UPDATED: 2:30 p.m. ET, July 31, 2022
While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
So far in 2022, we’ve had to say goodbye to some notable Black people. More than an important role model, the world has lost a changemaker who transcended his field and remained relevant over the decades.
NBA legend Bill Russell passed away Sunday at the age of 88. The larger-than-life Russell spent 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. But his influence on the game extended far beyond that franchise. He was not only the first Black player inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, he was also its first Black head coach.
Russell built the foundation for a league where nearly 50 percent of all coaches are Black. According to a June Sports Illustrated article, half of the league’s teams were led by Black head coaches.
As NBC News reported, Russell played in Boston and the league during a turbulent period in American history. Despite its northern location, Boston’s reputation as a racist city was well earned.
In a 2020 op-ed for Slam, Russell recounted how his grandfather pulled money together to buy lumber to build a school for Black children in their Louisiana community. He also shared an encounter when he was a child in the 1940s where his father refused to back down from a white icehouse attendant who called him “boy” and threatened to shoot him.
Russell said these two experiences taught him “that you must make the price of injustice too high to pay, and second, that such events are not reflective of your character, but of the character of the perpetrator.”
He also spoke about how the love and support of his family gave him the strength and determination “to set my own standard, to disentangle my self-esteem from the beliefs of others.” Russell described the difference between the good people in the franchise and his teammates and the racist disrespect he endured from fans and the city at large. He didn’t ignore the racial slurs and taunts, he leveraged them.
“I used their unkindness as energy to fuel me, to work myself into a rage, a rage I used to win,” wrote Russell. “I refused to let the ‘fans’ bigotry, evidence of their lack of character, harm me. As far as I was concerned, I played for the Boston Celtics, the institution, and the Boston Celtics, my teammates. I did not play for the city or for the fans.”
Keep reading below to learn more about the notable Black people we’ve lost in 2022.
1. Iconic Actor Mary Alice Passed Away at 85Source:Getty
According to multiple sources, Award-winning actress Mary Alice Smith died in New York City on Wednesday at the age of 85. Her cause of death was not released.
Known for her role as the oracle in “The Matrix Revolutions,” the third movie in the trilogy, but her catalog extends beyond that franchise. She was truly an acting legend in her own right. Alice began her acting career in local theater in her hometown of Indianola, Mississippi. Eventually, she would move to New York City to hone her skills and blossom in her craft on Broadway. Alice’s talent immediately grabbed the attention of the acting world and in 1987 she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Fences. In 1993 she would go on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for “I’ll Fly Away.”
Alice would then take her talents to television and the big screen. She appeared in the popular show “A Different World” for two seasons as Leticia “Lettie” Bostic and also had a role in the hit television series “All My Children.” She also made appearances on shows such as “Police Woman” and “Sanford and Son.”
Where Mary Alice really shined was on the big screen. She appeared in many films including “Malcolm X,” “The Inkwell,” “Down in The Delta,” “To Sleep With Anger,” “Awakenings,” “Soul Food,” and too much more.
In 2000, Mary Alice was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. She eventually retired from acting in 2005.
2. William “Poogie” Hart, Delfonics lead singer, 77Source:Getty
The Delfonics lead singer William “Poogie” Hart passed away Thursday after surgery complications. A native of Philadelphia, Hart was known as an innovator of the Philadelphia sound. As reported by the Philadephia Inquirer, Hart was a songwriter for the group best known for hits such as “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “La-La (Means I love You).”
There are several groups that come to mind when someone says that’s “grown folks music,” and the legendary Delfonics is definitely one such group.
“He was a great leader, he believed in helping people, and he really believed in showing people some good, clean music,” his son told the Inquirer. “If you’ve ever listened to his music, it was very clean, no dirty lyrics. He took pride in that.”
Born January 17, 1945 Coming of age as a group, Hart and his fellow Delfonics members his brother Wilbert and friend Randy Cain, were competing against the Motown machine. Formed while in high school, Hart and his crew would develop a sound that spoke the to hearts of young lovers everywhere.
“Didin’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” won a grammy in 1970 for Best R&B Group, Vocal or Instrumental. As Billboard noted, the group’s soulful sounds and innovative rhythms would go on to influence rappers in the mid-90s like Missy Ellioit, Ghostface Killah and The Fugees.
“Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love),” inspired both Elliot’s “Sock It 2 Me” and The Fugee’ “Ready or Not.” Hart continued to perform long after the group’s original run.
His brother shared a poem on Facebook entitled “When Tomorrow Starts Without Me” in reference to Hart’s passing. Various entertainers, journalists and notable celebrities mourned Hart’s passing.
“We remember William “Poogie” Hart of the Delfonics. Got word that he passed. 77 years old. Poogie rest in peace,” said Philly’s Patty Jackson on WDAS 105.3 FM.
The Philly POPS orchestra said in a statement that Hart had a significant and indelible impact on music in Philadelphia and around the country.
“Hart’s songwriting defined the music scene in Philadelphia, and his memory will continue to live on through his music,” read the statement.
Hart and the Delfonics are the gift that keeps on giving and will continue in rotation for years to come, helping lovers of all ages connect with that special someone.
3. Jay Knight, comedian and writer, 28Source:Getty
Comedia Jay Knight was on his way with a new show, the “Bust Down,” when he died Thursday. The stand-up comic, writer and actor known for his work on “Black-ish” and “Big Mouth” was taking his creative genius to a new level as co-creator of the new Peacock show.
The cause of death is unknown, and Knight’s family has asked for privacy as they grieve their loved one.
4. Abstract Painter Sam Gilliam Dies At 88Source:Getty
Sam Gilliam, a celebrated abstract artist particularly known for his work on drapes, died at the age of 88. The Washington, D.C. native died at his home because of kidney failure, the New York Times reported. His career began in the 1960s, shortly after which he began experimenting with drapery, which is defined as the “depiction in drawing, painting, and sculpture of the folds of clothing.
5. Jaylon Ferguson, NFL player, 26
NFL player Jaylon Ferguson was found dead in his Baltimore home on June 21. The Baltimore Ravens linebacker was just 26 years old. There were no immediate reports of the cause of his death, but police in Baltimore called it “questionable.”
6. Caleb Swanigan, former NBA player, 26Source:Getty
Caleb Swanigan, a former NBA player and college basketball standout, died June 20. He was only 25 years old. Swanigan died of “natural causes,” according to Indiana news outlet WANE, which cited the Allen County Coroner’s Office in Fort Wayne. No other details of Swanigan’s death were immediately available.
7. Marion Barber, retired NFL player, 38
Retired NFL running Marion Barber was found dead in a Texas apartment during a wellness check on June 1. His cause of death was not immediately determined. The former Dallas Cowboys star was only 38 years old.
According to reports, local police responded to the wellness check after someone called about a water leak coming from Barber’s apartment. Once officers forced their way in, they found Barber unresponsive.
“Frisco Police along with the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office are investigating an unattended death at the location,” police spokesperson Joshua Lovell said.
8. Tytyana Miller, Actress, 29Source:Getty
On Monday, May 30, Master P announced his daughter Tytyana Miller died. The younger sister to actor and rapper Romeo Miller, Tytyana was 29-years-old. Tytyana appeared alongside her brother on the reality show “Growing Up Hip Hop” in 2016. She was
Master P shared in an Instagram post that Tytyana battled substance abuse and mental illness. Outliving one’s children is a tough experience for parents.
Master P stroke and understandably somber note, closing out the post with #MyAngel.
“Our family is dealing with an overwhelming grief for the loss of my daughter Tytyana,” he wrote. “We respectfully request some privacy so that our family can grieve. We appreciate all of the prayers love and support. Mental illness & substance abuse is a real issue that we can’t be afraid to talk about. With God, we will get through this.”
The family has not disclosed her cause of death. And despite the public’s curiosity privacy In these moments is respected and understood.
Romeo also shared an Instagram statement, encouraging people to cherish their loved ones. He also said he believed that Tytyana was in a better place, at peace and free.
“Our family is dealing with an overwhelming grief for the loss of my little sister Tytyana,” Romeo wrote. “We respectfully request some privacy so that our family can grieve. We appreciate all of the prayers, love, and support, and although this is sad times, I’m forever grateful for the memories I did have with my amazing sister. Love on your loved ones, life is short. The silver lining, I know she’s in a way better place and finally at peace and free. God Bless.”
Tytyana’s substance abuse issues were previously highlighted on the show “Growing Up Hip Hop.” In a clip from the show, Master P and Romeo are seen encouraging Tytyana about pursuing rehab.
9. Jeff Gladney, NFL player, 25Source:Getty
Another tragedy has hit the entertainment community and sports world.
NFL player Jeff Gladney died Monday morning in a crash in Dallas. He was only 25-years-old. Gladney, who played for the Arizona Cardinals, was among two people who died in the crash.
According to a preliminary investigation by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, the car occupied by Gladney and a woman was speeding on a Dallas freeway. Their vehicle clipped another from behind, causing Glaney’s vehicle to lose control, crashing into a freeway pier beam, killing everyone in the vehicle. The passengers of the second vehicle involved in the accident were not injured.
In a tweet Monday, the Arizona Cardinals expressed condolences to the Gladney family. We are devastated to learn of Jeff Gladney’s passing,” the Cardinals wrote. “Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and all who are mourning this tremendous loss.”
Gladney, who played college football at Texas Christian University, was in his third season in the NFL. He was drafted in the first round in 2020 by the Minnesota Vikings. In March 2022, Gladney signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
10. Basketball Hall of Famer Bob LanierSource:Getty
Bob Lanier, the basketball legend whose hulking presence on the hardwood is credited for influencing the careers of some of the game’s greatest players, died Tuesday at the age of 73. NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed Lanier’s death, which came after a brief illness.
Lanier, who boasted a hulking height of 6’10 and seemingly record-setting size 22 sneakers, was an 8-time NBA all-star in 14 seasons with the Detroit Pistons and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Associated Press recalled how Lanier jokingly once told HOOPS magazine, “A lot of people can put both feet into one of my shoes.”
Prior to the NBA, Lanier left an indelible mark on college basketball while attending St. Bonaventure University in New York, where he was a three-time all-American stemming from his dominant play that helped him reach the coveted Final Four when he was a senior.
That season and Lanier’s overall college career paved the way for him to become the first overall pick in the 1970 NBA draft when the Pistons selected him. In 10 season with the Pistons, Lanier averaged nearly 23 points per game along with nearly 12 rebounds. He retired after the 1983-84 season boasting impressive career averages of 20.1 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Lanier is widely regarded as one of the top professional basketball players to have never won an NBA championship, along with the likes of Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing and Elgin Baylor.
Lanier was subsequently a first-ballot hall of famer when he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992.
While Lanier tried his hand at coaching in the NBA with little success, he later found his post-hoops career footing as an NBA Global Ambassador, a position that NBA Commissioner described as befitting for the gentle giant.
“For more than 30 years, Bob served as our global ambassador and as a special assistant to David Stern and then me, traveling the world to teach the game’s values and make a positive impact on young people everywhere,” Silver said in a statement. “It was a labor of love for Bob, who was one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever been around.”
11. Kevin Samuels, social media influencerSource:Kevin Samuels/Facebook
No official cause of death was immediately reported, but previous reports suggested Samuels died after suffering cardiac arrest.
Samuels, who gained infamy and notoriety from the way he addressed Black women, in particular, was both revered and reviled for the advice and guidance he doled out on his social media channels. None were as influential as his YouTube page, which garnered more than 1 million faithful followers of Samuels’ gospel that many times ended up shaming Black women who are unmarried and aging while also telling Black men how to make themselves more desirable.
Samuels would often describe people in terms of either being “high value” or “low value,” with the latter typically reserved for the aforementioned single Black women of a certain age.
Ironically, the same thrice-divorced man who promoted a luxurious lifestyle that he said would help men get women allegedly died broke.
News of Samuels’ death started off as rumors and unverified reports on social media before his mother ultimately confirmed her son had died.
Sadly, Samuels’ mother said she also had to learn of her son’s death on social media.
Beverly Samuels-Burch took umbrage at the rumors on social media.
“That was a terrible thing for social media to put that out. I didn’t even know. I hadn’t even been notified,” Samuels-Burch told NBC News. “All I’m doing is requesting that people pray for us.”
12. Andrew Woolfolk, saxophonistSource:Getty
Legendary saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk passed away Sunday, April 24, after losing a battle to an illness that he was suffering from for the past six years. The musical genius was 71 years old.
Woolfolk, who was primarily known for his work with Earth, Wind & Fire from the 1970s to 1990s, was inducted alongside the other members in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame back in 2000. He was also inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame as a solo musician in 2017.
His death was confirmed on Instagram by the band’s lead (falsetto) singer, Philip Bailey.
Woolfolk’s influence on Earth, Wind & Fire is unmatched. He contributed to some of the band’s greatest hits including “September,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Reasons,” “Let’s Groove, and many more. Outside of his work with Earth, Wind & Fire, Woolfolk worked with artists such as Phil Collins, Deniece Williams, Stanley Turrentine, Phil Collins, Twennynine, Philip Bailey, and others.
We send our thoughts and prayers to the immediate family of Andrew Woolfolk, his extended list of family and close friends, and his musical tribe within Earth, Wind & Fire.
The band has been described by man as being one of the most innovative acts in American history. They are among the most commercially successful bands of all time and have sold over 90 million records worldwide. Their music spans many different genres including jazz, R&B, soul, funk, disco, pop, EDM, Latin, and Afro-pop.
The loss of Andrew Woolfolk is a huge blow for the global music community, but his legacy is something that will never be forgotten.
13. DJ Kay Slay, hip-hop star, 55
DJ Kay Slay, a pioneering graffiti writer-turned hip-hop star responsible for a string of hits over a musical career spanning decades, died Sunday following months of complications from COVID-19. He was 55 years old.
Longtime hip-hop promoter Van Silk confirmed Kay Slay’s death to HipHopDX and released a statement:
Hip Hop lost a real gem. My dear brother is gone. I’ve known him since he was 16 years old. He was my little brother. I introduced him to many and we did a lot of things together. We last talked December because we were finishing up the 200 rolling deep project. He was gonna do his video part with MC Sha-Rock.
From the mixtapes to helping him launch Straight Stuntin‘ magazine and the whole ‘What The Science’ project, the world not only lost a real dedicated person to the culture of Hip Hop but a source of bridging the gap in Hip Hop. I’m gonna miss my little brother.
The hip-hop personality died following a four-month battle with COVID-19.
Born Keith Grayson on Aug. 14th, 1966, Kay Slay was a well-known graffiti artist during his teenage years and was featured in the 1983 movie “Style Wars,” which focused on the hip-hop sub-culture of graffiti around New York City.
Decades later, Kay Slay began to make a name for himself as a DJ and in May 2003, he released his first album, “The Streetsweeper, Vol. 1.” He would go on to release the albums “The Streetsweeper, Vol. 2, The Champions: North Meets South (with Greg Street), and More Than Just a DJ.” Kay Slay was also a record executive and a radio personality for Sirus XM radio.
Kay Slay was first hospitalized with COVID-19 at the top of the year, when he was placed on a ventilator, according to Billboard.com.
The final post on Kay Slay’s Instagram page is from Jan. 4 and encouraged his fans to “keep the positive energy up for” a speedy recovery.
Kay Slay is the latest hip-hop artist to die from COVID-19. His death follows that of frequent collaborator Fred Da Godson, who died in February of last year, and Zumbi, a rapper in the California-based group Zion I.
14. Dwayne Haskins, NFL player, 24Source:Getty
Dwayne Haskins, a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was killed after being hit by a vehicle in South Florida on April 9. He was just 24 years old.
Haskins was struck while attempting to cross lanes of traffic on Interstate 596.
15. Traci Braxton, singerSource:Getty
Singer and actress Traci Braxton passed away at 50. NBC News reported that Traci spent the past year in treatment for Esophageal cancer.
While many may know Traci from being featured alongside her sisters on “Braxton Family Values,” she was a singer and personality in her own right. Her debut solo album “Crash & Burn” was released in 2014.
Born April 2, 1971, Traci is the third child of Rev. Michael Braxton Sr. And Evelyn Braxton.
Signed to Arista Records in 1989, Traci and her sisters released a single “Good Life” before being later dropped from the label.
According to the American Cancer Society, esophageal cancer is rare but more common in men than women.
16. Johnny Brown, actor, singer and comedian, 84Source:Getty
Best known for his role as Bookman, the building superintendent on the sitcom, “Good Times,” Johnny Brown brought joy and laughter to generations of TV watchers before the comedian, singer and actor died on March 2 at the age of 84.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, before “Good Times” fame, Brown appeared on Broadway twice and was a regular on the sketch-comedy show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” Brown reportedly was in line for the role of Lamont on “Sanford and Son,” but his contract with Laugh-In prevented him from taking the opportunity.
Broadway World noted that Brown was mentored by the late great Sammy Davis Jr., helping Brown join the production of “Golden Boy” as an understudy for the role of Ronnie. The outlet noted the production was a major success, with Brown taking on the role after the original actor was let go.
In an old interview with actor and writer Stanley Dyrector, Brown said he was always performing as a child. He said much of his experience as “on-the-job training.” His nightclub experience helped prepare him for Broadway.
“The whole time I worked with him, I was in awe,” Brown said. “I had a 30-year relationship with Sammy Davis…he was an inspiration.”
Brown’s infectious laughter and award-winning smile captured the hearts of many. Born June 11, 1937, Florida-born and Harlem raised Brown wanted to be remembered as a well-rounded entertainer.
“I wanted to be the well-rounded, complete entertainer,” Brown told Dyrector. “I didn’t just want to sing or tell a joke, because myself when I sit in an audience, and a performer walks on stage and tells a joke in my mind, I wonder what else can they do.”
17. Charley Taylor, former NFL player and coach, 80Source:Getty
Former NFL player and coach Charley Taylor died Feb. 19 at the age of 80. Taylor first joined the NFL in 1964, playing for the Washington team.
According to ESPN, Taylor played in eight Pro Bowls and still has the most receptions in league history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984, Taylor spent 14 years with the Washington team first as a halfback and then wide-receiver. He later transitioned from player to scout to member of the coaching staff.
While his cause of death was not released, news reports indicate he had been in an assisted living facility in Virginia at the time of his death. Born in Grand Prairie, Texas in 1941, Taylor is best known for football but was an all-around athlete also playing baseball in high school and college.
He went on to attend Arizona State University and was the number three pick in the first round of the 1964 NFL draft. His hall of fame profile highlights his amazing start as the first rookie player in 20 years to finish in the NFL’s top 10 in rushing and receiving.
“He had those great, smooth, classical moves that you just don’t teach,” Arizona State head coach Frank Kush said in a prior interview with NFL Films. “I still feel very strongly that he would have to be one of the all-time greats. He had it all. He was poetry on a football field.”
A member of the Arizona State inaugural Sports Hall of Fame, Taylor still holds the Washington franchise record for total touchdowns.
18. Bill Owens, politician, 84Source:Getty
Bill Owens, a real-life trailblazer who was the first Black state senator in Massachusetts history and a civil rights icon in his own right in the Boston area who notably tried to gain traction on the topic of reparations for Massachusetts residents who are descendants of enslaved Black people in the U.S. Owens, died on Jan. 22 at the age of 84.
The Boston Globe reported that Owens had recently been in declining health, including testing positive for COVID-19. However, an official cause of death was not immediately reported.
While Owens was born in Alabama, he put his roots down in Boston, from where the Democrat launched a successful bid for state representative in 1973 before his historic election to the state senate in 1975, a position in which he served multiple terms until his retirement in 1992.
Not only did Owens graduate from high school in Boston, but he also attended and graduated from Boston University, Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He also lived in Mattapan, a predominately Black neighborhood in Boston.
Aside from the aforementioned efforts for reparations, Owens was a tireless worker on behalf of Black Boston.
19. Moses J. Moseley, 31Source:Getty
Moses J. Moseley, an actor who rose to fame on the TV show, “The Walking Dead,” has died. The 31-year-old was found dead in his car in Georgia on Jan. 26 from an gunshot wound to the head. TMZ reported that law enforcement was investigating the death as a suicide but there was no immediate confirmation that was the cause of his death.
20. André Leon Talley, 73Source:Getty
Fashion icon André Leon Talley died on Jan. 18 at the age of 73. Visionary, legendary, phenom are all words that have been used to describe Talley and his impact on both fashion and journalism.
While younger generations may know him from his time as a judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” Talley has been a fixture in high fashion and journalism for almost 50 years.
Variety called the former creative director and editor-at-large for Vogue a “titan of fashion journalism.” Talley stood at an impressive 6-foot-six-inches, with his presence felt in each room he entered.
Talley’s bylines included Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily. A prolific influence on fashion and beyond, Talley got his start at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine in 1975, later becoming the fashion news editor at Vogue.
21. The National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. – Cheryl A. Hickmon
The National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Cheryl A. Hickmon, died after battling a recent illness. Her death, which has been confirmed by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority on their website and social media, comes just months after Hickmon took over as National President.
In the statement the Sorority wrote a heartfelt message to Hickmon and her family.
“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.
President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President.
She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister. The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”
22. American Basketball Player – Lusia Harris
Lusia “Lucy” Harris-Stewart, the legendary, barrier-breaking hall of fame basketball player whose largely unknown life story was recently told in a new documentary already being mentioned as an Academy Award contender, has died at the age of 66.
Not only did Harris win three straight national championships in the 1970s while starring for Delta University in Mississippi, but the dominating center also won a silver medal at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games and was even drafted into the NBA — the first and still only time that the world’s premier professional basketball league selected a woman.
In 1977, the Utah Jazz selected Harris with the 137th pick in the seventh round of the NBA Draft.
23. Brigadier General Charles McGee – Dulles, VASource:Getty
Brigadier General Charles McGee was called home at the age of 102. NBC 4 Washington quoted his family as saying McGee passed away peacefully Sunday morning. He is survived by his three children and countless grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Becoming a centenarian is among McGee’s many amazing accomplishments. One of the last remaining Tuskegee Airmen, McGee was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General on his 100th birthday.
“My approach to life was, and still is, ‘Do while you can,’” McGee said in a 1999 interview with Aviation History.
Born in Cleveland, OH McGee’s family moved a lot when he was growing up finally landing in Chicago in High School. After earning money in the Civilian Conservation Corps, McGee went on to the University of Illinois. McGee was also a proud member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
When news of Pearl Harbor broke, McGee joined the military becoming a member of the Tuskegee Airmen. He would go on to fly 409 combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. McGee retired at the rank of Colonel in 1973. According to the National World War II Museum, McGee flew more combat missions in the three wars than any other pilot.
He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2020, McGee was honored both by NASA and at the 2020 State of the Union. Former President Trump promoted him to the rank of Brigadier General ahead of the State of the Union.
McGee appreciated the honor but said it would’ve been nice to have that recognition while he was still in service.
“At first I would say ‘wow,’ but looking back, it would have been nice to have had that during active duty, but it didn’t happen that way,” McGee told U.S. Airforce News. “But still, the recognition of what was accomplished, certainly, I am pleased and proud to receive that recognition and hopefully it will help me carry on as we try to motivate our youth in aviation and space career opportunities.”
Last month McGee celebrated his 102nd birthday at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tx.
“General McGee came up to the cockpit today while we were flying and I let him know it was like flying my hero. It was just an honor to have him up here with us today,” Lt. Col. Joseph Harding told News4SA last month.
A STEM scholarship in his honor is set to begin in the Fall of 2022. The scholarship will support Black high school students interested in a career in a STEM field.
24. Ronnie SpectorSource:Getty
Ronnie Spector, the pop music singer who rose to fame in the 1960s as part of the girl group the Ronnettes, died Wednesday at the age of 78. The Associated Press reported that Spector’s death came after a battle with cancer.
Born Veronica Bennett, the New York City native who was raised in Harlem began performing with her older sister, Estelle Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley, as the Ronettes in the early 1960s. They were officially discovered after winning the renowned amateur night talent competition at the world-famous Apollo Theater.
After signing to the record label of music producer Phil Spector — who would later marry Ronnie Spector — the Ronettes turned the world performing the likes of “Be My Baby” and “Walking in the Rain,” two of the group’s signature hit songs.
“… the Ronettes cultivated an image modeled on the streetwise women of their Spanish Harlem roots. Spector in particular is now known as “the original bad girl of rock n’ roll”—she and her band mates wore dark mascara and short skirts, which pushed the envelope at that time.”
Ronnie ultimately went solo in 1964 and enjoyed a career that spanned through 2017, when the Ronettes released their first single in decades.
She and Phil Spector married in 1968, after which the couple adopted three children. Phil Spector would ultimately die in prison as a convicted murder following their divorce.
Far Out Magazine recalled the tumultuous relationship the couple had.
“Phil Spector was the definition of abusive. From the get-go, owing to jealousy and other questionable elements of his ideation, he turned Ronnie into a shadow of her former self. Over the course of their marriage, Phil Spector became as controlling and psychologically dominant as was possible. He turned his 23-room mansion into a maximum-security prison. It boasted chain-link fences, barbed wire and intercoms in every room, making it nigh on impossible for Ronnie to leave. Her husband had come to embody Orwell’s Big Brother.”
In 1998, the Ronettes sued Phil Spector claiming he owed them more than $10 million in unpaid royalties.
The New York Times reported at the time:
“The plaintiffs claim that after recording 28 songs with Mr. Spector, they were paid a pittance in the early 1960’s, and that Mr. Spector has wrongly deprived them of millions, not only from the sale of their records but also from the licensing of their hit songs in commercials and television shows like ”Moonlighting,” and in films like ”Dirty Dancing” and ”Goodfellas.””
25. James Mtume, Grammy award-winning musicianSource:Getty
Grammy award-winning musician James Mtume reportedly passed away on Sunday, Jan 9 just six days after his 76th birthday. Born James Forman, he was a renowned musician, songwriter, and producer.
A Philadelphia native, Mtume was exposed to musical greatness from birth as the son of Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Health and stepson of James “Hen Gates” Forman a pianist for Charlie Parker. His love of jazz would continue in his own career joining Miles Davis’ band from 1971-1975 as a percussionist. During that time Mtume recorded three acoustic jazz compositions.
He later took his eclectic jazz sound, experimenting with digital sounds to create a jazz/R&B/funk blend called “Sophistafunk.” Mtume reached new heights with his self-titled group, recording on the Epic Label from 1978 to 1986.
Their hit single “Juicy Fruit” would go on to become a widely sampled song in the world of Hip Hop. In a 2018 interview with NBC News, Mtume shared that allowing the song to be sampled for “Juicy” by Biggie introduced a new generation to the classic.
He also wrote hit singles for artists like Teddy Pendergrass, Phyllis Hyman, Mary J. Blige and K-Ci & JoJo. Working with guitarist Reggie Lucas, Mtume co-wrote the classic “The Closer I Get to You” sung by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.
“Never Knew Love Like This,” which Mtume wrote for songstress Stephanie Mills, won a Grammy for Best R&B song.
26. Lani Guinier, civil rights attorneySource:Getty
Civil rights lawyer, legal scholar and professor Lani Guinier, whose nomination to serve as the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in President Bill Clinton’s administration was derailed thanks to Republican opposition based on the topic of race, has died at the age of 71.
She died following complications from Alzheimer’s disease, the Washington Post reported, a citing family member.
Guinier broke a number of racial barriers in both academia and the legal profession with her work at Ivy League colleges, including Harvard Law School, where she became the first Black woman to be granted tenure.
On Friday, Harvard Law School Dean John Manning eulogized Guinier in a message to faculty and staff sharing the news of her death.
“Her scholarship changed our understanding of democracy — of why and how the voices of the historically underrepresented must be heard and what it takes to have a meaningful right to vote. It also transformed our understanding of the educational system and what we must do to create opportunities for all members of our diverse society to learn, grow, and thrive in school and beyond,” Manning wrote in part.
Despite all of Guinier’s amazing accomplishments in life — including but certainly not limited to being a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University as well as being assistant counsel at the NAACP LDF and serving as special assistant to Assistant Attorney General Drew S. Days in President Jimmy Carter’s administration — she will likely be most remembered for her controversial nomination to serve in the Department of Justice decades later.
After Clinton nominated Guinier for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993, Republicans pounced because of her views on race and racial discrimination. As an explainer in The Atlantic pointed out, critical race theory became a part of public discourse during the confirmation hearing. Clinton was consequently accused of not fighting hard enough, or at all, for Guinier’s nomination and ultimately withdrew it.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed writer went so low as to call Guinier “Clinton’s Quota Queen,” which was just a few racist inches away from calling her a “welfare queen.”
Guinier, a leading legal mind in the area of alternative voting rights, ending up taking a bullet for the Democratic team. She didn’t protest (too loudly) about the smear job done on her by Republican hatchet men. But she did have some choice words during an NAACP conference following the nomination debacle.
“I endured the personal humiliation of being vilified as a madwoman with strange hair — you know what that means — a strange name and strange ideas, ideas like democracy, freedom and fairness that mean all people must be equally represented in our political process,” Guinier said at the time. “But lest any of you feel sorry for me, according to press reports the president still loves me. He just won’t give me a job.”
27. Jessie Lee Daniels, of the Force MD’sSource:Getty
Staten Island Hip-Hop and R&B artist Jessie Lee Daniels from the Force MD’s has died at the age of 57. His management team confirmed the sad news on social media and tribute to him in a post on Facebook. The date of Daniels’ death was unclear, but it was first reported on Jan. 5.
28. Max Julien, actorSource:Getty
Max Julien, star of “The Mack,” passed away at the age of 88.
Born Maxwell Banks, Julien was 88. Despite various birth dates listed for Julien online, TMZ confirmed that he was born on Jan. 1, 1933. The Washington, D.C. native was a Howard University alum and member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Best known for his role as the pimp Goldie in the Blaxploitation film “The Mack,” Julien also co-wrote the screenplay for “Cleopatra Jones.” By the time Julien starred in “The Mack” and “Cleopatra Jones,” he had been acting for over 20 years.
He appeared in “The Mod Squad” and his big-screen debut in the 1966 film “The Black Klansman,” not to be confused with the 2018 Spike Lee film with a similar title. Lee’s movie is an adaptation of a memoir by Ron Stallworth, while the 1966 version was initially released under the title “I Crossed the Color Line.”
Julien remained an active presence on screen with a scene-stealing performance in the 1997 Def Jam film “How To Be A Player.” In a statement provided to TMZ, Julien’s PR team said his wife Arabella discovered him early Saturday morning.
“During Julien’s decades-long career, he was known for being bold, honest and straightforward,” read the statement. “He would live and speak his own truth both professionally and privately. He was thought of as a rare ‘man among men.’“
Actor and direct Robert Townsend paid tribute to Julien on Twitter.
“My first cinematic heroes has passed. Today we lost actor, writer, producer and director Max Julian,” tweeted Townsend. “In college, I would act out scenes from THE MACK, it’s still one of my favorite movies. Thank you Mr. Julian for making me think outside the box… God bless his soul.”
During a 2019 interview on the “Strong Black Legends” podcast, when asked about an “underappreciated black artist that you would like to give figurative flowers to” Townsend didn’t hesitate in saying, Julien.
“Max Julien is writer, director, producer who did ‘The Mack,'” Townsend said. “He did ‘Cleopatra Jones’; he wrote the script to that. He did ‘Thomasine & Bushrod’.”
He explained that Julien’s depiction of a pimp in “The Mack” kept Townsend from the streets.
Julien also wrote and starred in the 1974 western crime drama “Thomasine & Bushrod” alongside Vonetta McGee. Gordon Parks, Jr, the film was directed with Glynn Turman and Juanita Moore also making appearances.