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 look back at some of the greats who passed away in 2023.
Harry Belafonte, legendary entertainer, and activist, has died at 96. Longtime spokesman Ken Sunshine confirmed to the New York Times that Belafonte died in his Manhattan home on Tuesday morning (April 25) of congestive heart failure.
Keep reading below to learn more about the notable Black people we’ve lost in 2023…
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We’ve Lost In 2023 was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. 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]
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.”
6. 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.
7. 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!
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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!
11. Charles White, 64Source:Getty
Charles White died on January 11, 2023.
12. Arthur Duncan, 89Source:Getty
13. CJ Harris, 31Source:Getty
According to TMZ, the former American Idol contestant suffered a heart attack. He was only 31 years old.
14. 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.”
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, pioneering TV reporter
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
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.
22. 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.”
23. 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.”
24. 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.