Cicely Tyson and Melvin Van Peebles

January

3 Eric Jerome Dickey, a best-selling novelist who blended crime and romance in ”Sister, Sister,” “Waking With Enemies” and dozens of other stories about contemporary Black life, died at 59.

28 - Cicely Tyson, the award-winning actor who only took roles depicting strong Black women, died at 96. Her work included "Sounder" (1972), "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (1974), "Roots" (1977), "The Marva Collins Story" (1981), "The Women of Brewster Place" (1989), and "The Help" (2011). In 2013, Tyson told CBS “This Morning,” playing the role of Jane Pittman “was the most important” in her career. "I wanted to address certain issues, and I chose to use my career as my platform.” She said she accomplished that goal by “simply ruling out what I wouldn’t do.”

February

8 - Mary Wilson, an original member of the Supremes, a Detroit-based vocal trio that topped the charts in the 1960s with a dozen No. 1 hits for the Motown label, died at 76. She would later write a best-selling memoir about her experiences in the group.

 9 - Chick Corea, jazz composer, performer, and a member of Miles Davis' band in the 1960s, died at 79.

March

2 - Bunny Wailer, a reggae luminary who was the last surviving founding member of the legendary group The Wailers, died at 73.

15 – Yaphet Kotto, the commanding actor who brought stately gravitas to films, including the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die” and “Alien,” died at 81. He became a star in the Black classic “Across 110th Street,” and the CBS movie “Report to the Commissioner.” Later, he would play a lead role on NBC’s “Homicide: Life in the Street.”

April

9 – DMX, a chart-topping rapper with hit songs including “Party Up (Up in Here)” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya,” died at 50. He also emerged as a star of action films and crime thrillers.

 

22 – Gregory Edward Jacobs, known professionally as “Shock G,” and his alter ego “Humpty Hump,” died at 57. He was the lead vocalist of the hip hop group Digital Underground and responsible for its international hit, “The Humpty Dance.”

 

May

 3 – Lloyd Price, the singer-songwriter who was an early rock 'n' roll star whose hits included such up-tempo favorites as “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality,” and “Stagger Lee,” died at 88.

16 - Pervis Staples, a founding member of the Staple Singers, died at 85. Staples managed the Hutchinson Sunbeams, who later became the Emotions.

19 - Paul Mooney, an American comedianwritersocial critic and actor, died at 79. He is best known for his collaborations with Redd FoxxEddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle. Mooney also played singer Sam Cooke in “The Buddy Holly Story” (1978), Junebug in Spike Lee's satirical film “Bamboozled” (2000), and Negrodamus on “Chappelle's Show.”

 June

4 - Clarence Williams III, who played Linc Hayes in the groundbreaking series “The Mod Squad,” died at 81. He began his career in "Dark of the Moon" and appeared on Broadway in "The Great Outdoors." His performance in "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground" won him a Theatre World Award and a Tony nomination. Williams also starred in several shows and movies, including: "52 Pick-Up," "Against the Wall," "Reindeer Games," "Purple Rain," "The General's Daughter," "American Gangster," "Half Baked" and “Lee Daniels' The Butler."

July 

16 - Biz Markie, a rapper nicknamed The Clown Prince of Hip-Hop, was best known for the 1989 hit single “Just A Friend.”

7 - Dennis Thomas, one of the founding members of 1970s and 80s soul-funk band Kool & the Gang, died at 70. The band’s career was split into two distinct halves. In the early 70s, they scored hits with funk songs like “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.” They morphed into a hit-making R&B band in the 80s.

 8 - Eloise Greenfield, whose dozens of works helped broaden children’s literature so that young African Americans could see themselves, their history, and their hopes in the pages of their picture books, died at 92.

 9 - Chucky Thompson, the hip hop and R&B record producer best known for his work as a part of Bad Boy Records' "Hitmen" production team, died at 53.

September

5 – Carmen Balthrop, legendary American soprano and longtime University of Maryland Professor of Voice, died at 73. She performed with many of the world’s prominent opera companies and symphonies, including the Metropolitan Opera, Washington Opera, Deutsche Oper (Berlin), and the New York Philharmonic.

6 - Michael K. Williams was found dead at 54 after an apparent drug overdose. Williams was remembered for his respective roles as Omar Little on HBO's "The Wire" and Chalky White on “Boardwalk Empire.” Williams made his feature film debut in the 1996 movie "Bullet," playing High Top. Williams went on to play roles in movies such as Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead" and others, including "The Road," "Gone Baby Gone," "Life During Wartime," "I Think I Love My Wife," and "Wonderful World."

 22 - Melvin Van Peebles,the groundbreaking filmmaker, playwright, and musician whose work ushered in the "Blaxploitation" wave of the 1970s and influenced filmmakers, died at 89. He was best known for "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song," one of the most influential movies of its time. The low-budget, art-house film he wrote, produced, directed, starred in, and scored, was the frenzied, hyper-sexual and violent tale of a Black street hustler on the run from police after killing white officers who were beating a Black revolutionary.

November

28 - Artist, designer, and DJ Virgil Ablohdied after privately battling a rare cardiac cancer. He served as the artistic creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear until his passing, releasing multiple collaborations with brands including Nike and Ikea.

December

15 - bell hooks, the prolific and trailblazing author, poet, feminist, cultural critic and professor, died at 69.  The author of more than three dozen wide-ranging books, hooks published her first title, the poetry collection “And There We Wept,” in 1978. Her influential book “Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism” followed in 1981. Three years later, her “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center”explored and criticized the feminist movement's propensity to center and privilege white women's experiences.

Wanda Young, a member of the Motown group The Marvelettes, died at 78. She performed on Motown’s first No. 1 hit, “Please Mr. Postman,” as well Marvelettes’ classics, including “Playboy,” “Don’t Mess With Bill, and “Beechwood 4-5789.”

27 - Paul Carter Harrison, an African-American playwright and professor, died at 85. As a playwright and theater theorist, his work has been published and produced in Europe and the United States. Harrison taught theater at Howard University from 1968 to 1970, and his students included Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen and Linda Goss. While teaching at California State University (1970–1972), Harrison conceived and directed Melvin Van Peebles' "Ain't Supposed To Die a Natural Death" prior to its Broadway production. His play, “Great Macdaddy,” won an Obie Award and “Tabernacle” won the Audelco Award for Best Creative Musical.

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