Obituary

2017 Deaths: Beautiful Lives Remembered

Al Jarreau
**FILE** Al Jarreau (Courtesy of Flickr via Wikimedia)

Al Jarreau — The acclaimed jazz vocalist, who boasted a 42-year career in the music industry, died Feb. 12 at age 76.

Clyde Stubblefield — The revered drummer, best known for his work with James Brown and his ubiquitous solo on Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” died Feb. 18 of kidney failure at age 73.

Leon Ware — The singer-songwriter and composer, best known for his production work with Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, Minnie Riperton and Maxwell, died Feb. 23 of prostate cancer at age 77.

Joni Sledge — The singer and member of Sister Sledge, best known for their hit “We Are Family,” died on March 11 at 60 of natural causes.

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry (Courtesy photo)

Chuck Berry – The rock ‘n’ roll icon, who inspired a generation of musicians with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance, died March 18 at his home near Wentzville, Mo., at age 90.

Charlie Murphy — The older brother of famed comedian Eddie Murphy and accomplished comedian in his own right, best remembered for the Comedy Central sketch-comedy series “Chappelle’s Show,” died April 12 at the age of 57 after battling blood cancer.

Cuba Gooding Sr. — The legendary lead singer of soul group The Main Ingredient and father of actor Cuba Gooding Jr. was found dead of natural causes in his car on April 20 at age 72.

Ugo Ehiogu — The former England and Aston Villa defender died after collapsing at a training center on April 21 at age 44.

Christopher “Big Black” Boykin — The best friend and bodyguard of skateboarder and entrepreneur Rob Dyrdek, who starred alongside him in MTV’s “Rob & Big” for three seasons, died May 9 at age 45.

Cortez Kennedy — The Hall of Fame defensive tackle, who spent his entire NFL career with the Seattle Seahawks, was found dead in his Orlando, Fla., home on May 23 at age 48, days after hospitalization for swelling in his legs.

Prodigy of Mobb Deep
Rapper Prodigy of Mobb Deep (Courtesy photo)

Albert “Prodigy” Johnson — The New York rapper, one-half of legendary group Mobb Deep, died June 20 at age 42 after a lifelong battle with sickle cell disease.

Betty Dukes — The Walmart greeter who took the retail giant all the way to the Supreme Court in the largest gender bias class-action lawsuit in U.S. history, died July 10 at her California home at age 67.

Don Baylor — The former MLB star, who also named the National League Manager of the Year in 1995, died Aug. 7 at age 68 after a yearslong battle with multiple myeloma.

Tommy Hawkins — The former NBA player, who was the first Black player at the University of Notre Dame in the 1950s, died Aug. 16 at age 80.

Dick Gregory — The pioneering standup comedian and civil rights activist, who made his advocacy work a key component of his onstage persona, died Aug. 19 at age 84.

Violet Brown — The Jamaican supercentenarian, recognized as the world’s oldest living person, died Sept. 15 at age 117.

Bernie Casey — The professional football player-turned-actor, known for parts in “Revenge of the Nerds” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” died Sept. 19 at age 78 after a brief illness.

Charles Bradley — The funk/soul singer, known as the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” for his powerful, raspy style that evoked one of his musical heroes, James Brown, died Sept. 23 at age 68 of cancer.

Walter “Bunny” Sigler — The singer-songwriter and producer, who helped create “The Sound of Philadelphia” in the 1970s, died Oct. 6 of a heart attack at age 76.

Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins — The NYC basketball playground legend, who starred in the NBA and ABA and for the Harlem Globetrotters, died Oct. 6 at age 75.

Grady Tate — The Grammy-nominated jazz musician and singer, who best known as a versatile drummer who helped propel the “soul-jazz” style of the 1960s, died Oct. 8 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 85.

Ben Hawkins — The third-round pick of the Eagles in 1966, who spent eight of his nine NFL seasons in Philadelphia, died Oct. 9 at age 73.

Howard Carroll — The lead guitarist for the influential and Grammy-winning gospel group the Dixie Hummingbirds, died Oct. 17 at age 92.

Mychael Knight — The Georgia fashion designer, who was a finalist on the popular TV competition show “Project Runway,” died Oct. 17 at age 39.

Robert Guillaume
Robert Guillaume (Courtesy of robertguillaume.com)

Robert Guillaume — The renowned actor, best known as the feisty butler in the sitcom “Benson,” died Oct. 24 following a battle with prostate cancer at age 89.

Fats Domino — The legendary rock ‘n’ roll singer, whose biggest hits included “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That A Shame,” died Oct. 25 at the age of 89.

Muhal Richard Abrams — The pianist and composer, who was a major force in avant-garde jazz for more than 50 years and a founder of the influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, died Oct. 29 at age 87.

Robert Knight — The singer, best known for the 1967 hit, “Everlasting Love,” died Nov. 5 at age 72 following a short illness.

Earl Hyman — The veteran actor of stage and screen, widely known for playing Russell Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” died Nov. 17 at his Englewood, N.J., home at the age of 91.

Della Reese
Della Reese (Courtesy of CBS)

Della Reese — The beloved singer and “Touched by an Angel” actress, who had battled diabetes for years, died Nov. 20 in her California home at age 86.

Joseph White – The psychologist, social activist and teacher who helped pioneer the field of Black psychology to counter what he saw as rampant ignorance and prejudice in the profession, died Nov. 21 at age 84 of a heart attack during a flight to St. Louis.

John Hendricks — The pioneering jazz singer and lyricist, who with the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross popularized the “vocalese” singing style in which words were added to instrumental songs, died Nov. 22 at age 96.

Steve “Snapper” Jones — The former ABA and NBA player, who had a long career in broadcasting, died Nov. 25 after a lengthy illness at age 75.

Perry Wallace — The first black varsity basketball player in the Southeastern Conference, who broke down a racial barrier in the Deep South, died Dec. 1 of cancer at age 69.

Clarence H. Beavers — The last of first Black World War II paratroopers, listed among 17 men who passed the military’s first training for black paratroopers, died Dec. 4 at age 96.

Simeon Booker – The trail-blazing journalist, who was the first full-time African-American reporter at The Washington Post and served for decades as the Washington bureau chief for the African-American publications Jet and Ebony, died Dec. 10 at the age of 99 in Solomons, Md.

Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé — The former entertainment lawyer and hip-hop historian, whose eponymous podcast and its star-studded guest list made him a renowned industry figure, died Dec. 20 of colon cancer at age 53.

Jim Graham — Graham served in the D.C. Council for 16 years, representing Ward 1, and before that served as the first executive of the Whitman-Walker Health Clinic, the city’s largest gay men’s clinic, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. He helped bring Target and other real estate projects to the two major corridors in his ward, U and 14th Streets. Graham was also known to advocate to protect affordable housing and to investigate developers accused of violating tenant rights. He died June 11 of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder at age 71.

Martha Rivera Chavis
Martha Rivera Chavis (Courtesy photo)

Martha Rivera Chavis — Chavis gained national prominence in the ’90s as the wife of Dr. Benjamin Chavis, then president of the NAACP, with her help in negotiating a “Fair Share” deal between NAACP and Denny’s Restaurants. Born in the Dominican Republic, Chavis began working as a translator of French-to-Portuguese for Angola’s United Nations ambassador. In addition, she spoke Italian and Spanish. She met her husband in 1989 while working as a translator in war-torn Angola, where they later adopted 10 children, several of whom were injured during the unrest. She was among one of the leaders in the organization of the 1995 Million Man March alongside her husband and the subsequent Million Women’s March. She died July 6 in her Montclair, N.J., home at age 53.

Theresa Howe Jones — Jones was an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in her Ward 8 neighborhood and a fighting voice for her community. She worked with the Southeast Neighborhood House, Chase Inc. as an executive director and the United Planning Organization as a liaison and even after her 2014 retirement, she remained active in the community. She also served on the Anacostia Economic Board, supported the United Black Fund and sat as the chairperson of the founding board of the Anacostia Community Museum. In addition to her many community posts, Jones worked as a consumer advocate, helping to resolve overdue bills and tenant issues. In 2013, she received the Anacostia Community Museum Community Service Award and in 2016 received the D.C. Office of the People’s Counsel Consumer Advocate Award of the Year. She died July 10 after an illness at age 83.

Jim Vance
Jim Vance (Courtesy of WRC-TV)

Jim Vance — Vance was D.C.’s longest serving local news anchor as more than 45 years as the face of the area’s top-rated newscast on WRC-TV (Channel 4). In the 1970s, he defied the status quo of broadcasting by wearing his Afro and refusing to wear makeup. He covered the U Street race riots, 14th Street Bridge plane crash, Watergate and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. He covered the inaugurations of 12 presidents and all seven of the District’s mayors. Vance was the first person Marion Barry called after he was arrested and was the person Hanfi Muslims asked to speak to when they seized three buildings in the District in 1977. He won and shared more than dozen local Emmys for his coverage and was named Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine. He died of lung cancer on July 22 at age 75.

Dan “Cool ‘Disco’ Dan” Hogg — The renowned graffiti artist began spraying his tag, a particularly styled rendering of his name, throughout the city in 1984. As part of the ’80s go-go scene, he devoted his life to art rather than drugs and gangs to avoid jail and death. The prevalence of his work was frequently reported in the press, most notably along the route of the Metro’s Red Line. He died July 26 of complications from diabetes at age 47.

Ed Potillo — Potillo, a D.C. native, served as vice chairman of the Democratic State Committee and was formerly the chair of the Ward 7 Democrats. He advocated for issues such as closing the gaps in health and education disparities, public safety and gun violence in the city’s most underserved communities. While holding several volunteer positions, Potillo also worked as conference and membership director for the National Alliance of Black School Educators. In 2016, he briefly ran for the Ward 7 council seat against Vincent C. Gray and Yvette Alexander, whom he supported in their previous campaigns. He died Aug. 9 of an undisclosed illness at age 48.

Dolores Kendrick — Kendrick, who served as the second Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia, taught in D.C. public schools, where she helped found School Without Walls, and later taught at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. In the District, she worked to develop a series of initiatives to forge the connection between poetry and the community. Kendrick received numerous honors and awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Fulbright Teaching Fulbright Fellowship. Her book “The Women of Plums: Poems in the Voices of Slave Women,” which was adapted into a play, won the Anisfield-Wolf Award. She had just finished her latest book before dying Nov. 7 of complications from cancer at age 90.

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson — Johnson, one of three women to play baseball in the Negro Leagues, died Dec. 19 at the age of 82. The Ridgeway, South Carolina, native was rejected at age 17 from trying out for the all-white All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. In her three seasons as a pitcher with the Indianapolis Clowns, Johnson posted a 33-8 record as well as a .270 batting average.

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