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In Memorium: Prominent African-Americans lost in 2016

Prominent and Africans and African-Americans who died in 2015

Prominent and Africans and African-Americans who transitioned at end of 2015, throughout 2016; includes others who impacted civil rights, equality

December 2015

Robert B. Multiple, 86; dentist and influential civil rights activist in Florida, Dec. 20, 2015.

Jocelyn Cooper, 86; who, with her Black newspaper publisher husband, moved New York’s Black political center from Harlem to Brooklyn and with community organizing, legal action and voter registration in the 1960s, paved the way for the 1968 election of Shirley Chisholm as the nation’s first Black congresswoman, Dec. 21.

Quincy Monk, 36; former Giants linebacker, Dec. 22.

Sam Dickerson, 66; former USC Trojans wide receiver, Dec. 23.

William Guest, 74; Gladys Knight’s cousin who sang with her famous backup group, The Pips, Dec. 24.

John “Hot Rod” Williams, 53; longtime NBA forward, Dec. 25.

Dave Henderson, 57; Boston Red Sox home run slugger, Dec. 27.

George “Meadowlark” Lemon, 83; former Harlem Globetrotters star, Dec. 27.

Billie Allen, 90; Actress who was one of the first Black performers to have a recurring role in a network TV series (The Phil Silvers Show in 1955). She was also in demand for appearances in TV commercials, Dec. 29.

Howard Davis, Jr., 59; Pugilist,1976 Montreal Olympics Gold medal lightweight boxing champion who was regarded as one of the greatest amateur boxers of all time, Dec. 30.

Natalie Cole, 65; multiple Grammy Award-winning recording star who was the daughter of music legend Nat King Cole, Dec. 31.

January 2016

Nicholas Caldwell, 71; singer and co-founder of the California-based R&B group, “The Whispers,” Jan. 5.

Chocolate Armenteros, 87; influential trumpeter in the Afro-Cuban musical tradition for more than 70 years, Jan. 6.

John Johnson, 68; Two-time All-Star forward who helped the Seattle SuperSonics win the 1979 NBA title, Jan. 7.

Otis Clay, 73; Soul and R&B singer who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013. Also known for his charitable work, Jan. 8.

Monte Irvin, 96; New York Giants Hall of Famer from the Negro Leagues who rejected the chance to break Major League baseball’s color barrier, Jan. 11.

Lawrence Phillips, 40; gifted, but volatile football star, Jan. 13.

Clarence Reid, 76; singer/songwriter also known as “Blowfly,” Jan. 17.

Dorothy Pryor Rose, 69; known as “Mommie Helen,” namesake owner of famous San Bernardino bakery to the stars, Jan. 17.

Walt Williams, 72; free-swinging White Sox outfielder known as “No Neck,” Jan. 23.

Thornton Dial, 87; an artist whose work told of Black life, Jan. 24.


Maurice White, 74; founder/leader of groundbreaking R&B group, “Earth, Wind, and Fire,”  Feb. 3.

Willie Richardson, 76; Baltimore Colts’ All-Pro receiver, Feb. 8

Denise Matthews, 57; known as “Vanity”, the lead singer of “Vanity 6,” Prince’s protege group, Feb. 15.

Acel Moore, 75; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who co-founded the National Association of Black Journalists, Feb. 15.

Tony Phillips, 56; Oakland A’s veteran who experienced 1989 World Series glory, Feb. 17.

Barbara M. Clark, 76; New York Democratic assemblywoman who made public education her signature issue for more than 30 years. She was the Assembly’s deputy majority whip at the time of her death and had previously led the New York state Legislative Women’s Caucus and the Assembly Standing Committee on Aging, Feb. 22.

Tony Burton, 78; an actor who played tough-talking boxing trainer in six “Rocky” movies, Feb. 25.

Gil Hill, 84; former Detroit detective and city councilman; turned actor and appeared in “Beverly Hills Cop” movies, Feb. 29.


Charles Granby, 81; coached future NBA players in Queens, March 1.

Dr. Quentin D. Young, 92; personal physician to Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama; fought for universal health care, March 7.

Ernestine Anderson, 87; four-time Grammy-nominated jazz singer, March 10.

Gary Jeter, 61; New York Giants draftee who starred as Rams lineman, March 10.

Tray Walker, 23; Baltimore Ravens’ cornerback, March 18.

Bob Adelman, 85; photographer who captured the emotion of the 1960’s civil rights movement; photographed the iconic picture of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and worked with the Congress Of Racial Equality to take pictures of all aspects of the country’s racism as well as documented the struggle to eradicate it. His photos appeared in all national magazines, March 19.

Percy Pinkney, 78; California’s most influential African-American political figure, March 19.

David Smyrl, 80; Emmy-winning actor who played the recurring role of Mr. Handford in Sesame Street series, March 22.

Phife Dawg, born Malik Taylor, 45; rapper and founding member of “A Tribe Called Quest” hip hop group, March 23.

Inge Hardison, 102; actress/sculptor whose works immortalized Black historical figures, innovators, and ordinary people. She was a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, which was formed in 1969, March 23.

David Baker, 84; jazz composer, musician, professor, March 26.

Dr. Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, 89; Jamaican-born/Harlem-raised doctor who pioneered the treatment of sickle cell anemia, March 28.


Bill Henderson, 90; TV and film actor; also jazz vocalist with the Oscar Peterson Trio, April 3.

Getachew Mekurya, 81; Ethiopian jazz saxophonist with a global fan base, April 4.

Marva Smith Battle-Bey, 64; South Los Angeles’ iconic economic development leader, April 7.

Daisy Lewellyn, 36; starred in reality TV show “Blood, Sweats & Heels” for two years, April 8.

Will Smith, 34; former New Orleans Saints defensive end, April 9.

Jackie Carter, 62; publishing executive who pushed for racial diversity in children’s books throughout the U.S., April 13.

Justice Harold Wood, 96; grandson of slaves who became the first Black member of the county legislative body of Westchester, NY, and the first Black state Supreme Court justice in the county, April 14.

Bettye Caldwell, 91; Syracuse professor who pioneered early childhood education, thus paving the way for the national Head Start program, April 17.

James Haughton, 86; civil rights activist who fought racial barriers in the building trades. He formed the Harlem-based group known as “Fight Back” to push for equal opportunity in hiring and housing, April 17.

Prince, 57; born Prince Rogers Nelson; legendary singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter, April 21.

Horace Ward, 88; civil rights lawyer who challenged segregationist practices that helped pave the way for the civil rights movement. He became Georgia’s first Black federal judge, April 23.

Billy Paul, 81; soul singer noted for 1972 number one hit “Me and Mrs. Jones,” April 24.

PaPa Wemba, 66; singer/musician known around the world as the “King of Congolese rumba,” April 24.

Ed Davender, 49; former University of Kentucky Wildcat considered the greatest basketball guard in the history of the university, April 26.

Winston Hill, 74; New York Jets legendary tackle, April 26.

Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, 81; Memphis pastor and civil rights veteran who was standing on the balcony with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when the civil rights icon was assassinated. Kyles was the last person to see King alive, April 26.

James B. Taylor, 89; math teacher at John Adams Middle School who became one of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s first Black vice principals, April 26

Willie Williams, 72; Los Angeles’ first and only Black police chief, April 26.

Bob Fitch, 76; Los Angeles native photojournalist who chronicled civil rights activities throughout the country during the 1960’s, April 29.


Afeni Shakur, activist/former Black Panther; mother of late rapper Tupac Shakur, May 2.

Thomasina A. Pleasant, 87; Los Angeles Unified School District’s secondary school administrator; founder of Women in Leadership, past president of the League of Allied Arts, member Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, May 3.

Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, 59; deposed leader of troubled Burundi, May 4.

Anne Deborah Atari-Omoruto, 59; Ugandan doctor who helped lead the fight against the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and turned the tide against the disease in 2014, May 5.

Kwame Somburu (born Paul Benjamin Boutelle), 81; perennial socialist party member candidate for public office who forged anti-imperialism and class-conscious Black nationalism during the 1960s. The Harlem native ran for public offices nine times in New York and California, which included the mayor of New York and Oakland; congress twice, Manhattan borough president, New York state attorney general, and vice president, May 5.

Michael S. Harper, 78; noted jazz poet who wrote about being Black. He was a finalist for the National Book Award, May 7.

John Young, 67; South Central Los Angeles native baseball scout who founded the “Revving  Baseball in Inner Cities” organization to promote baseball for inner city and underprivileged children, May 8.

Jim McMillan, 68; Former Laker great and a key member of the team’s first championship win in Los Angeles in 1972. He replaced Elgin Baylor at forward, which was a move that coincided with the Lakers’ 33-game winning streak. He played alongside Wilt Chamberlain, Keith Erickson, Gail Goodrich, Pat Riley and Jerry West, May 16.

Jim Ray Hart, 74; long time Giants’ power-hitting third baseman who became a designated hitter for the Yankees late in his career. Played with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Juan Marichal, May 19.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, 23; New Orleans Pelicans guard who formerly played basketball at USC, May 28.


Verna B. Dauterive, 93; education icon; one of only four Black teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1940s before serving 23 years as principal of Franklin Avenue Elementary School. She was a USC trustee who made historically significant financial gifts to USC so the university could provide scholarships for its Black students, June 1.

Muhammad Ali, (born Cassius Clay), 74; legendary boxing champion, June 3.

C.D. Brooks, leading Seventh Day Adventist evangelist whose 27 years of broadcasting the Seventh Day Adventist message through his “Breath of Life” program, which was regarded as the country’s first Black religious television program. His ministry was aimed at Blacks in the United States and the Caribbean, June 5.

Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, 42; popular mixed martial arts fighter, June 6.

Prince Be, 46; (born Attrell Cordes) frontman for psychedelic pop-rap group “P.M. Dawn,” June 17.

Bernie Worrell, 72; keyboardist who left an imprint on funk and hip-hop, June 24.

Lee Wesley Gibson, 106; Believed to be oldest surviving Pullman porter, June 25.

Bill Jones, 81; celebrity photographer and South L.A. resident who covered Black Hollywood, Black entertainers, Black athletes and Black politicians (when the mainstream media ignored them), June 25.

Austin Clarke, 81; Barbadian immigrant and prize-winning author who wrote about being Black in Canada, June 26.

Mack Rice, 82; a musician who wrote hit songs ‘Mustang Sally,” “Cheaper to Keep Her,” “Respect Yourself,” June 28.


Roscoe C. Brown Jr., 94; Tuskegee Airman; founding president of 100 Black Men and confidant to New York politicians, July 2.

Patrick Manning, 69; former prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, July 2.

Vaughn Harper, 70; popular silky-voiced New York disc jockey known for his “Quiet Storm” show, July 9.

Nate Thurmond, 74; Golden State Warriors a seven-time All-Star center and defensive wall. Thurmond was and the first player in NBA history to record an official quadruple-double. In 1965, he grabbed 42 rebounds in a game. Only Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell recorded more rebounds in a single NBA game. Thurmond was named both a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, July 16.

Dennis Green, 67; pioneer football head coach of Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Cardinals. He was only the second Black head coach in NFL history when he took over at Minnesota, July 21.

Dwight Jones, 64; basketball power forward and center who figured in the controversial 1972 Olympic championship game that resulted in the United States’ 51 to 50 loss to the Soviet Union, July 25.

James Alan McPherson, 72; the first Black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. “Elbow Room,” his humorous collection of 12 stories that explore the worlds in which Black and White people live won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize; July 25.

Youree Dell Harris (aka “Miss Cleo”), 53; famous TV psychic and pitchwoman who was born and raised in Los Angeles but affected a Jamaican accent for her TV shows; July 26.


Edwin “Rip” Smith, 66; first Black tenured professor at USC’s Gould School of Law, where the revered professor taught for more than 20 years, Aug. 2.

Harry Briggs Jr., 75; young school boy at the center of the lawsuit that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing segregated public schools, Aug. 9.

John Saunders, 61; longtime ESPN sports broadcaster, Aug. 10.

Ruby Wilson, 68; blues, soul, gospel singer known as “The Queen of Beale Street,” Aug. 12.

Joyce Carol Thomas, 78; award-winning children’s author who wrote of seldom revealed complexities of African American life; Aug. 13.

Choo Choo Coleman, 80; catcher with the New York Mets during the baseball team’s dismal but humorous seasons, Aug. 15.

Bobby Hutcherson, 75; “innovative” jazz Vibraphonist, Aug.15.

Joel Cornette, 35; star basketball player who transformed Butler University’s basketball team, Aug. 16.

George E. Curry, 69; legendary publisher of Emerge magazine whose mission was to serve Black readers and champion Black journalists, Aug. 20.

Joe Hicks, 75; South L.A. born and bred black right-wing community activist who founded the “Community Advocates” race relations think tank, Aug. 28.


Dabney Montgomery, 93; Tuskegee Airman during World War II who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement in the 1960s; including historic Selma, Sept. 3.

Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, 79; commentator on National Public Radio public show “Soul,” since 1971 during which she extolled the virtues of her native South Carolinian culture and Gullah food, Sept. 3.

The Lady Chablis (born Benjamin Edward Knox), 59; Sassy transgender performer featured in the 1997 best seller book and the film version of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Sept. 8.

Prince Baster (born Cecil Bustamente Campbell), 78; The Jamaican giant who, with his own music production company, transformed Jamaican music in the 1960s and 1970s by defining the beat of traditional ska, thus evolving it into reggae. He was the first Jamaican to have a top 20 hit record in the entire history of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Sept. 11.

Dr. June H. Brown, 82; earned a doctorate in social work from UCLA and served as associate dean of USC’s School of Social Work, Sept. 11.

Gerard Louis-Dreyfus, 84; liberal philanthropist, lawyer, poet, art collector, and businessman who championed social justice for African-Americans throughout his lifetime; he established the Harlem Children’s Zone and endowed scholarships for African-Americans at universities and high schools all across the United States. His name was included on president Nixon’s 1973 “Enemies List,” Sept. 16.

Allister Sparks, 83; white veteran South African journalist and political commentator who challenged apartheid in his country, Sept. 19.

Ed Temple, 89; track and field coach at Tennessee State University for 43 years, during which he produced 23 female Olympic medalists and 34 national title winners, Sept. 22.

Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., 68; accordionist and leader of New Orleans-based Buckwheat Zydeco Band, Sept. 24.

Bill Nunn, 63; movie actor who starred in several Spike Lee-directed films, including the role of Radio Raheem in “Do the Right Thing,” Sept. 24.

Kashif (born Michael Jones), 59; R and B singer, writer and producer; created Whitney Houston’s hit recordings, Sept. 25.

Dr. Benjamin F. Payton, 83; Transformative 30-year president of Tuskegee University. No president served longer at Tuskegee except its iconic 1881 founder, Booker T. Washington, Sept. 28.


Gloria Naylor, 66; award-winning novelist whose works feature Black female characters and address social issues including racism, poverty, sexism and gay rights. Her first novel, “The Women of Brewster Place” won both the 1983 American Book Award and the National Book Award, Oct. 3.

Atty. Jack Greenberg, 91; The lawyer who led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund for 23 years. He was one of the nation’s most effective champions of the civil rights struggle. He used the law as a weapon to fight for racial justice before the U.S. Supreme Court. He worked closely with Thurgood Marshall, the founding director, and counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and ultimately became the first African-American Supreme Court justice, Oct. 5.

Joan Marie Johnson, 72; co-founder of the Dixie Cups, the trio whose recording of “The Chapel of Love” knocked the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” off the top of the charts in 1964, Oct. 5.

Aaron Pryor, 60; World junior welterweight champion; International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee whom the Associated Press voted the number one junior welterweight of the 20th Century. Cocaine addiction ended his career but he overcame his addiction in 1993 and became a Baptist minister and campaigned against drug abuse, Oct. 9.

Fred Slaughter, 74; UCLA basketball star who helped the Bruins win their first national championship and was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. He later became one of the first African-Americans to become a sports agent as such he represented professional basketball and football players. He was also served as the labor union leader for referees in the NBA, Oct. 9.

Ken Thompson, 50; first black district attorney elected in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was elected in 2013 and was a strong voice for racial justice, Oct. 9.

Thomas Mikal Ford, 52; actor known for his role in ‘90s TV sitcom series “Martin,” Oct. 12.

Sophia Cranshaw, 45; UCLA graduate who was the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning MTV director, writer, producer and documentarian of social issues, Oct. 24.

Judge Vaino Spencer, 96; The first African American woman appointed to a judgeship in California.Then-Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown appointed her to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1961. In 1976, then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her presiding justice of Division One of the Second Appellate District Court of Appeal in 1980, making her the first Black woman to sit on a California appeals court. She served 46 years on the bench, becoming one of the longest-serving jurists in California’s history. She founded the Black Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles and co-founded the National Assn. of Women Judges, Oct. 25.

Don Marshall, 80; One of the first black actors to have a starring role in an American TV series. He appeared in “Star Trek,”  “Tarzan,” “Dragnet,” “Land of the Giants,” “Little House on the Prairie” and others, Oct. 30.

Dr. David Seeley, 85; lawyer and educator who devoted both his careers to fighting for the racial integration of schools throughout the U.S., Oct. 30.

Morris Taft, 84; UCLA basketball star guard from 1954-56 who helped the Bruins win the university’s first NCAA tournament game, Oct.30.


E.J. Jackson (born Ellsworth), 66; South Los Angeles legend who owned a limousine service and ferried the rich and famous throughout the city, yet became a noted philanthropist for his 34 years of providing turkey dinners with all the trimmings to homeless and needy families and individuals in the city during the annual Thanksgiving Day observance, Nov. 1.

John Hicks, 65; star lineman at Ohio State and top rookie for the Giants in the NFL Nov.1

Bob Cranshaw, 83; versatile bassist from jazz to pop. He was a mainstay in Broadway pit bands, on television and on thousands of jazz recordings. He was elected to the executive board of the American Federation of Musicians, Nov. 2.

Houston Conwill, 69; USC graduate sculptor best known for his huge works that celebrate black culture, including memorials for the poet Langston Hughes in Harlem and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in San Francisco, Nov. 14.

Gwen Ifill, 61; America’s most prominent Black journalist. She was an award-winning television journalist for NBC and PBS; the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor and co-managing editor of PBS’ NewsHour. She was a former reporter for the New York Times and the Washington Post covering Congress, presidential campaigns, and national political conventions. She was a moderator of vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008 and the Clinton/Sanders debate in February. She wrote a book entitled “The Breakthrough: “Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” which was published on inauguration day in 2009, Nov. 14.

Alex Stewart, 52; A perennial heavyweight boxing contender who fought nearly all of the big names among boxers but could never win the big fights, Nov.16.

Sharon Jones, 60; Lead soul and funk singer with the Dap Kings, Nov. 18.

Willie Rogers, 101; Oldest surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen and the last member of the original Tuskegee Airmen, Nov. 18.

Ron Glass, 71; an Emmy-nominated actor who had significant recurring roles in several TV series, including “Barney Miller,” for eight seasons, for which he was nominated for best supporting actor in a comedy series.He co-starred in “Sanford and Son” and was also featured in “The Twilight Zone,” “Firefly,” and other TV shows, Nov. 25.

Harry Flournoy Jr., 72; captain of the Texas Western College basketball team that won the 1966 championship and made history. Flournoy’s team was the first all-Black team to defeat an all-White team, which happened to be a team from Kentucky. Flournoy’s team’s victory was memorialized in the 2006 movie, “Glory Road,” and in 2007 became the first college basketball team to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, Nov. 26.


Joe McKnight, 28; Former USC football star who became a New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs running back, Dec. 1.

Ousmane Sow, 81; An artist who had an international reputation for his expressive sculptures of the Nuba, Masai, and other African peoples, Dec. 1.

Herb Hardesty, 91; Fats Domino’s tenor saxophonist who played lyrical solos on almost all of Fats Domino’s hit songs, Dec. 3.

Judge Leonard B. Sand, 88; who, following a landmark three-year trial, found that the city of Yonkers, N.Y. had intentionally operated racially segregated public housing and public schools for 27 years. He imposed a multi-million dollar penalty on the city and ordered the immediate desegregation of Yonkers, Dec. 3.

Rashaan Salaam, 42; the stellar University of Colorado running back who won the 1994 Heisman Trophy and was the first-round draftee by the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 1995, Dec. 5.

Ken Hechlar, 102, West Virginia congressman who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dec. 10.

Joe Ligon, 80; frontman for the Grammy Award-winning “Mighty Clouds of Joy” gospel group, Dec. 11.

E.R. Braithwaite, 104; Guyanese diplomat and author of  “To Sir, With Love,” which was the basis for the 1967 hit film featuring Sidney Poitier, Dec. 12.

Howard Bingham, 77; stellar staff photographer for the Los Angeles Black media, as well as a contract photographer for six national magazines. He was noted for his close personal relationship with the late boxer Muhammad Ali, Dec. 15.

Ricky Harris, 54; a comedian known for both his racy stand-up act and his appearances in family-friendly fare such as the TV series “Everybody Hates Chris,” Dec. 26.


Betty Pleasant is a contributing writer and columnist for the Compton Herald. She was formerly a reporter at the Los Angeles Sentinel and a columnist at the Los Angeles Wave.


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