While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
We are sad to learn that George “Funky” Brown, drummer for legendary group Kool & The Gang, has passed away at the age of 74.
TMZ exclusively reports that the musician died at his Los Angeles home on Thursday night (Nov. 16) following a battle with stage 4 cancer.
Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer a few years earlier and was in remission for a while. Brown returned to touring with the group for some time before the cancer returned earlier this year.
We look back at some of the greats who passed away in 2023.
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We’ve Lost In 2023 was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. George “Funky” BrownSource:Getty
George was a founding member of the group, coming together in 1964 and releasing their debut album in 1969.
However, the band didn’t get their big breakthrough until the release of 1973’s Wild And Peaceful, which features some of their biggest records, including “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging.”
Brown actually co-wrote “Jungle Boogie,” along with some of the band’s most iconic hits of the late 70s and 80s. Among those hits are “Ladies Night,” “Too Hot,” “Celebration,” and “Cherish.” According to the band’s rep, when asked to describe his music, Brown always replied, “The sound of happiness.”
To read the entire report on George Brown CLICK HERE.
2. Aaron Spears
The D.C. native was nominated for a Grammy in 2004 as a producer for Usher’s multi-platinum album Confessions.
Over the years, he would play with several major acts, including Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Lil Wayne, Mary Mary, and countless others. Spears also served as the drummer and musical coordinator for season 3 of Fox’s The Masked Singer.
3. Richard RoundtreeSource:Getty
Born in 1942, the NY native was one of the breakout stars of film’s Blaxploitation era in the early 1970s. His debut film role as John Shaft, a take-no-prisoners detective with his own brand of justice, earned him a Golden Globe nomination and the title of the first Black action hero.
Roundtree would reprise his role several times throughout his career. Following the 1971 original, he starred in Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft in Africa, as well as a short-lived TV series.
To read more about the incredible Richard Roundtree CLICK HERE.
4. DJ Mark The 45 KingSource:Getty
We’re sad to report that legendary DJ and producer DJ Mark The 45 King has died. He was 62.
DJ Premier broke the news on Instagram earlier today.
“R.I.P. DJ Mark The 45 King who passed this morning,” wrote Premier. “An ICON.”
To read the entire report from DJ Mark The 45 King CLICK HERE.
5. Rudolph IsleySource:Getty
Rudolph Isley, the visionary founder of The Isley Brothers, has passed away at the age of 84.
He died Wednesday, October 12th in Illinois, and the exact cause of his passing is unknown, as reported by TMZ. An inside source shared with the news outlet that it is believed he suffered a heart attack.
The tragic announcement follows a public dispute between Rudolph and his brother, Ron Isley, over The Isley Brothers’ trademark.
Rudolph and his brothers, Ronald, O’Kelly, and Vernon, started singing at a young age at their local church in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio.
For our full write-up for Rudolph Isley CLICK HERE.
6. Zoleka MandelaSource:Getty
Zoleka was the granddaughter of Nelson Mandela’s second wife, Winnie and was only 10 when her grandfather was released from prison in 1990 after 27 years in detention. Nelson Mandela died in 2013 at the age of 95. Through Mr Mandela’s legacy Zoleka stood up for the betterment of her community. After her 13-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in 2010 she campaigned for better road safety. She later lost a son who was born prematurely. She is survived by four children who she loved very much!
Sad news to share for music fans familiar with Timbaland‘s late 90s collective of assorted musical talents. Rapper Magoo, best known for his lighthearted appearances on tracks like “Up Jumps Da Boogie” and “Luv 2 Luv U,” has passed away. He was 50 years old.
R&B star Ginuwine, who worked closely with Timbaland and his clique of “Super Friends” in the 90s, shared his condolences over the passing of Magoo.
“Times get rough but we keep on pushing just heard some news I hope it ain’t true …I just want everyone to know that time is short love who you love and make sure they know it,” he wrote on Instagram Sunday (August 13).
For more on the passing of Magoo, CLICK HERE.
8. DJ CasperSource:Getty
Born Willie Perry Jr, Casper had been diagnosed with kidney and liver cancer in 2016. His time in the limelight began with the “Cha Cha Slides” released in 2000. The record, which was accompanied by a dance, topped music charts in the United States and abroad. Even twenty years later, the track remains a popular song of choice at parties, celebrations, and sporting events. To read more about the death of DJ Casper CLICK HERE.
9. Big Pokey
Late Saturday night (June 17) footage landed online of Pokey fainting during a performance in Beaumont, Texas. And as hours passed, the city prayed and hoped he would pull through. Unfortunately Pokey, born Milton Powell, has passed away at age 45. As part of the Screwed Up Click, Pokey helped plant the flag for H-Town as of a force of its own on the music scene, and his loss will be felt forever.
10. Ray Lewis, III
TMZ Sports confirmed Lewis III’s death, but there are no details as to what caused his tragic passing. Looking to follow in his father’s footsteps and hopefully make it into the NFL, he was a star running back at Lake Mary Prep H.S. in Florida, rushing for 1,898 yards and 20 touchdowns plus netting 676 yards and four touchdowns receiving.
He played at Miami (Fla.), Coastal Carolina, and Virginia Union for his college career.
11. Bill Perkins, Harlem politicianSource:Getty
Bill Perkins, the venerable New York City politician who served in the city council and state senate over the course of several decades representing his hometown of Harlem, has died at the age of 74. He died on the night of May 15 in his Harlem home, his wife confirmed with the Amsterdam News.
“After a lifetime fighting for justice, equality and to make the of our community heard, my husband, former City Councilman and State Senator died at his home in Harlem, the community he loved and fought for his entire life” Pamela Green Perkins said in a statement. “May he rest in peace and power.”
No cause of death was immediately reported.
Perkins, a Democrat, was remembered by the New York Daily News as a politician who “emerged as a leading progressive voice — a supporter of the Central Park Five, an early voice against the Iraq War and for LGBT rights.”
Perkins served in the New York state senate from 2007 to 2017. He was first elected to the New York City Council in 1997.
When his city council term limit expired in 2005, he ran for Manhattan Borough President. While he came up short in that race, the loss paved the way for Perkins’ successful run in the state senate, where he would serve for a decade.
12. Sheldon Reynolds
Philip Bailey announced the news on this Instagram page “This news of Sheldon Reynolds transition is very sad for all of us who knew and worked with him. Sheldon vocally had Reese down. That’s what Maurice said when he hired Sheldon to share vocals and play guitar. Sheldon was an excellent addition to the band, a great writer and producer, and a genuinely kind and loving person. He will be missed. Our condolences to his family.
Rest in Peace.
13. Tina TurnerSource:Getty
“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Tina Turner. With her music and her boundless passion for life, she enchanted millions of fans around the world and inspired the stars of tomorrow. Today we say goodbye to a dear friend who leaves us all her greatest work: her music. All our heartfelt compassion goes out to her family. Tina, we will miss you dearly. (© Peter Lindbergh)”
14. Jim BrownSource:Getty
Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown has passed away. He was 87.
Jim Brown is considered by many to be the greatest football player to ever live.
Brown, a prominent civil rights leader, was the NFL’s MVP in 1965. He rushed for 12,312 yards in his 9-year career. He had 106 rushing touchdowns, 126 total touchdowns, and 15,549 all-purpose yards.
15. Harry BelafonteSource:Getty
Born in Harlem to West Indian immigrants on March 1, 1927, Belafonte was arguably the most successful Caribbean-American artist in pop music. His 1956 album, Calypso, topped the Billboard album chart shortly after release and stayed there for 31 weeks. That album is said to be the first to sell a million copies. [Tap here for more on Harry Belafonte]
16. Willis Reed, 80Source:Getty
Willis Reed, a former 7-time All-Star for the New York Knicks, has passed away. He was 80 years old.
Reed was drafted in the second round by the Knicks in the 1964 NBA draft. He was that year’s Rookie of the Year and went to seven straight All-Star games. He also made the All-NBA Team five times. The former center and power forward helped New York win titles in 1970 and 1973, and was the league MVP in the 1969-70 season.
17. Lance Reddick, 60Source:Getty
Reddick, best known as Officer Cedrick Daniels on HBO’s The Wire, was found dead in his home in Studio City, CA on March 17. His death comes one week before the release of John Wick: Chapter 4, in which he reprises his role as Charon. He also stars as Zeus in the upcoming Disney+ series, Percy Jackson & The Olympians.
18. Sean Lampkin, 54
Sean Lampkin, best known for his recurring role as bar owner “Nipsey” on the hit 90s sitcom Martin, reportedly passed away in early March. His passing was confirmed on social media by close friends, who said that he passed away in his sleep. In addition to Martin, he also had small roles in Life, Big Momma’s House, and Bad Boys II.
19. Uche Nwaneri, 38Source:Getty
Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan tweeted “Rest In Peace, Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri played 7 seasons with the Jaguars, 2007-2013, and forged a strong bond with the Jags fans that’s remained to this day. On behalf of the Jaguars organization and my family, our thoughts are with Uche’s family + friends at this terrible time.”
20. Gangsta Boo, 43Source:Getty
Mitchell was the second woman to join Three 6 Mafia in the early ’90s, and after her departure from the group, she continued to record mixtapes and appear on singles from the likes of Gucci Mane, La Chat, and more. When she was fifteen, she contributed to Three 6’s Mystic Stylez album and remained a fixture in Memphis through her untimely passing.
21. Fred White, Earth Wind & Fire Drummer, 67Source:Getty
Verdine White confirmed the news on Instagram saying:
Our family is saddened today. With the loss of an amazing and talented family member, Our beloved brother Frederick Eugene “Freddie” White.
He joins our brothers Maurice, Monte and Ronald in heaven and is now drumming with the angels! 🥁🥁 Child protégé, member of the EWF ORIGINAL 9, with gold records at the young age of 16 years old! He was brother number 4 in the family lineup. ❤️❤️❤️❤️
But more than that at home and beyond he was the wonderful bro that was always entertaining and delightfully mischievous!
And we could always count on him to make a seemingly bad situation more light hearted!🙏🏾😍🙏🏾
He will live in our hearts forever, rest in power beloved Freddie!!
We thank you all for your love, blessings and support at this time. Soar high baby bro, we love you to the shining ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️and back!
22. Anita Pointer, 74 (December 31st)Source:Getty
Pointer’s family, in a statement obtained by CBS News, said, “While we are deeply saddened by the loss of Anita, we are comforted in knowing she is now with her daughter, Jada and her sisters June & Bonnie and at peace. She was the one that kept all of us close and together for so long. Her love of our family will live on in each of us. Please respect our privacy during this period of grief and loss. Heaven is a more loving, beautiful place with Anita there.”
Pointer is preceded in death by her only daughter Jada, who passed in 2003, and sisters Bonnie and June, who passed in 2020 and 2006 respectively.
23. Gordy Harmon, 79Source:Getty
Gordy Harmon, a founding member of the R&B group The Whispers, died January 8 in his sleep at his Los Angeles home.
24. Kevin Lemons
Official Announcement from The Lemons Family
It is with great sadness that we announce the transition of our Founder – Kevin Lemons. Please keep his wife Tiunna, Family and Higher Calling lifted in prayer as we all process this sudden loss. Thank you all for the outpouring of love already shown. We are so appreciative and grateful for each of you!
25. Charles White, 64Source:Getty
Charles White died on January 11, 2023.
26. Arthur Duncan, 89Source:Getty
27. CJ Harris, 31Source:Getty
According to TMZ, the former American Idol contestant suffered a heart attack. He was only 31 years old.
28. Brandon Smiley, 32Source:Getty
“I just had bad news this morning. I’m on the way to the airport to get to Birmingham. I just want everybody to pray for me, pray for our family,” Rickey said in a video. “My son, Brandon Smiley, has passed away this morning.”
29. Barrett Strong, 82
The Motown Museum confirmed the passing of singer/songwriter Barrett Strong on Jan. 29. Strong sang “Money (That’s What I Want)” which became Motown Records’ first hit in 1959.
30. Trugoy The Dove, 54
Trugoy The Dove, co-founder of the legendary Hip-Hop trio De La Soul has died. The cause of Death has not been released to the public. Trugoy, born David Jude Jolicoeur along with high school friends Posdnuos (Kelvin Mercer) and Maseo (Vincent Mason) would form De La Soul in the mid-80s. The group would go on to release their groundbreaking debut “3 Feet High and Rising” in 1988. Their more conscious style of rap made them known as “Hip-Hop Hippies.” De La Soul, along with A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and Black Sheep would be known as the “Native Tounges,” delivering more positive-minded, Afrocentric, and eclectic lyrics behind sampled beats that would inspire a generation.
31. Charlie Thomas, of the DriftersSource:Getty
Charlie Thomas, who recorded memorable songs like “There Goes My Baby” and “Under the Boardwalk” with the Drifters, the silken-voiced R&B group that had a long string of hits from 1959 to 1964 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Fame, died on Jan. 31 at his home in Bowie, Md. He was 85.
The singer Peter Lemongello Jr., a close friend, said the cause was liver cancer.
Mr. Thomas, a tenor, was a Drifter for more than 60 years, from the version of the group that had its first hits in the late 1950s to the version he led and toured with until the pandemic struck.
32. Roslyn Pope, civil rights leader
Roslyn Pope, who as a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta wrote a 1960 manifesto that set the stage for dramatic advances in civil rights in the city and inspired generations of activists around the country, died on Jan. 19 in Arlington, Texas. She was 84.
Spelman College confirmed the death.
33. AKA, rapperSource:Getty
AKA, a South African rapper, was shot to death on Feb. 10 outside of a restaurant in the city of Durban. He was 35 years old.
The police said that AKA, 35, had been walking to his car on a popular nightlife strip shortly after 10 p.m. when two armed people approached from across the street and fired several shots at close range before running away.
AKA, whose legal name was Kiernan Forbes, and another man died at the scene, the police said. Although the police did not name the second victim, South African news reports identified him as AKA’s close friend Tebello Motsoane, a 34-year-old chef and music entrepreneur known as Tibz.
34. Thomas W. Dortch Jr.Source:Getty
Atlanta civic leader Thomas W. Dortch Jr., the chairman of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s board and former leader of 100 Black Men of America, has died at the age of 72. No cause or date of Dortch’s death was immediately reported. The Georgia native was also a successful businessman in his own right.
35. Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, pioneering TV reporter
Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, the first Black television reporter in Atlanta, has died at age 83.
The media milestone was reached when WSB-TV hired him in 1967. He would remain with the station through 1976.
36. Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, rock ‘n roll pianistSource:Getty
Huey “Piano” Smith, whose two-fisted keyboard style and rambunctious songs propelled the sound of New Orleans R&B into the pop Top 10 in the late 1950s, died on Feb. 13 at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 89.
His daughter Acquelyn Donsereaux confirmed his death.
Mr. Smith wrote songs that became cornerstones of New Orleans R&B and rock ’n’ roll perennials, notably “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It” and “Sea Cruise.”
37. Irv Cross, NFL Player and sport analystSource:Getty
Former NFL player Irv Cross has died at the age of 81. Cross, who was the first Black full-time sports analyst on national television, suffered from stage 4 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, according to Boston University researchers. The degenerative brain disease made life tough for Cross in his final days as he suffered from depression, mood swings and memory loss that forced him into isolation.
“He really didn’t want to be with people,” said his widow, Liz Cross. “The only person he wanted to be with was me. When he was with me, he really didn’t want to be with me. He just wanted me to be there.”
Cross was diagnosed with mild cognitive dementia in 2018, and his family says after the diagnosis he often sat in a chair complaining of headaches that never went away. He also stopped going to church, could barely watch football anymore and struggled physically with his balance and was paranoid.
Toward the end,” Cross said, “he saw things that weren’t there.”
Irv Cross, of course, was not alone in misery among his former NFL brethren. According to its latest report, the BU CTE Center said it has diagnosed 345 former NFL players with CTE out of 376 former players who were studied, a rate of 91.7%. The disease can be diagnosed only after death.
“He was the nicest, kindest, most helpful, wonderful man I ever met,” Cross said. “But that wasn’t who he was at the end. And that wasn’t who he was. It was the disease that did that.”
Dr. Ann McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, said she was not surprised Irv Cross’ brain reached stage 4 given the length of his overall football career (the study counted 17 years) and his age. Irv Cross and his family made the decision to donate his brain to help raise awareness of the long-term consequences of repeated blows to the head.
“I do think there’s more education about the risks of football and I do think there’s more awareness of concussion management but I still think we’re way, way behind where we should be,” McKee said. “We need to educate young athletes that this is a risk that they are undertaking. We need to educate coaches to keep head trauma out of the game. We need to do more managing of athletes by monitoring them better. I still think there’s a very cavalier attitude toward CTE. There’s a lot of denial.”
Cross was an outstanding NFL player, During his career, he was a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who had 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles, and two defensive touchdowns. In 1971 he joined CBA and became the first Black network sports show anchor. Although CTE made it hard on Cross towards the end of his life, his wife said he never regretted playing football.
“He would have done it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “But he didn’t think kids should play football.”
38. Zandra Flemister
U.S. Secret Service agent Zandra Flemister has died at the age of 71. She was the first Black woman to serve as a special agent for the Secret Service. According to reports, Flemister died from Alzheimer’s complications. Flemister is remembered a pioneer at the agency although she said she left because of racial discrimination.
She went on to spend over three decades as a foreign service officer, rising to the upper ranks of senior foreign service before Alzheimer’s disease forced her to retire in 2011. She did so while juggling family responsibilities, including raising her son, who was diagnosed with autism as a child.
“The level of accomplishments that my wife managed … under the conditions that she lived, that to me says a hell of a lot about the woman,” Flemister’s husband, John Collinge, told NPR in a phone interview.
Flemister’s death — of Alzheimer’s complications and publicized in a Washington Post obituary — has renewed attention to her trailblazing stint at the Secret Service in the 1970s.
“I’ve gotten an incredible outpouring from Black women Secret Service agents past and present, and they are looking to her now as, I guess I would say, a forgotten pioneer who has been rescued from oblivion,” Collinge said, of the emails and calls he has gotten in recent days.