Riperton, Minnie (1947–1979)

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Riperton, Minnie (1947–1979)

African-American singer. Name variations: (pseudonym) Andrea Davis; Minnie Riperton Rudolph. Born in Chicago, Illinois, on November 8, 1947 (some sources cite 1948); died on July 12, 1979, in Los Angeles, California; married Richard (Dicky) Rudolph (a musician and producer); children: Marc; Maya.

Had #1 hit with "Loving You" (1974); received an award for courage and public service from President Jimmy Carter (1977); became first African-American woman named national educational chair of the American Cancer Society (1978).

Selected albums:

Come to My Garden (1970); Perfect Angel (1974); Adventures in Paradise (1975); Stay in Love (1977); Minnie (1979); Love Lives Forever (1980).

Gifted with a five-octave voice, Minnie Riperton was born in Chicago on November 8, 1947, and began studying voice, opera, and ballet at age ten. Only four years later, she joined an all-girl group called the Gems, and started working at Chicago's Chess Records as a receptionist. During this time, she lent her voice as a backup singer for such famous artists as Etta James and Johnny Nash. In the mid-1960s, Riperton became the lead singer of a soul group, the Rotary Connection, which released a number of albums and opened for such acts as Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin , and the Rolling Stones. She also recorded as a solo artist under the name Andrea Davis. She released her first album under her own name, Come to My Garden, in 1970. By the following year, however, having grown weary of the music business, she temporarily retired.

Riperton returned to music by touring as a backup singer for artists including Roberta Flack and Quincy Jones, and in 1973 signed with Epic Records. She found fame with the release of her album Perfect Angel, produced by legendary singer and musician Stevie Wonder, the following year. The album became an instant smash, propelled by the international hit single "Loving You," which reached the top of the charts in both America and England. Co-written by Riperton and her husband Dicky Rudolph, the song made full use of her amazing vocal range. She often used her voice instrumentally, creating a sound that fused pop, soul, and jazz. (In the 1990s, "Loving You" would be used in television commercials for Burger King.)

Riperton released two more albums for Epic, Adventures in Paradise (1975), which reached the Top 20, and Stay in Love (1977). However, her career slowed significantly when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy at age 29. Riperton did not hide her fight with cancer, which at the time was still often considered an improper subject for discussion, but toured the talk-show circuit and candidly told other women about her surgery and treatment. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter presented her with an award for her bravery and dedication to public awareness of breast cancer. The following year, the American Cancer Society named her its national educational chair—the first African-American woman ever chosen for this position.

Despite her illness, Riperton continued making music. She signed with Capitol Records and in April 1979 released the album Minnie, which included the hit singles "Memory Lane" and "Lovers and Friends." Only a few months later, on July 12, 1979, Riperton lost her battle with cancer. In 1980, Capitol posthumously released her last album, Love Lives Forever. Still much admired by a select audience, Riperton is also credited with influencing the next generation of women singers (such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey ) who use their wide-ranging voices instrumentally.


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Ann M. Schwalboski , teacher and writing specialist, University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County