists Lady Alma and Jaguar Wright. (Read the complete Philadelphia Inquirer profile here)
“He wanted to be known for the type of music he was composing,” his wife told the Inquirer. “And before he died, he was sitting there at night listening to the music, and he was so happy with it.”
The Roots paid tribute to their former bandmate shortly after the news broke Thursday.
“It’s with the heaviest of hearts that we say goodbye to our brother Leonard Nelson Hubbard,” tweeted The Roots. “May your transition bring peace to your family, to your friends, to your fans and all of those who loved you. Rest in Melody Hub.”
Despite the touching tribute, news reports indicate that some band members remain locked in a lawsuit stemming from Hubbard’s claims of being underpaid compared to other members. His wife says the suit was not settled before Hubbard’s passing.
The infusion of sharp lyrics mixed with vibrant instrumentals remains a lasting part of the Roots style. Hubbard’s addition on the bass added to the Root’s soulful sound.
5. bell hooksSource:Getty
Acclaimed and prolific author and notable feminist bell hooks died on Wednesday at the age of 69 in her native Kentucky. Madame Noire reported that hooks’ cause of death was not immediately announced.
Born Gloria Jean Watkins in the town of Hopkinsville on September 25, 1952, she and her seven siblings attended a segregated school system that fostered her love for the written word and helped shape what would ultimately become the sharp views fueled by feminism that marked her work. Watkins had more than 30 books published under her pen name bell hooks.
While Watkins attended Stanford University — courtesy of a full scholarship — she began writing her seminal tome, “Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism,” a book documenting sexism against Black women in the U.S. The book was published in 1981, eight years after she graduated from Stanford with an English degree, under the pseudonym bell hooks, intentionally spelled with all lowercase letters.
Watkins also earned her master’s degree in English from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1976 before graduating with a Ph.D. in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she kicked off her official career in academia as a college professor.
She would later explain the reason for the unique lowercase presentation of her pen name was two-fold: 1) because Watkins was so heavily influenced by her great-grandmother — a woman named Bell Hooks (with a capital B and capital H) — she decided that she would write under the pseudonym of bell hooks in an effort to pay homage to her family’s matriarch. The decision was a veritable tribute to both her great-grandmother as well as her own mother. And 2), in order to draw increased attention to her work and the ideals they presented as opposed to her name, Watkins spelled bell hooks with all lowercase letters.
One of her former students at Yale University confirmed in a 2019 New York Times piece praising hooks that “Watkins wanted her pen name to be spelled in lowercase to shift the attention from her identity to her ideas.”
hooks went on to an illustrious and award-winning career while becoming renowned for her dozens of books on the intersectionality of race and feminism that were accented by sharp commentary that put her on a par with the other great Black writers in American history like James Baldwin and Maya Angelou.
6. Shirley McBay, mathematician, 86
Dr. Shirley M. McBay, a pioneering mathematician who was the first Black student to receive a doctorate from the University of Georgia and went on to enjoy a career that championed diversity and inclusion in mathematics, died on Nov. 27 at the age of 86.
The New York Times reported that McBay’s death was caused by diabetes and dementia.
“Dr. McBay was a highly respected educator, department chair, and pioneer of the mathematics department at Spelman College. A staunch advocate for the advancement of women in education, she was also a director at the National Science Foundation, dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and founder of the Quality Education for Minorities Network, an organization designed to assist minorities in their pursuit of education in STEM-related fields and paved the way for scores of minority students interested in pursuing advanced degrees.”:
7. Demaryius Thomas, former NFL star, 33Source:Getty
Former NFL Pro Bowler Demaryius Thomas was found dead in the shower of his Atlanta home on the night of December 9. Officials suspected that Thomas’ death was related to a medical issue and investigators did not immediately announce any evidence to disprove that theory.
According to Thomas’ family, the 33-year-old had been suffering from seizures for more than a year. They suspect he suffered yet another seizure that, this time, caused his death. LaTonya Bonseigneur, Thomas’ first cousin, told the Associated Press: “He was alone and a friend couldn’t get hold of him, so he called his driver, who has a key because of these seizures, and he went into his home and found him in the shower.”
8. Rhonda Stubbins White, actress, 60Source:Getty
Rhonda Stubbins White, an actress widely known for her role on daytime soap opera, “The Days of Our Lives,” died on Dec. 6 after a battle with cancer, according to PEOPLE. White’s work was primarily on TV, where, most recently, she starred on Tyler Perry’s show, “Ruthless.”
9. Barry Harris, jazz pianist, 91Source:Getty
Renowned jazz musician, composer and educator Barry Harris, who is largely credited with pioneering the genre’s bebop style, died on Dec. 8. He was 91 years old. WBGO reported that the cause of his death was complications from COVID-19.
“One of the leading musicians to emerge from Detroit’s modern jazz explosion in the 1940s and ’50s, Harris remained indefatigable into his early 90s,” WBGO wrote before adding later: “Harris channeled the language and spirit of bebop’s founding fathers — alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianists Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk — through his own foxy wit, vivid harmonic imagination and distinctive rhythmic rumble.”
10. Robbie ShakespeareSource:Getty
Robbie Shakespeare, the legendary Jamaican bass player and renowned member of the reggae production duo Sly & Robbie, died at the age of 68. Neither Shakespeare’s cause of death nor the date of his death was immediately reported.
The Jamaica Gleaner reported Shakespeare’s death on Dec. 9 and said he had been seeking medical attention in Florida relating to kidney treatment. The Jamaican news outlet said Shakespeare had recently undergone surgery because he had “been ailing for some time.”
Shakespeare teamed up with drummer Sly Dunbar to become the two-man team of producers that was among the leading forces to help shape reggae music’s sounds that ultimately transcended genres. They worked with legendary reggae artists, including but not limited to Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs and Burning Spear.
11. Greg Tate, writer and cultural critic, 64Source:Getty
Greg Tate, writer, musician and cultural critic, died on Dec. 7. He set the standard for the art of critiquing and exploring contemporary mediums across genres.
Okayplayer called him the “godfather of hip hop journalism,” signaling his importance to the development of a genre of news coverage and commentary.
12. Virgil Abloh, fashion designer, 41Source:Getty
Fashion icon Virgil Abloh, the founder of the Off-White fashion house and artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear, died Nov. 28 following a battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma.
13. Lee Elder, professional golfer, 87Source:Getty
Former professional Golfer Lee Elder died at the age of 87. In 1975, he became the first black player to ever play in golf’s most prestigious tournament, The Masters. He was invited after his 1974 win at the Monsanto Open. Lee would go on to play in 448 matches on the PGA Tour, winning four times.
In the photo is Honorary Starter Lee Elder of the United States waves to the patrons as he arrives to the opening ceremony prior to the start of the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia.
14. Antwain Fowler, internet celebrity, 6Source:iOne Digital
Viral internet sensation Antwain Folwer died at the age of 6-years-old. Although cause of death was not immediately reported, according to TMZ, Fowler’s death may have been related to autoimmune enteropathy, the illness which the young boy had been struggling with for most of his life.
Antwain became an internet celebrity after a video showed the young boy sitting in the backseat of a car asking his mother, “Where we ’bout to eat at?'”
Antwain’s personality and lovable look captured the hearts of millions online. But what his newfound fans didn’t know was that he was battling a serious disease and spent much of his life in and out of hospitals.
A GoFundMe account updated recently said that Antwain was diagnosed with auto-immune enterapothy in 2015 and has undergone more than 25 surgeries since that time. His condition left him “unable to drink milk, or eat solid foods during his earlier childhood,” the GoFundMe said in part.
15. Young Dolph, rapper, 36Source:Getty
Young Dolph, a prominent and popular Memphis rapper, was shot and killed in his hometown on Wednesday during an apparent ambush by two gunmen with high-powered weapons. The rapper born Adolph Robert Thornton, Jr., was just 36 years old.
At the time he was killed, Young Dolph was patronizing a local Black-owned bakery.
The tragic shooting was among the latest instances of deadly gun violence in Memphis, which has already eclipsed the number of homicides in the city from last year and is on pace to set a new record this year.
16. W. Sterling Cary, first African American to lead National Council of Churches, 94
“W. Sterling Cary, a minister who became the first African American to lead the National Council of Churches and who used his pulpit for decades in pursuit of racial and social justice, died Nov. 14 at his home in Flossmoor, Ill. He was 94.”
17. Alpo Martinez, infamous former drug dealer, 55Source:Twitter
Alpo Martinez, an infamous former drug dealer who became almost a mythical figure in New York City street life after being placed in witness protection for working as a confidential informant in a role that got many of his co-workers arrested and locked up, was killed over the weekend in Harlem. He was 55 years old.
HipHopWired reported that the man who was born Alberto Geddis Martinez was shot in the early morning hours of Oct. 31 and died from his injuries shortly after he was taken to nearby Harlem Hospital. Alpo was reportedly driving a 2017 Dodge Ram when he was shot five times.
18. Ronnie Wilson, Gap Band co-founder, 73Source:Getty
Ronnie Wilson, the older brother of “Uncle” Charlie Wilson as well as a co-founder and one-third of the legendary Gap Band, has died. Wilson passed away at his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Nov. 2. His wife, Linda Boulware-Wilson, said her husband died peacefully as he held her hand before he drew his final breath. He was 73 years old.
Ronnie Wilson, who played bass in the Gap Band, suffered a stroke one week prior to his death. He was placed into a semi-coma from which he never recovered. He had previously suffered several strokes throughout the years as his health went in decline.
19. Jovita Moore, broadcast TV news anchor, 53Source:Getty
Jovita Moore, an award-winning TV journalist based in Atlanta, died overnight on Oct. 28 following complications from brain cancer. The 53-year-old anchor with Channel 2 Action News had been diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year.
20. Agnes Tirop, Olympic long distance runner, 25Source:Getty
Kenyan Olympic long-distance runner Agnes Jebet Tirop was found dead in her home on Oct. 15 in an apparent murder. The 25-year-old world-class athlete was found with stab wounds to her neck and abdomen. Tirop’s husband, Ibrahim Rotich, who is also a world-class long-distance runner, was arrested in Kenya on murder charges in the grisly killing.
Tirop’s track and field accomplishments are noteworthy.
She won bronze medals in the 2017 and 2019 women’s 10,000 meters world championships races and came in at fourth place at this past summer’s Tokyo Olympics in the 5,000 meters race. Tirop also last month broke the world record for a women’s 10K race in Germany. In 2015, Tirop became the second-youngest person to win the world cross-country title at the age of 19.
21. Melvin van Peebles, filmmaker and movie director, 89Source:Getty
Melvin van Peebles, the iconic filmmaker and movie director whose groundbreaking work like “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” went on to become cult classics, especially in the Black community, died on Sept. 21. He was 89 years old.
Van Peebles’ impact on the film industry and popular culture at large was undeniable.
Widely recognized as the father of Black American Film for such notable contributions as “Watermelon Man,” the artist who became known for being unafraid to cross boundaries, disciplines and traditions in his work was also celebrated for his musical, “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural,” for which he wrote the music and lyrics as well as an accompanying book of the same name.
Van Peebles’ career spanned the course of six decades, beginning in 1957 with the film, “Three Pickup Men for Herrick,” which he directed, produced and wrote, and ending with “Lilly Done the Zampoughi Every Time I Pulled Her Coattail,” a song he initially released as a single in 1971 before re-releasing it in 2012.
Other notable projects in which Melvin Van Peebles lent his talents include 1977’s “Greased Lightning” and 1995’s “Panther,” the latter being the film adaptation of his novel of the same name about the Black Panther Party — an award-winning movie that was directed by his son, Mario van Peebles.
Born in Chicago on Aug. 21, 1932, Melvin van Peebles explained to the New York Times in 2010 why he preferred to be involved with independent projects.
“I do what I want to do,” he stated as a matter of fact.
22. Anthony “A.J.” Johnson, comedian and actor, 56Source:Instagram.com/therealajjohnson
Actor and comedian Anthony “A.J.” Johnson has died at the age of 56. According to HipHopWired, Johnson was found lifeless in a Los Angeles store in early September.
The actor who was widely known for his role on the “Friday” franchise of movies was rushed to the hospital but pronounced dead shortly after. There was no official cause of death immediately released.
Unverified reports suggested Johnson died from a heart attack but there was no immediate confirmation.
“He has left with us amazing memories of his laughter, dynamic acting skills, but most of all his enormous personality and heart of gold,” BH Talent agency rep LyNea Bell said in a statement confirming Jophnson’s death. “We will be in constant prayer for his entire family including his wife Lexis, three children, brother Edward ‘Peanut’ Smith, sister Sheila, and lifetime manager and friend Mike D. Please give them the time they need to process and grieve such a huge loss.”
Read more about Johnson’s life by clicking here.
23. Michael K. Williams, actor, 54Source:Getty
Michael K. Williams, the veteran character actor who rose to fame playing the role of Omar Little, a drug dealer-robbing and openly gay street gangster in the award-winning drama, “The Wire,” was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment on Sept. 6. He was 54.
24. Carl Bean, gay preacher, 77
Carl Bean, a gay activist who founded his own church and turned to preaching following the release of what the New York Times called “a disco song of L.G.B.T.Q. pride,” died Tuesday, Sept. 7, in Los Angeles. He was 77 years old. The cause of Bean’s death was not immediately reported.
25. Jacob Desvarieux, guitarist, 65Source:Getty
Jacob Desvarieux, a guitarist with the band Kassav’, died July 30 in Guadeloupe, the New York Times reported. He was 77 years old. The reported cause of his death is complications from COVID-19.
Desvarieux is credited for co-creating a musical style called zouk “by fusing Afro-Caribbean traditions of the French Antilles with sleek electronic dance music,” according to the Times.
26. Fuquan Johnson, comedian, 42Source:Getty
Fuquan Johnson, the Los Angeles-based comedian, died on September 5, 2021, of an overdose from a batch of cocaine laced with fentanyl while attending a gathering in Los Angeles.
He was 43-years-old.
27. Greg Leaks, tv personality, 66Source:Getty
Gregg Leakes, a former real estate investor and longtime veteran of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta” reality TV series.
He died September 1, 2021 at the age of 66 after a three-year-long battle with colon cancer.
28. Hissène Habré, former president of Chad, 79Source:Getty
Hissène Habré, the former dictator from the north-central African country of Chad who was convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture following a “ruthless” presidency that was secured with help from the United States in return for waging war against his Libyan counterpart Muammar Gaddafi, died Tuesday in a Senegalese hospital. He was 79 years old.
The cause of Habré’s death was complications from COVID-19.
Human Rights Watch recalled the heinous acts for which an African criminal court in 2016 found Habré — Chad’s fifth president from 1982 to 1990 — to be guilty. They included, but were not limited to, “rape and the sexual slavery of women to serve his army” that carried out orders to kill tens of thousands of his fellow Chadian citizens in a bloody, yearslong civil war.
Habré’s trial took decades to happen following his regime getting overthrown 25 years earlier. In that time, he fled to West Africa in Senegal, where he was ultimately convicted by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the capital city of Dakar.
Ninety-three witnesses testified at Habré’s trial.
Habré’s security forces in Chad, which was led by members of his Gorane ethnic group, ruled over the country’s villages, towns and cities with a “ruthless” style of enforcing laws that included violations such as “speaking ill of Habré, listening to ‘enemy’ radio stations or ‘performing magical rites to aid the enemy,'” the Associated Press reported.
Human Rights Watch attorney Reed Brody, who represented some of Habré’s victims since 1999, underscored during an interview conducted just as the trial was set to begin in 2015 the history and gravity of finally being able to bring the former dictator to justice.
“This is the first time, actually, anywhere in the world that the courts of one country, Senegal, are trying the former leader of another, Chad, for human rights abuses,” Reed said at the time. “It’s the first time that the African Union has established a tribunal. And it’s the first time that the victims of a dictator in Africa have brought that dictator to justice.”
Habré was described by the Foreign Policy website as a hand-picked pawn by the Reagan administration to prevent Qaddafi and Libya from controlling Chad, which they invaded and took over by late 1980.
“Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, and Secretary of State Alexander Haig quickly coalesced around the idea of launching a covert war in partnership with Habré to ‘bloody Qaddafi’s nose’ and ‘increase the flow of pine boxes back to Libya’ on America’s behalf, as Haig put it,” Foreign Policy wrote. “In short order, Reagan released several million dollars of covert support for Habré — a fraction of what was to come.”
The CIA sent Habré and his rebels the money as well as weapons in order to help “put Habré in the presidential palace.”
Habré’s conviction included a court order that he pay $150 million in reparations to his victims’ survivors, but he died without having paid a single penny.
29. Chucky Thompson, music producer, 53Source:Getty
Chucky Thompson, an award-winning music producer who spawned chart-topping hits with some of the biggest names in hip-hop and R&B, aided on Aug. 9 at the age of 53.
Fellow producer Young Guru, who called Thompson his “mentor,” announced the death via his Instagram. Young Guru did not disclose Thompson’s cause of death. But AllHipHop.com reported that Thompson died following a battle with COVID-19.
30. Steve “Zumbi” Gaines, rapper, 49Source:Getty
Rapper Zumbi of the hip-hop group Zion I recently died at the age of 49.
A family statement released to California news outlet KQED said Steve “Zumbi” Gaines died Friday (Aug. 13) in a hospital of “unknown causes.”
However, a Los Angeles-based Los Angeles hip-hop collective called Project Blowed said in an Instagram post that Zumbi died as he was “recovering from COVID-19” due to a “severe asthma attack.” KQED attributed Project Blowed’s statement to True Justice, a DJ who accompanied Zion I while on tour.
31. Cameron Burrell, track star and Carl Lewis’ godson, 26Source:Getty
Cameron Burrell, a former NCAA Division I sprinter and track phenom who was the godson of legendary Olympian Carl Lewis, died Monday (Aug. 9). He was just 26 years old. The cause of his death was not immediately reported.
Cameron earned numerous honors, including All-America First team honors in 2014 and 2017-2018. In 2017, he beat his father’s school record by beasting the 100m in 9.93 seconds. As a senior, Cameron won the 2018 NCAA Men’s 100m.
He was coached by his father, Leroy Burrell, a former track star, and Lewis.
32. Paul Johnson, house music DJ, 50
Paul Johnson, a pioneering house music star DJ whose releases made him a legend in his hometown of Chicago, died Aug. 4 at the age of 50. His cause of death was reported as complications from COVID-19.
Johnson’s death was announced via his Facebook page and accompanied by a video of Johnson speaking.
“Our greatness passed away this morning at 9am the house music legend we all know as PJ aka PAUL JOHNSON has passed away in this day of AUGUST 4th 2021,” the Facebook post said. “Rest In Heaven Paul.”
Johnson was remembered in superlative terms as news of his death spread across social media.
DJ Mag called Johnson “One of the most essential house musicians of all time.”
Within seven years, Johnson had both of his legs amputated; his left leg in 2003 following experiencing pain in his lower extremities and high right leg in 2010 after he was in a serious car accident that broke one of his hips and his spine. He had already been using a wheelchair since a shooting in 1987 left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Still, Johnson managed to release more than 100 albums, EPs and singles since his debut in the early 1990s, according to MixMag.
Johnson was hospitalized in July after testing positive for COVID-19. He posted a video to his Instagram account showing him laboring to breathe while hooked up to medical equipment in his hospital room in suburban Chicago. In the video, he said he was experiencing strength loss.
“I have COVID, everybody,” Johnson said. “I’ve had it for a week.”
33. Bob Moses, civil rights leader, 86Source:Getty
Robert “Bob” Moses, a lifelong educator and civil rights leader who inspired generations of organizers, engaging with them around the importance of collective action and respecting local knowledge, died on Sunday (July 25). He was 86 years old.
From the stories and anecdotes shared on social media after his death, one can glimpse the impact Moses had on the lives of countless organizers and educators alike. A young math teacher from Harlem, Moses would travel to Mississippi in the summer of 1960 and change the course of history.
As an organizer with the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and under the guidance of Ella Baker, Moses worked alongside communities in rural Mississippi. In many ways, his work paved the way for contemporary organizing around voter registration and civic engagement.
“Leadership is there in the people,” Moses famously said. “You don’t have to worry about where your leaders are. . . If you go out and work with your people, then the leadership will emerge.”
Long after the civil rights movement ended, SNCC and Moses’ impact continue to be felt.
34. Rachael Oniga, Nollywood actress, 64
It was not immediately clear how Oniga died. Reports on social media varied, with the cause of Oniga’s death in some cases being attributed to complications from COVID-19. However, Oniga’s family reportedly has pushed back against that assertion and claims it is false.
The Nigerian Tribune reported that Oniga’s son confirmed his mother tested positive for malaria, not COVID-19, and was also being treated for typhoid.
Neither claim could be immediately verified.
It seemed as if all of Nigeria and by extension fans of Nollywood — Nigeria’s answer to Hollywood — were mourning Oniga’s death. Condolences poured in on social media to commemorate the life of a legendary Nigerian actress who, by IMDB’s account, had more than 110 acting credits to her name over the course of more than two decades.
Oniga went on to achieve great success in Nollywood, including in the 2013 movie, “Bello,” which also starred mainstream Hollywood performers like Isaiah Washington and Vivica A. Fox.
35. Glen Ford, veteran journalist and Black Agenda Report founder, 71Source:LinkedIn
Glen Ford, a veteran broadcast, print and digital journalist who hosted the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on TV before going on to found the Black Agenda Report website, has died. He was 71 years old.
Margaret Kimberley, an editor and columnist at Black Agenda Report, the weekly news magazine that offers commentary and analysis from a Black perspective which Ford launched and served as its executive editor, confirmed Ford’s death.
Ford was reporting the news live on the radio as early as 11-years-old and went on to enjoy a career in journalism for more than 40 years that included working as a Washington bureau chief as well as a correspondent covering the White House, Capitol Hill and State Department.
After getting his start in news radio in Augusta, Georgia, Ford honed his skills at other local news stations and eventually created the “Black World Report,” a syndicated half-hour weekly news magazine that paved the way for the Black Agenda Report to be founded. Years later, in 1977, Ford helped launch, produce and host “America’s Black Forum,” the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television.
That led to the creation of “Black Agenda Reports” two years later in a successful effort to focus his syndicated content in the areas of Black women, business, entertainment, history and sports.
About a decade later, Ford branched out into the then-burgeoning popularity of hip-hop culture with “Rap It Up,” the first syndicated hip-hop music show in American history.
After co-founding BlackCommentator.com in 2002, he and the rest of the website’s staff left to launch Black Agenda Report, which remains a popular source of information, news and analysis from a Black perspective.
36. Gloria Richardson, civil rights pioneer, 99Source:Getty
Gloria Richardson, a civil rights pioneer whose entire legendary and defiant existence could be summed up by an iconic photo of her rolling her eyes at the very real threat of a United States military member aiming a gun and bayonet at her, died Thursday (July 15) at the age of 99. The Associated Press reported that her family confirmed Richardson died in her sleep of natural causes.
Richardson became the face of the civil rights movement in the 1960s on the eastern shore of Maryland, where, in Cambridge, she organized and led protests against anti-Black racism, discrimination and segregation, among other causes. Richardson was also a labor leader in her own right, leading demonstrations against low wages and unemployment.
What started as sit-ins at establishments that did not equally serve Black people — like segregated movie theaters, bowling alleys and restaurants — quickly blossomed into a much larger, broader crusade for civil rights and justice.
“She did it because it needed to be done, and she was born a leader,” Tya Young, Richardson’s granddaughter, told the Associated Press.
37. Biz Markie, hip-hop legend, 57Source:Getty
Biz Markie, the pioneering rap star whose hit song “Just A Friend” made him a household name in the ’90s, died on Friday (July 16) following a long battle with diabetes. He was 57 years old.
He died surrounded by friends and family at a hospital in Baltimore.
Biz Markie’s rep confirmed his death.
“It is with profound sadness that we announce, this evening, with his wife Tara by his side, hip hop pioneer Biz Markie peacefully passed away,” Jenni Izumi said in a statement. “We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time. Biz created a legacy of artistry that will forever be celebrated by his industry peers and his beloved fans whose lives he was able to touch through music, spanning over 35 years. He leaves behind a wife, many family members and close friends who will miss his vibrant personality, constant jokes and frequent banter. We respectfully request privacy for his family as they mourn their loved one.”
While Biz’s debut album, 1988’s Goin’ Off, is considered classic that featured cuts like “The Vapors,” “Nobody Beats The Biz” and “This Is Something For The Radio,” he received crossover success a year later with his megahit “Just A Friend” from his sophomore album, The Biz Never Sleeps. His third album, I Need A Haircut, would change the Hip-Hop industry due to Biz and the label getting sued due to uncleared samples on the project.
Born Marcel Theo Hall on April 8, 1964, the rapper who was also known as the “Human Orchestra” and the “Clown Prince of Hip Hop” created hits like “Nobody Beats The Biz” as part of the legendary Juice Crew, a collective of rappers in the 1980s who would each go on to achieve solidified status in hip-hop.
Biz Markie’s poor health was first reported nearly a year ago in the throes of the pandemic.
38. Charlie Robinson, actor, 75Source:Getty
Charlie Robinson, the ubiquitous character actor of the stage and screen who played an untold number of roles that were all memorable, including a clerk on the hit 1980s sitcom, “Night Court,” has died at the age of 75. Variety reported that Robinson died Sunday (July 11) following complications from cardiac arrest and cancer.
Robinson enjoyed a career on the big and small screens that spanned 50 years, beginning in 1971 with the film, “Drive He Said,” and lasting up until the months before his death with multiple films in post-production this year, according to IMDB.com.
The Houston native enrolled in acting school back in the 1960s in his hometown before moving to Hollywood to begin his career in Tinseltown.
Robinson played Mac thew court clerk on “Night Court” from 1984-1992 and was known for his perfectly timed quips.
One of Robinson’s co-stars on “Night Court,” Marsha Warfield, eulogized him on Twitter after learning of his death.
“Oh, no! I’m so sorry to read this,” Warfield tweeted on Monday. “Charlie Robinson was one of the great ones. My heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, fans and all whose lives he touched. Rest well, Charlie, I thought you’d live forever.”
Robinson also played a number of other roles in cult classics, like his performance as Nate in “Set It Off,” the 1996 movie starring Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah and Vivica Fox as bank robbers. Robinson’s character famously lent Pinkett’s character money under less than favorable circumstances in order to help her brother pay for college.
Other notable performances by Robinson include roles in “Antwon Fisher,” “Sugar Hill” and “Malevolence.”
Robinson’s final performance was released earlier this year with a play called, “Some Old Black Man.” Co-starring Wendell Pierce, the play focuses on themes of racial discrimination.
39. Matima “Swavy” Miller, social media star, 19Source:GoFundMe
Matima Miller, a social media star better known as “Swavy,” died on Monday (July 5) after he was shot in Wilmington, Delaware. He was just 19 years old.
Swavy rose to prominence on the TikTok social media platform, in particular, mostly because of the dances that he performed. He had nearly 3 million followers on TikTok and hundreds of thousands of more followers on Instagram and Twitter.
A GoFundMe account started for Swavy’s family said in part: “we are not able to provide much information on the events surrounding his passing” because of legal restrictions. But, it said, “the family is working diligently to get justice for Swavy. This is just the beginning.”
It added: “We will forever keep his name alive and continue his legacy!”
40. Suzzanne Douglas, actress, 64Source:Getty
Suzzanne Douglas, a stage, TV and movie actress who always played roles of strong Black women, has died, multiple news outlets reported July 8. She was 64 years old.
The New York Times reported that Douglas died at her home in Martha’s Vineyard. Douglas’ husband, Roy Jonathan Cobb, told the time his wife died of cancer, though he did not specify which form she suffered from. However, he did say she had been sick for more than two years.
Perhaps known most for her performance in the sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood,” Douglas thrived in each role she played in a career that spanned nearly five decades.
Douglas also starred in multiple cult classics especially revered in the Black community, including movies like “Tap,” which starred Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr., “The Inkwell” and “Jason’s Lyric,” among others. She won an NAACP Image Award for her performance in “Tap,” which was released in theaters in 1989.
Most recently, Douglas played the mother of one of the Exonerated 5 in the acclaimed Netflix movie, “When They See Us,” which was released in 2019.
41. Abdalelah Haroun, track and field star, 24Source:Getty
Abdalelah Haroun, a world-class track and field star who represented Qatar and was training to compete in the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, died June 26 from injuries sustained in a car crash. He was just 24 years old.
Born in Sudan, Haroun went on to represent the Mideastern state of Qatar on the world stage during his competitions, including and most notably when he won a bronze medal in the 400 meters race in the 2017 world championships.
Haroun is Qatar’s most decorated sprinter who died holding the nation’s record for the 400 meter race with a time of 44.07 set in 2018.
He had represented Qatar since 2015, “the same year he made his breakthrough when he captured the Asian 400m title at the age of 18 and set an Asian Under-20 record of 44.27, according to the National News, a media outlet based in the Middle East.
The Tokyo Olympics would have been the second time Haroun competed in the Olympic Summer Games. Haron previously competed in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and advanced to the semifinal heats before being eliminated.
CNN reported that Haroun’s most recent competition came last September when he was invited to run in the Turkish Championships. In that race, Haroun ran a 47.22.
42. Consuewella Dotson Africa, MOVE leader, 67
Consuewella Dotson Africa, a matriarch of the MOVE Black liberation group whose headquarters was the target of a city-sponsored bombing by local law enforcement in Philadelphia decades ago, has died. Africa, the mother of two children who were killed in the 1985 bombing that eventually burned down 61 houses, killed 11 people (including three other children) and injured dozens of others, died June 16 at the age of 67.
Africa’s death was announced on MOVE’s website and confirmed by MOVE member Janine Africa.
43. Martha White, civil rights activist, 99Source:Twitter
Martha White, a freedom fighter of the last century died on June 5 at the age of 99, the Associated Press reported. White’s refusal to give up her seat on a crowded Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 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 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.
44. Sanyika Shakur (“Monster” Kody Scott), street gang leader-turned-motivational speaker, 57
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.
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.”
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.”
45. 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.”
46. 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.”
47. 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.
48. 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.”
49. 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.
50. 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.”
51. 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.
52. 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.
53. 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
54. 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.”
55. 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.
56. 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.”
57. 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.
58. 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.
59. 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.
60. 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.
61. 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.
62. 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.
63. 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.”
64. 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.”
65. 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.
66. 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.
67. 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.
68. Jo Thompson, muscian-singer, 92
Thompson, a Detroit native, died on March 9 at the age of 92.
69. 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.
70. “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.
71. 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.
72. 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.
73. 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.
74. 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.
75. 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.”
76. Bunny Wailer, reggae icon, 73Source:Getty
Wailer, a reggae icon and musical giant died on Tuesday at the age of 73.
77. 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.
78. 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.
79. 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.”
80. 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.”
81. 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.”
82. 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.
83. 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.
84. 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.'”
85. Terez Paylor, sports journalist, 37Source:facebook
Yahoo Sports journalist Terez Paylor died unexpectedly on Feb. 9 at the age of 37.
86. 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.”
87. 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.
88. 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.
89. 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.
90. John Chaney, college basketball coaching legend, 89Source:Getty
91. 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.
92. 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.
93. 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.
94. 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.
95. 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.
96. 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.”
97. 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.
98. 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.
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