As 2022 draws to a close, we remember those we lost. Here are some of the influential people who touched our lives and shifted the culture with their timeless contributions.
Mary Alice Smith – Actress
Award-winning actress Mary Alice Smith died at the age of 85. Known for her role as the oracle in The Matrix Revolutions, the third movie in the trilogy, but her catalog extends beyond that franchise. She was truly an acting legend in her own right. Alice began her acting career in local theater in her hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.
Eventually, she would move to New York City to hone her skills and blossom in her craft on Broadway. Alice’s talent immediately grabbed the attention of the acting world, and in 1987, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Fences. In 1993 she would go on to win an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for I’ll Fly Away.
Alice would then take her talents to television and the big screen. She appeared in the popular show A Different World for two seasons as Leticia “Lettie” Bostic and also had a role in the hit daytime series All My Children. She also made appearances on shows such as Police Woman and Sanford and Son.
Where Mary Alice really shined was on the big screen. She appeared in many films. In 2000, Mary Alice was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. She eventually retired from acting in 2005.
Johnny Brown – Actor
Best known for his role as Bookman, the building super on Good Times, Johnny Brown brought joy and laughter to generations of TV watchers. The comedian, singer and actor passed away at 84.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, before Good Times fame, Brown appeared on Broadway twice and was a regular on the sketch-comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.
Broadway World noted that Brown was mentored by the late great Sammy Davis Jr., helping Brown join the production of “Golden Boy” as an understudy for the role of Ronnie. The outlet noted the production was a major success, with Brown taking on the role after the original actor was let go.
In an old interview with actor and writer Stanley Dyrector, Brown said he was always performing as a child. He said much of his experience as “on-the-job training.” His nightclub experience helped prepare him for Broadway.
Brown’s infectious laughter and award-winning smile captured the hearts of many. Born June 11, 1937, Florida-born and Harlem-raised Brown wanted to be remembered as a well-rounded entertainer.
Irene Cara – Singer/Songwriter/Producer
The phenomenal singer behind some of the biggest ’80s hits passed away at 63 years old.
An academy award-winning actress, singer, songwriter and producer, Cara touched many with her high-energy performances and soulful voice. Born March 18, 1959, the Bronx native released her first album at eight years old. She even co-starred in the classic PBS show The Electric Company. Cara also starred in Sparkle alongside Lonette McKee and Philip Michael Thomas.
Both “Fame” and “Flashdance…What A Feeling” were international hits, topping the charts in the UK. According to Official Charts, “Fame” reached number one in the UK in 1982. “Flashdance…What A Feeling” reached number 2 on the Top 10 charts in the UK in 1983.
An absolute legend who deserves all the flowers and more. We honor Irene Cara with the beautiful lyrics of her hit song “Fame.” Through her music, Cara is certainly going to live forever. She made it to heaven and will light the sky up like a flame. She learned how to fly high, and her lyrics will continue inspiring future generations. Fame.
William “Poogie” Hart – Lead Singer/Songwriter
The Delfonics lead singer William “Poogie” Hart was known as an innovator of the Philadelphia sound. As reported by the Philadephia Inquirer, Hart was a songwriter for the group best known for hits such as “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “La-La (Means I Love You).”
There are several groups that come to mind when someone says that’s “grown folks music,” and the legendary Delfonics is definitely one such group.
Born January 17, 1945, Coming of age as a group, Hart and his fellow Delfonics members, his brother Wilbert and friend Randy Cain, were competing against the Motown machine. Formed while in high school, Hart and his crew would develop a sound that spoke to the hearts of young lovers everywhere.
“Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” won a Grammy in 1970 for Best R&B Group, Vocal or Instrumental. As Billboard noted, the group’s soulful sounds and innovative rhythms would go on to influence rappers in the mid-90s like Missy Elliott, Ghostface Killah and The Fugees.
Lani Guinier – Law Professor/Civil Rights Advocate
Civil rights lawyer, legal scholar and professor Lani Guinier died at the age of 71 following complications from Alzheimer’s disease, the Washington Post reported.
Guinier broke a number of racial barriers in both academia and the legal profession with her work at Ivy League colleges, including Harvard Law School, where she became the first Black woman to be granted tenure.
Harvard Law School Dean John Manning eulogized Guinier in a message to faculty and staff sharing the news of her death.
“Her scholarship changed our understanding of democracy — of why and how the voices of the historically underrepresented must be heard and what it takes to have a meaningful right to vote. It also transformed our understanding of the educational system and what we must do to create opportunities for all members of our diverse society to learn, grow, and thrive in school and beyond,” Manning wrote in part.
James Mtume – Songwriter/Musician/Producer
The renowned musician, songwriter and producer passed away just six days after his 76th birthday.
A Philadelphia native, Mtume was exposed to musical greatness from birth as the son of Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Health and stepson of James “Hen Gates” Forman, a pianist for Charlie Parker. His love of jazz would continue in his own career, joining Miles Davis’ band from 1971-1975 as a percussionist. During that time, Mtume recorded three acoustic jazz compositions.
He later took his eclectic jazz sound, experimenting with digital sounds to create a jazz/R&B/funk blend called “Sophistafunk.” Mtume reached new heights with his self-titled group, recording on the Epic Label from 1978 to 1986.
Their hit single “Juicy Fruit” would go on to become a widely sampled song in the world of Hip Hop. In a 2018 interview with NBC News, Mtume shared that allowing the song to be sampled for “Juicy” by Biggie introduced a new generation to the classic.
Nichelle Nichols – Actress/Advocate
Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek series, made her final journey beyond the stars. She was 89.
Few people have had as wide an impression across industries as Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols. Her portrayal of the iconic Lt. Uhura paved the way for other strong Black characters in the Star Trek universe, including Lt. Commanders Geordi La Forge, Worf and Tuvok. In 2017, she appeared alongside Sonequa Martin-Green at the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.
She not only helped diversify sci-fi, but she also lent her talents to NASA, helping to recruit future astronauts like Ronald McNair and Mae Jemison. Jemison, the first real-life Black woman astronaut, said that as a little girl seeing Nichols inspired her to want to enter the U.S. space program.
Sidney Pointier – Actor/Diplomat/Director
Trailblazing actor, director, writer and diplomat Sidney Poitier died at the age of 94.
Poitier is the first Black person to win an Academy Award for Best Actor back in 1964 for his role in “Lilies Of The Field.” Becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest draws amid the racial tensions in America at the time, Poitier’s charm, his natural good looks, and silky voice made him a star.
“There are no words to convey the deep sense of loss and sadness we are feeling right now,” the Poitier family said in a statement emailed to NewsOne. “We are so grateful he was able to spend his last day surrounded by his family and friends. To us Sidney Poitier was not only a brilliant actor, activist, and a man of incredible grace and moral fortitude, he was also a devoted and loving husband, a supportive and adoring father, and a man who always put family first.”
The statement added later: “His legacy will live on in the world, continuing to inspire not only with his incredible body of work but even more so with his humanity.”
Bill Russell – Trailblazing Athlete
Several amazing athletes transitioned this year, including Lusia, Harris, Charles Taylor, Bill Lanier, and Paul Silas. But Bill Russell was a giant among men. The NBA legend passed away at the age of 88.
The larger-than-life Russell spent 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. But his influence on the game extended far beyond that franchise. He was not only the first Black player inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, but he was also its first Black head coach.
Russell built the foundation for a league where nearly 50 percent of all coaches are Black. According to a June Sports Illustrated article, half of the league’s teams were led by Black head coaches.
In a 2020 op-ed for Slam, Russell recounted how the love and support of his family gave him the strength and determination “to set my own standard, to disentangle my self-esteem from the beliefs of others.” Russell described the difference between the good people in the franchise and his teammates and the racist disrespect he endured from fans and the city at large. He didn’t ignore the racial slurs and taunts, he leveraged them.
“I used their unkindness as energy to fuel me, to work myself into a rage, a rage I used to win,” wrote Russell. “I refused to let the ‘fans’ bigotry, evidence of their lack of character, harm me. As far as I was concerned, I played for the Boston Celtics, the institution, and the Boston Celtics, my teammates. I did not play for the city or for the fans.”
Bernard Shaw – Journalist
Bernard Shaw, a veteran journalist and award-winning cable news anchor whose unwavering command of current events helped open doors for other Black broadcast journalists, died Sept. 8 at the age of 82. His death followed complications from pneumonia that were not related to COVID-19, Shaw’s family said in a statement.
Shaw, who rose to journalistic prominence as the face of CNN for more than 20 years after becoming one of the then-upstart network’s first news anchors, gained the collective trust of America as he reported on myriad history-making moments in the U.S. as well as around the world.
Andre Talley – Fashion Editor
Fashion icon André Leon Talley died on Jan. 18 at the age of 73. Visionary, legendary and phenom are all words that have been used to describe Talley and his impact on both fashion and journalism.
While younger generations may know him from his time as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, Talley has been a fixture in high fashion and journalism for almost 50 years.
Variety called the former creative director and editor-at-large for Vogue a “titan of fashion journalism.” Talley stood at an impressive 6-foot-six-inches, with his presence felt in each room he entered.
Talley’s bylines included Vanity Fair, HG, Interview, Ebony and Women’s Wear Daily. A prolific influence on fashion and beyond, Talley got his start at Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine in 1975, later becoming the fashion news editor at Vogue.
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