Minnie Riperton was one of the finest Black singers of the 1970s and a well-known representative for the American Cancer Society. Sadly, she was taken by of cancer in 1979 at 31 years old.
Riperton had a mastectomy in 1976 and appeared on television programs explaining her illness and encouraging women to deal with breast cancer without embarrassment or shame. By the time of diagnosis, the cancer had metastasized; she was given about six months to live. Despite the grim prognosis, she continued recording and touring. She was one of the first celebrities to go public with a breast cancer diagnosis, but she did not disclose that she was terminally ill. In 1978, she received the American Cancer Society‘s Courage Award, presented to her at the White House by President James Earl Carter. She the first Black woman chosen by American Cancer Society to be a spokesperson.
Riperton had an astonishing five‐and‐a‐half octave range, developed through her early operatic training. Unlike many singers with a wide range, she avoided gimmickry in her performances. She combined the forthrightness of Pop and Soul singing with the intricacy of Jazz in a way that managed to be both popular and smart.
Born as one of eight children in Chicago on November 8, 1947, Riperton began her professional career with a group called The Gems when she was 14 years old. She worked as a backup singer on Chess Records from 1963 to 1970, and from 1966 to 1970 she was a member of a group called the Rotary Connection, which toured with The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Santana, Sly and the Family Stone and Jefferson Airplane.
Her first solo album, Come To My Garden; now considered a masterpiece by music critics, it was released in late 1970. In 1973, when she signed to Epic Records, her real fame began. Her first album for Epic, Perfect Angel, was co‐produced by Riperton, her husband, Richard Rudolph, and Stevie Wonder. It featured the single, Lovin‘ You, which went to Number One on the Pop and R&B charts and was a huge hit worldwide.
Riperton and Rudolph had two children, including a certain actor you may have heard of: Maya Rudolph. According to the liner notes on Perfect Angel, Lovin’ You was created as a distraction for Maya when she was a baby. Near the end of Lovin’ You, Riperton sings “Maya, Maya, Maya“.