When I was a kid, I remember older relatives referring to Lena Horne as an strong Black woman during the segregation era. According to them, she never backed down and she was the epitome of class and grace.

Lena Horne broke numerous racial barriers and if she was your friend, apparently, you had a friend for life.

When Paul Robeson was accused of communism, Lena was told by friends and management to distant herself from Robeson or suffer career suicide. Lena refused to do so, she stood by Robeson until his death.

Every black actress and singer owes Lena Horne a debt of gratitude.

She suffered racism, disrespect and humiliation on a daily basis. She did this so later generations of black women wouldn't have to go through it. She sacrificed herself for the greater good.

If it wasn't for Lena Horne, none of the black actresses or black female singers would have reached the pinnacle of success they enjoy today.

You will be missed Miss Horne and you were a true icon! RIP.


NEW YORK — Lena Horne, the enchanting jazz singer and actress who reviled the bigotry that allowed her to entertain white audiences but not socialize with them, slowing her rise to Broadway superstardom, has died. She was 92.

Horne died Sunday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, according to hospital spokeswoman Gloria Chin. Chin would not release any other details.

Horne, whose striking beauty and magnetic sex appeal often overshadowed her sultry voice, was remarkably candid about the underlying reason for her success.

"I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept," she once said. "I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked."

In the 1940s, she was one of the first black performers hired to sing with a major white band, the first to play the Copacabana nightclub and among a handful with a Hollywood contract.

In 1943, MGM Studios loaned her to 20th Century-Fox to play the role of Selina Rogers in the all-black movie musical "Stormy Weather." Her rendition of the title song became a major hit and her signature piece.

On screen, on records and in nightclubs and concert halls, Horne was at home vocally with a wide musical range, from blues and jazz to the sophistication of Rodgers and Hart in songs like "The Lady Is a Tramp" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered."

In her first big Broadway success, as the star of "Jamaica" in 1957, reviewer Richard Watts Jr. called her "one of the incomparable performers of our time." Songwriter Buddy de Sylva dubbed her "the best female singer of songs."

But Horne was perpetually frustrated with the public humiliation of racism.

"I was always battling the system to try to get to be with my people. Finally, I wouldn't work for places that kept us out. ... It was a damn fight everywhere I was, every place I worked, in New York, in Hollywood, all over the world," she said in Brian Lanker's book "I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America."

While at MGM, she starred in the all-black "Cabin in the Sky," in 1943, but in most of her other movies, she appeared only in musical numbers that could be cut in the racially insensitive South without affecting the story. These included "I Dood It," a Red Skelton comedy; "Thousands Cheer" and "Swing Fever," all in 1943; "Broadway Rhythm" in 1944; and "Ziegfeld Follies" in 1946.

"Metro's cowardice deprived the musical of one of the great singing actresses," film historian John Kobal wrote.

Early in her career Horne cultivated an aloof style out of self-preservation, becoming "a woman the audience can't reach and therefore can't hurt," she once said.

Later she embraced activism, breaking loose as a voice for civil rights and as an artist. In the last decades of her life, she rode a new wave of popularity as a revered icon of American popular music.

Her 1981 one-woman Broadway show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," won a special Tony Award. In it, the 64-year-old singer used two renditions — one straight and the other gut-wrenching — of "Stormy Weather" to give audiences a glimpse of the spiritual odyssey of her five-decade career.

A sometimes savage critic, John Simon, wrote that she was "ageless ... tempered like steel, baked like clay, annealed like glass; life has chiseled, burnished, refined her."

When Halle Berry became the first black woman to win the best actress Oscar in 2002, she sobbed: "This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. ... It's for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened."

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne, the great-granddaughter of a freed slave, was born in Brooklyn on June 30, 1917, to a leading family in the black bourgeoisie. Her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, wrote in her 1986 book "The Hornes: An American Family" that among their relatives was a college girlfriend of W.E.B. Du Bois and a black adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Dropping out of school at age 16 to support her ailing mother, Horne joined the chorus line at the Cotton Club, the fabled Harlem night spot where the entertainers were black and the clientele white.

She left the club in 1935 to tour with Noble Sissle's orchestra, billed as Helena Horne, the name she continued using when she joined Charlie Barnet's white orchestra in 1940.

A movie offer from MGM came when she headlined a show at the Little Troc nightclub with the Katherine Dunham dancers in 1942.

Her success led some blacks to accuse Horne of trying to "pass" in a white world with her light complexion. Max Factor even developed an "Egyptian" makeup shade especially for the budding actress while she was at MGM.

But in his book "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance: A Pictorial History of Film Musicals," Kobal wrote that she refused to go along with the studio's efforts to portray her as an exotic Latin American.

"I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become," Horne once said. "I'm me, and I'm like nobody else."

Horne was only 2 when her grandmother, a prominent member of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, enrolled her in the NAACP. But she avoided activism until 1945 when she was entertaining at an Army base and saw German prisoners of war sitting up front while black American soldiers were consigned to the rear.

That pivotal moment channeled her anger into something useful.

She got involved in various social and political organizations and — along with her friendship with Paul Robeson — got her name onto blacklists during the red-hunting McCarthy era.

By the 1960s, Horne was one of the most visible celebrities in the civil rights movement, once throwing a lamp at a customer who made a racial slur in a Beverly Hills restaurant and in 1963 joining 250,000 others in the March on Washington when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. Horne also spoke at a rally that same year with another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, just days before his assassination.

It was also in the mid-'60s that she put out an autobiography, "Lena," with author Richard Schickel.

The next decade brought her first to a low point, then to a fresh burst of artistry.

She had married MGM music director Lennie Hayton, a white man, in Paris in 1947 after her first overseas engagements in France and England. An earlier marriage to Louis J. Jones had ended in divorce in 1944 after producing daughter Gail and a son, Teddy.

In the 2009 biography "Stormy Weather," author James Gavin recounts that when Horne was asked by a lover why she'd married a white man, she replied: "To get even with him."

Her father, her son and her husband, Hayton, all died in 1970 and 1971, and the grief-stricken singer secluded herself, refusing to perform or even see anyone but her closest friends. One of them, comedian Alan King, took months persuading her to return to the stage, with results that surprised her.

"I looked out and saw a family of brothers and sisters," she said. "It was a long time, but when it came I truly began to live."

And she discovered that time had mellowed her bitterness.

"I wouldn't trade my life for anything," she said, "because being black made me understand."

Source: AP

J. J. Jackson helped define the term "VJ" as one of the first on-air personalities on MTV when the channel launched in 1981. During his five-year tenure with the network, Jackson interviewed some of the top names of the day and was part of some key music milestones.

Jackson covered the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert in London and helped to "unmask" Kiss during a 1982 interview. He also hosted the debut episode of MTV's long-running "120 Minutes" in 1986, and brought music titans like Robert Plant and Pete Townshend to the then-fledgling channel.

Jackson died on March 17, 2004 of an apparent heart attack in Los Angeles, CA. He was 62.

2009: Jamaican music legend Wycliffe "Steely" Johnson, half of the iconic production team of Steely and Clevie, died of heart failure, which was brought on by pneumonia he contracted from kidney complications. Johnson, who was in his early '50s, played keyboards on Bob Marley and the Wailers' 9th and final album, 'Confrontation', and produced an array of artists from Jimmy Cliff and Dennis Brown to No Doubt and Sean Paul.

April 2010: Groundbreaking rapper and Gang Starr co-founder Guru died a month after the cancer-stricken artist collapsed and went into a coma, MTV reported.

The 43-year-old rapper, whose real name is Keith Elam, had been suffering from cancer for over a year. The report quoted a statement from Guru's camp that inferred the cause was complications from cancer.

“According to [producer] Solar, Guru suffered from the malicious illness for over a year and after numerous special treatments under the supervision of medical specialists failed, the legendary MC succumbed to the disease. Guru always tried to keep this harrowing diagnosis in private but in early 2010 he had to admit himself to hospital due to serious effects caused by the disease.”

Guru formed the group with DJ Premier in 1985, and they put out six albums, including the well-received "Daily Operation" and "Moment of Truth."

On March 21, 2005: Bobby Short, the cherubic singer and pianist whose high-spirited but probing renditions of popular standards evoked the glamour and sophistication of Manhattan nightlife, died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He was 80, and had homes in Manhattan and southern France.

The cause was leukemia, said his press agent, Virginia Wicks. Short was once the constant companion of billionairess-Gloria Vanderbilt.

July 2009: The Rev. Frederick Eikerenkoetter, known as Rev. Ike to a legion of followers here and across the nation to whom he preached the blessings of prosperity while making millions from their donations, has died. He was 74.

A family spokesman said he died Tuesday in a Los Angeles hospital, two years after he suffered astroke from which he never recovered.

Rev. Ike's ministry reached its peak in the mid-1970s, when his sermons were carried on 1,770 radio stations to an audience estimated at 2.5 million.

He also preached his philosophy of self-empowerment on television and the Internet, in books and magazines, and on audiotapes and videotapes.

From the stage of the former Loews movie theater on 175th St. in Washington Heights, which he restored and transformed into his United Church Science of Living Institute, Rev. Ike would tell thousands of parishioners "this is the do-it-yourself church. The only savior in this philosophy is God in you."

He then would exhort the believers to "close your eyes and see green ... money up to your armpits, a roomful of money, and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool."

As payback for spiritual inspiration, Rev. Ike asked for cash donations from the faithful - preferably in bills not coins. "Change makes your minister nervous in the service," he would say.

Critics called Rev. Ike a con man, saying the only point of his ministry was getting rich from the donations.

They noted that he made a show of sumptuous clothes, jewelry, posh residences and exotic cars. "My garages runneth over," he would boast. Ike owned seven Rolls Royces, one for each day of the week.

But his supporters said Rev. Ike's love of luxury had roots both in the traditions of African-American evangelism and the philosophies of mind over matter.

Rev. Ike was born in Ridgeland, S.C., to a father who was a Baptist minister and a mother who taught elementary school. They divorced when he was 5.

At 14, he became an assistant pastor for his father's congregation. He briefly preached in Boston before coming to New York.

He leaves his wife, Eula, and son, Xavier Frederick.

Ali "Ollie" Woodson, a former lead singer of The Temptations, died on May 30, 2010 in California. He was 58.

Woodson had been battling cancer, said Billy Wilson, president and founder the Motown Alumni Association.

Born Oct. 12, 1951, in Detroit, Woodson headed The Temptations for most of the 1980s and 90s.

He wrote and sang lead on the 1984 hit "Treat Her Like a Lady."

"He was an excellent singer," Wilson said. "He's one of the few singers who was accommodating to virtually everything. He had a style and swagger about himself that was different than the other Temptations."

Mr. Woodson later released a solo album, "Right Here All Along," in 2001, according to allmusic.com.

Wilson said he regularly returned to Metro Detroit, including performing with a band at Arturo's Jazz Theatre and Restaurant in Southfield and with Dennis Edwards' Temptations Revue at events such as the Detroit International Jazz Fest.

"He had a tremendous number of fans," Wilson said.

This year, Woodson appeared at a CD preview party at the Detroit Fish Market for Aretha Franklin, with whom he has performed on a tour.

In 2008, Woodson had high-profile performances at a Motown Museum Fundraiser as well as the funeral for Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops.

"It's a sad day," he said of Stubbs' death. "He was the first person I met when I signed with Motown in 1983," he told The Detroit News.

PROVO, Utah – Gary Coleman once said he wanted people to think of him as something more than the chubby-cheeked child star from television show "Diff'rent Strokes," that he wanted to escape the legacy of character Arnold Jackson, whose "Whatchu talkin' 'bout?" became a catch phrase of the 1970s and '80s.

He spent his later years still keeping a hand in show business, but also moving away from it, marrying and settling in Utah, far away from Hollywood's sometimes all-too-bright lights. Still, he was dogged by ongoing health problems and struggled with legal woes.

After suffering a brain hemorrhage, Coleman was taken off life support Friday and died, his family and friends at his side, said Utah Valley Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Janet Frank. He was 42.

"He has left a lasting legacy," tweeted singer Janet Jackson, who appeared on several episodes of "Diff'rent Strokes. "I know he is finally at peace."

Marvin Isley (top left), whose muscular bass lines propelled the hits of his classic sibling band The Isley Brothers, died in Chicago at age 56.

The cause of death has not yet been announced, though Isley suffered from diabetes severe enough to have caused him to leave the band in 1997. Later, his condition led to the amputation of both legs.

Isley will be remembered for the resilience and power of his bass work, which, for one thing, formed a crucial hook in the undulating '70s hit "Fight The Power." The bassist also played on the smash "Who's That Lady," as well as on prominent songs like "For The Love Of You" and "Harvest For The World."

Isley, who grew up in Englewood, New Jersey, wasn't old enough to join the first incarnation of the Isley Brothers, who have a history snaking back to the mid-’50s and who scored hits in the '60s like 1966’s "This Old Heart Of Mine" and the funky, 1969 track "It's Your Thing." By the late '60s, while still of high school age, Isley formed a trio with older brother Ernie and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. By the dawn of the '70s, those three pacted with the other Members of the group to create the classic "3+3" album, which went Top Ten in 1973.

In 1984, the Isleys fractured again. The original group continued to perform under their brand name while Marvin, Ernie, and Chris became Isley-Jasper-Isley. With that group, Marvin scored a No. 1 R&B single with "Caravan of Love."

For the '90s, Marvin once again became an Isley Brother. But by '97s, his illness forced him to quit.

In 1992, he was inducted, along with the other key Isley Brothers, into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.

Two early members of the group have also died: O’Kelly Isley Jr. in 1996 at age 48 and Vernon Isley, who died back in 1955, at the age of just 13, after being hit by a car on his bicycle.

The group’s two best known members-singer Ron Isley and guitarist Ernie Isley- continue to perform under the group’s name.


Manute Bol, 47, a giant among even NBA stars and a towering symbol of hope in his native Sudan, died last week (June 2010).

The former 76ers center died at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where he was being treated for acute kidney failure and a skin disease, Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.

Mr. Bol, who at 7-foot-7 could be an intimidating defensive presence on the court, was also known for his humanitarian efforts in Sudan. He founded Sudan Sunrise, a group based in Lenexa, Kan., working to end oppression in Sudan.

Bol nearly went bankrupt by using his NBA salary to try and wipe out poverty in his native country.

June 2010: Gary Shider, singer and guitarist died at age 56, on June 16, in his home in Upper Marlboro.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member was best known for his work with funk groups Parliament-Funkadelic and Bootsy's Rubber Band, influencing later bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Shider (above, in diaper) was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer in March and performed for the last time in April, on his final tour.

“Mr. Shider often took to the stage wearing only a loincloth -- an act for which his fans dubbed him the diaperman,” writes the Washington Post . When asked why he frequently wore a diaper on stage, Shider responded, "God loves babies and fools. I'm both."

Shider leaves behind his wife of 32 years, Linda, and their two children, Garret and Marshall Shider in Upper Marlboro. In addition, he leaves behind a son from a previous marriage, a stepson, a mother, six brothers, and five grandchildren.

2011: Hip-hop singer Nate Dogg, who along with Snoop Dogg and Warren G is credited with crafting the blend of singing and rapping now known as G-funk, has died. He was 41.

Nate Dogg, who was born Nathaniel D. Hale, died at a Laguna Niguel care facility of complications from multiple strokes, said his attorney, Mark Geragos.

2011: Soul and Disco singer Loleatta Holloway died Monday evening following a brief illness. She was 64 years old.

Holloway’s death was confirmed by her manager, Ron Richardson, who said the singer slipped into a coma before succumbing to heart failure.

2011: Hip-hop radio and TV personality DJ Megatron was shot to death March 27 on New York's Staten Island. He was 32.

Megatron, born Corey McGriff, was apparently on his way to a store near his home, his manager Justin (J. Smoove) Kirkland told the Associated Press.

He was a popular figure among East Coast rap jocks. He began his career as an intern at WKRS-FM (Kiss FM) in New York, where he became an on-air personality.

Megatron also worked at Boston's Hot 97.7 and Philadelphia's the Beat.

He was best known as an on-camera host of BET's "106 & Park" series and was featured in its man-on-the-street "What's Good" segments.

His screen credits included "State Property 2" (2005), which starred Roc-A-Fella Records exec Damon Dash and rappers Beanie Sigel and N.O.R.E. (Noreaga).

He is survived by three children.

Feb. 11, 2012:

I write this with a heavy heart. We lost the greatest female singer of any generation last night!

When Cissy Houston first heard the news that her daughter had passed, reportedly, she started trembling and screaming "No! No! My baby! My baby!" as she sunk to the ground.

A film is already being planned, based on the life of Whitney Houston, written in the same vain as "Lady Sings The Blues." This will be an A-list project with unlimited financing but who could play Whitney Houston? A great actress lip synching or a Broadway star with a powerful voice?

Also, "Unsung," is interested in rushing an episode on the air before their season ends.

The tabloids are offering upwards to $1.2 million to members of Whitney's entourage. They want to know if anyone was able to take a cell phone pic of Whitney in the bath tub.

When Whitney Houston first arrived on the scene, she was groomed to become the next Diana Ross; she shunned expensive gowns in favor of blue jeans and sneakers. Whitney was a Jersey girl at heart and and she loved the New York Giants. She also loved Sylvia's soul food restaurant in New York.

Whitney's career closely mirrored Diana Ross's, first the hits and then the big grossing film (The Bodyguard).

After "The Bodyguard," Whitney was besieged with offers, including a remake of "Cleopatra Jones," she was also offered $1 million dollars to perform for a royal family, and she was approached to perform in Las Vegas for $1.5 million per month but due to unfortunate circumstances she was unable to undertake any of these projects.

What was her attraction to Ray J? Whitney started out as a family friend and considered Brandy a little sister but like everyone else, she saw Ray J's sex tape with Kim and became interested.

At the time of Whitney's and Bobby's courtship, people were surprised because Bobby was in hot pursuit of Rosie Perez at the time.

Whitney used to date Eddie Murphy and really loved him, but it can only be one star in Murphy's household; she even tried to get Eddie jealous by dating Randall Cunningham but it didn't work.

Whitney was a celebrity among celebrities. When Faith Evans had a minor scrape with the law in L.A., Whitney called, is there anything you need? Does anyone need to take your kids to school? Whitney was a good friend to have and Mary J. Blige was her favorite singer.


Though she will be remembered for disco classics such as Love to Love You Baby and I Feel Love, Donna Summer, who has died of cancer aged 63, notched up many achievements in a career lasting more than 40 years. She recorded three multi-platinum albums and three consecutive double albums topping the US chart. She reached a commercial peak in the late 1970s with a string of chart-topping singles, including a duet with Barbra Streisand on No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), and was able to bounce back from a subsequent slump with hit records in succeeding decades. She also branched out into television, with appearances on America's Got Talent and the reality show Platinum Hit.

Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts, she and her six siblings were brought up in a religious household, since while her father earned a living as a butcher, he was also a minister. She sang in church choirs as a child, and claimed that when she was eight she heard God telling her she would become famous. During her teens she formed several groups inspired by Motown acts such as the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, and after leaving school to pursue a musical career, she sang with the psychedelic rock band Crow.

She then auditioned for a part in the musical Hair on Broadway, and though initially unsuccessful she was later hired for the German version of the show. This prompted a move to Germany, where she performed in several shows, including Godspell and Show Boat, learned to speak fluent German, and married the Austrian actor Helmut Sommer, from whom she took her performing name.

Living in Munich, she inevitably met the local (though Italian-born) writer and producer Giorgio Moroder, who supervised the recording of her album Lady of the Night (1974). All the songs were written by Moroder and his lyric-writing partner Pete Bellotte, and the album was released only in the Netherlands.

The following year, Summer herself presented the theme and title of Love to Love You Baby to Moroder and Bellotte. Moroder set about turning the song into a sexually charged disco track, encouraging the singer's moanings (which she later said were inspired by Marilyn Monroe). It was recorded for Moroder's Oasis label, but received major distribution through a deal with LA-based Casablanca Records. It sped to No 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1976, and the ensuing album was certified gold in the US. Summer's lubricious performances prompted media controversy, which helped to launch her as "the first lady of love". A 17-minute version of Love to Love You Baby was a clubland smash and helped to create the vogue for 12-inch singles.

Summer followed up with two further gold albums that year, A Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love, and the 1977 concept album I Remember Yesterday yielded the single I Feel Love, which epitomised Moroder's vision of trance-like dance electronica. In 1978 she scored her first US chart-topping single, with a version of Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park, and repeated the feat with Hot Stuff, Bad Girls and No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). Summer made her film acting debut as a disco singer in Thank God It's Friday (1978). A song from the soundtrack, Last Dance, was another big hit and won the singer her first Grammy. She won another for Hot Stuff.

Summer now yearned to break away from the disco format, though she always defended the genre and was proud of her role in it. She split from Casablanca, signed to Geffen Records, and made the rock-styled album The Wanderer (1980). Donna Summer (1982) was produced by Quincy Jones and generated the hits Love Is in Control and State of Independence, while the title song of her subsequent album, She Works Hard for the Money (1983), was another milestone.

Her career hit turbulence in the mid-80s after she was alleged to have made anti-gay remarks about Aids and its victims, which Summer (by then a born-again Christian) denied, though she later apologised for any pain she had caused. She bounced back into the charts in 1989 with Another Place and Time, overseen by the British producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and the single This Time I Know It's for Real was a major international success.

She embraced her Christian faith with the gospel-flavoured Christmas Spirit (1994), and accepted a role in the TV sitcom Family Matters. In 1999 she made a television special, Donna Summer – Live and More Encore, which achieved stellar ratings. The new millennium brought more dance hits. Crayons (2008) was her first studio album of new material for 17 years, and reached the US top 20. In 2010 the single To Paris With Love topped Billboard's US dance chart.

She is survived by her second husband, Bruce Sudano; their daughters, Brooklyn and Amanda; her daughter, Mimi, from her previous marriage, which ended in divorce in 1975; and four grandchildren.

• Donna Summer (LaDonna Adrian Gaines), singer, born 31 December 1948; died 17 May 2012

Source: The Guardian (UK)

Aug. 2012: Actor Al Freeman, Jr. died at the age of 78.

The passing of Freeman, Jr. was announced by a representative of Washington, D.C.'s Howard University, where the star also worked as a faculty member. No further information about his death is known.

Freeman, Jr. starred as police Captain Ed Hall on the soap opera "One Life to Live," from 1972 until 1987, and became the first African-American to win a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor for his work on the show.

He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in Spike Lee's 1992 film "Malcolm X," a role that landed him the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

July 2012: Maria Cole, the widow of Nat “King” Cole, the mother of Natalie Cole and a singer in Duke Ellington's band in the mid-1940s, died Tuesday of cancer in Boca Raton, Fla. She was 89.

The Coles were wed in Harlem on Easter Sunday in 1948, just six days after Nat's divorce from his first wife became final, and were married for almost 17 years. The soft-spoken singer of such classics as "Unforgettable," "Nature Boy," "Too Young" and “Mona Lisa” died of lung cancer in Santa Monica in February 1965.

"Our mom was in a class all by herself," Natalie said in a statement released with her twin sisters Timolin and Casey Cole. "She epitomized class and elegance and truly defined what it is to be a real lady. We are so blessed and privileged to have inherited the legacy that she leaves behind along with our father.
"She died how she lived: with great strength, courage and dignity, surrounded by her loving family."

Born in Boston in 1922, Maria Cole and a sister moved to North Carolina to live with an aunt soon after her mother died in childbirth. She took voice and piano lessons as a child, and after graduating in 1938 from the Palmer Memorial Institute -- then one of America’s most prestigious African-American prep schools -- she returned to Boston and sang with a jazz orchestra. She soon moved to New York to pursue a music career with jazz great Benny Carter’s band.
In 1943, she married Spurgeon Ellington, a Tuskegee Airmen flyer during World War II. He was killed in Georgia two years later during a routine postwar training flight.

After performing briefly with Count Basie and swing music innovator Fletcher Henderson, Cole's big break came when Ellington hired her as a vocalist. She stayed with him until 1946, when she began soloing at New York's Club Zanzibar as an opening act for The Mills Brothers. It was there that she met Nat
and they was married in 1948 in a lavish ceremony in Harlem.

The couple traveled throughout Europe in the 1950s, and Maria recorded several songs with her husband for Capitol Records and sang at top venues in California and on the East Coast.

Natalie, a nine-time Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, was born in 1950 as the Coles' first child. She was followed by the late Nat Kelly Cole, adopted in 1959, and the twins Timolin and Casey, who were born in 1961. In 1949, the couple had adopted Carol (known as "Cookie"), the daughter of Maria’s late sister.

After her husband’s death, Maria produced a James Baldwin play, sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, created the Cole Cancer Foundation and was active in charity work.

In 1987, she was interviewed by Natalie and singer Johnny Mathis for a PBS special on Nat. In 1990, Maria and Natalie accepted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her late husband.

In addition to her three daughters, survivors include her sister, Charlotte; her son-in-laws Gary and Julian; and six grandchildren. A private service will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles at a date to be determined.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

Sylvia Woods, who left the rural bean patches of segregated South Carolina to become one of New York’s top restaurateurs as the vivacious “Queen of Soul Food,” died July 19 at her home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. She was 86.

She had Alzheimer’s disease, said her granddaughter Kendra Woods.

July 2012: Amid the bull market of young women in hip-hop today, one of the first ladies of the genre passed away. Ms. Melodie, born Ramona Parker, was a founding member of the group Boogie Down productions and the ex-wife of landmark artist KRS-One. The cause of death is yet unknown, and while reports dispute her age, she was widely believed to be 43.

June 2012: Erica Kennedy, a music writer turned novelist who came to wide attention in 2004 with the publication of her first novel, “Bling,” a satirical roman à clef about the world of hip-hop, was found dead at her home in Miami Beach. She was 42.

Her family confirmed the death to The Associated Press but provided neither the cause nor the precise date Ms. Kennedy died.

Published by Miramax Books, “Bling” tells the story of a young, innocent mixed-race woman trying to break into the music business. A gifted singer, she is remade in flashy style by a rapacious record mogul. Ms. Kennedy was reported to have received an advance of half a million dollars for the novel.

Ms. Kennedy was moved to start work on the book, she later said, by the hoopla surrounding “The Nanny Diaries,” the 2002 novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus that lampooned Manhattan’s elite.

“Everybody kept talking about how scandalous that book was,” Ms. Kennedy told The New York Times in 2004. “I really didn’t see the big deal. I knew I could write a story about a P. Diddy party and show these people what scandal is really all about.”

Reviewing “Bling” in The Times Book Review, Sia Michel took it to task for bagginess (it ran to 509 pages) but called it “gleefully trashy.”

“Bling” captured the attention of the news media, partly for its portrayal of a world of flowing Cristal, powder blue Bentleys and platinum teeth, and partly for the fevered guessing game it engendered: Was its hip-hop mogul based on Russell Simmons, a founder of Def Jam Recordings and a friend of Ms. Kennedy’s? Was its foul-tempered supermodel a thinly veiled Naomi Campbell?

On these points, Ms. Kennedy remained discreetly silent.

Ms. Kennedy’s second novel, “Feminista,” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. That book, a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” did not garner the immense attention of “Bling.”

But Ms. Kennedy’s name continued to be included on the small list of writers whose work, which took the tried-and-true genre of chick lit and gave it a specifically black focus, was the logical heir to the novelist Terry McMillan’s. At the end of 2010, Ms. Kennedy was named to the Ebony Power 100, a list of influential African-Americans.

Ms. Kennedy was born Erica Kennedy Johnson on March 24, 1970, and reared in Bayside, Queens. Her father, a pharmaceutical company executive, died when she was 17; her mother was an interior designer.

As a teenager, Erica dated a record producer and through him met Mr. Simmons, who gave her entree into hip-hop circles. (In 1998, Ms. Kennedy was a bridesmaid at Mr. Simmons’s wedding to Kimora Lee.)

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 1992, Ms. Kennedy was a publicist for the Tommy Hilfiger fashion house and contributed articles on music to Vibe, InStyle and other magazines.

Ms. Kennedy’s survivors include her mother, Mary Mobley Johnson, and a brother, Kirk Johnson.

By all accounts, the flash Ms. Kennedy portrayed in her fiction had little place in her own life. “My hope is that the next black author gets six figures for this kind of book,” she told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2004. “I just want to be home in sweats and glasses, writing.”

April 2009:

Randy Cain, a founding member of the Delfonics, who sang on such Philly soul hits as "La La Means I Love You," and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" died Thursday. He was 63. No cause of death is yet known for Cain who formed the Delfonics with brothers William and Wilbert Hart while attending Overbrook High in the 1960s. Cain left the group in 1971 and was replaced by Major Harris.

In the 1980s Cain returned for a later incarnation of the group and also for the past several months Cain had been again performing with the Delfonics with William Hart, the group's lead singer and songwriter, who is the sole owner of the name of the group. That reunion is somewhat surprising as in 2002 and 2005 Cain and Wilbert Hart filed civil suits against William Hart and against Arista Records/Sony BMG, for back royalties. A court later awarded Cain and Wilbert back royalties.

The three original members were reunited in 2006 by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation which presented the group its Pioneer Award at its annual awards banquet. “That was the first time we were all together in years but we couldn’t work it out,” Wilbert Hart told us Friday night. “I’m gonna miss him. We grew up together since 1968,” Wilbert said of Cain whom he last saw four or five months ago. “We’re gonna have to do what we’re doing until God brings us together,” said Wilbert who now performs with a group as Wil Hart formerly Delfonics.

Cain had lived in Willingboro, NJ with Wilbert and his family but according to Wilbert recently moved into an apartment in Maple Shade. Wilbert said he hopes Cain will long be remembered through the Delfonics music. The group’s timeless tunes saw a resurrection in 1997 after several songs were featured in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film "Jackie Brown."

“That three part harmony with the falsetto sound was phenomenal,” Jerry Blavat says of the Delfonics. Blavat was the first DJ to spin “La La Means I Love You,” and also had Cain and the Hart brothers performing on his TV show “Jerry’s Place,” which was broadcast on WFIL. “The entire rhythm and blues community has lost a beloved voice. We are all grieving,” said Patricia Wilson Aden, executive director of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

"Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and the Philadelphia International Records family deeply mourn the loss of this great artist and give their sincere condolences to the Cain and Delfonics family," said PIR executive Chuck Gamble.

"Gamble and Huff have fond memories of working with Randy and the group at the start of their career with fellow legendary producer Thom Bell who produced and penned many of the Delfonics hits," said Gamble who noted that the label had recently worked with Cain and the Delfonics on its PBS "Love Train" special.

King Floyd III was born in New Orleans in 1945. His musical career started as a singer at the Sho-Bar on Bourbon Street.

In 1970, Wardell Quezergue, an arranger of R&B scores, persuaded Floyd to record "Groove Me" with Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi. Jean Knight recorded her hit, "Mr. Big Stuff," in the same sessions.

At first, "Groove Me" was a B-side to another Floyd song, "What Our Love Needs." New Orleans radio DJ's started playing "Groove Me" and the song became a local hit. Atlantic Records picked up national distribution of "Groove Me," which topped the United States R&B chart and reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Floyd quit his job at the post office to perform a U.S. tour.

His follow-up album, "Think About It," failed to make an impact.

None of his subsequent songs achieved the same, as disco dominated the charts for the remainder of the 1970s. However, Floyd had credits for "Boombastic," recorded in 1995 by Shaggy, which became a big hit. However, his song "Don't Leave Me Lonely" was prominently sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan for the song "For Heaven's Sake" off their album Wu-Tang Forever.

King Floyd died on March 6, 2006 from complications of a stroke and diabetes. He is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.

June 2012: Actress Yvette Wilson died after losing her battle with stage 4 cervical cancer, according to multiple reports. She was 48.

Wilson was best known for her role as Andell Wilkerson on UPN's "Moesha" and its spinoff "The Parkers," and also appeared in the movies "House Party 2," "House Party 3" and "Friday."

In January, one of Wilson's friends created a website to help raise money for the actress' medical bills.

"Yvette has experienced kidney failure, kidney transplants and cervical cancer, among other things," the site reads. "Her cancer has come back after an extended retreat, and doctors are saying it's very aggressive this time out."

Belita Karen Woods (October 23, 1948 – May 14, 2012) was a lead singer of the late 1970s R&B group, Brainstorm. She also performed with Parliament-Funkadelic for two decades, beginning in 1992.

Brainstorm had a disco hit in 1977 called "Lovin' Is Really My Game". Their follow-up album, 1978's Journey To The Light, featured a more soul-funk sound, anchored by the album tracks "We're On Our Way Home" and "If You Ever Need To Cry". Prior to joining Brainstorm, Woods released a single "Magic Corner"/"Grounded" on Detroit's Moira label in 1967.

Woods began touring with the P-Funk All-Stars in 1992. In 2001 she sang on four songs ("Scratched", "When Jack Met Jill", "Relax", "Tempovision") on French DJ/producer Étienne de Crécy's Tempovision album. The song "Scratched" was produced by fellow P-Funk mate Michael "Clip" Payne, who also sang on the song "Tempovision". She had three solo songs on George Clinton's How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent?, released in 2005: "Don't Dance Too Close", "More Than Words Can Say" and "Saddest Day".

Woods died of heart failure on May 14, 2012. She was 63.

Dick Anthony Williams (August 9, 1938-February 15, 2012) was an actor. Williams is known for his starring performances on Broadway in "The Poison Tree," "What the Wine-Sellers Buy," and "Black Picture Show." He is also remembered for playing the character of Pretty Tony in "The Mack," which starred Max Julien and Richard Pryor.

Williams won the 1974 Drama Desk Award for his performance in "What the Wine-Sellers Buy," for which he was also nominated for a Tony Award, and was nominated in 1975 for both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for his performance in "Black Picture Show." He also has an extensive resume as an actor in films and on television.

Williams married Gloria Edwards, an actress, who died in 1988, and had two children with her.

Dick Anthony Williams died from an undisclosed illness on Feb. 15, 2012.


Syreeta Wright (August 3, 1946 – July 6, 2004), who recorded professionally under the single name Syreeta, was a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter most notably known for her work with Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston.

Syreeta was born Syreeta Wright in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1946, and started singing at age four. Her father died while serving in the Korean War and Wright and her two sisters, Yvonne (later a songwriter in her own right) and Kim, were raised by their mother Essie and their grandmother. The Wrights moved back and forth from Detroit to South Carolina before finally settling in Detroit just as Wright entered high school. Money problems kept Wright from pursuing a career in ballet so Wright focused her attention on a music career joining several singing groups before landing a job as a receptionist for Motown in 1965. Within a year, she became a secretary for Mickey Stevenson, just as Martha Reeves had done before her.

Wright also performed demo vocals for the Supremes hit "Love Child" and Ross's "Something's On My Mind", which Ross later recorded for her self-titled debut album. When Diana Ross left the Supremes in early 1970, Motown boss Berry Gordy considered replacing her with Syreeta, but offered the place in the group to Jean Terrell. According to several sources, Gordy then changed his mind and tried to replace Terrell with Syreeta, but this was vetoed by Supreme Mary Wilson.

Wright also sang background on records by the Supremes and by Martha and the Vandellas, notably singing the chorus to the group's modest hit single, "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playing." Wright met labelmate Stevie Wonder in 1968, and the two began dating the following year. On the advice of Wonder, Wright became a songwriter. Their first collaboration, "It's a Shame", was recorded by The Spinners, in 1969. Motown withheld its release until July 1970. The song reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Wright also began singing background for Wonder, most notably on the hit "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)", which Wright co-wrote with Wonder. In September 1970, after a year-long courtship, Wright, twenty-four, and Wonder, twenty, married in Detroit. The couple then wrote and arranged songs from Wonder's Where I'm Coming From, which was released much to Berry Gordy's chagrin in the spring of 1971. The Wonder-Wright composition "If You Really Love Me" (which also featured Wright prominently singing background vocals) reached number-eight in the US that year.

Material from Syreeta and Wonder's "Talking Book," were deemed autobiographical due to the rise and fall of the ex-couple's marriage. Remaining best friends, Wright would continue to provide background vocals and compositions with Wonder for the next two decades.

Wright's next effort came courtesy of a chance meeting with Billy Preston, who had signed with Motown in early 1979. Motown assigned the two to collaborate on a pop ballad for the movie Fast Break. Wright and Preston provided the soundtrack of the film and their first collaboration, "With You I'm Born Again", resulted in an international hit reaching number-four US and number-two UK in late 1979.

Syreeta was married three times during her life. Her first marriage, to longtime collaborator Stevie Wonder, lasted eighteen months between 1970 and 1972, while a marriage to bassist Curtis Robertson Jr., was also short lived. Wright briefly lived in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s where she worked as a transcendental meditation teacher.

Syreeta Wright died on July 6, 2004 of congestive heart failure, a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments she was receiving for breast and bone cancers. She was 57 years old. She is survived by her four children Jamal, Hodari, Takiyah and Harmoni, and grandchildren.

Feb. 2012: The idea was simple -- but groundbreaking: Create a live showcase for black music, modeled on "American Bandstand."

Don Cornelius pulled $400 from his own pocket to launch the dance show on a local Chicago TV station in 1970. As host and executive producer of "Soul Train," he was soon at the throttle of a nationally syndicated television institution that was the first dance show to cater to the musical tastes of black teenagers and also helped bring black music, dance, fashion and style to mainstream America.

In the process of presenting the soul, funk and R&B of the day, the Afro-haired, dapper Cornelius became a TV icon, his sonorous baritone welcoming viewers to "the hippest trip in America."

Cornelius, 75, was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Wednesday after a family member found him in his home in Encino with a gunshot wound to his head, according to law enforcement sources. The wound appeared to be self-inflicted, but the death was being investigated by police. Friends say he had been in poor health.

On Wednesday, those who knew Cornelius recalled his impact on American culture.

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