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Feb. 11, 2012:

I write this with a heavy heart. We lost the greatest female singer of any generation last night!

When Cissy Houston first heard the news that her daughter had passed, reportedly, she started trembling and screaming "No! No! My baby! My baby!" as she sunk to the ground.

A film is already being planned, based on the life of Whitney Houston, written in the same vain as "Lady Sings The Blues." This will be an A-list project with unlimited financing but who could play Whitney Houston? A great actress lip synching or a Broadway star with a powerful voice?

Also, "Unsung," is interested in rushing an episode on the air before their season ends.

The tabloids are offering upwards to $1.2 million to members of Whitney's entourage. They want to know if anyone was able to take a cell phone pic of Whitney in the bath tub.

When Whitney Houston first arrived on the scene, she was groomed to become the next Diana Ross; she shunned expensive gowns in favor of blue jeans and sneakers. Whitney was a Jersey girl at heart and and she loved the New York Giants. She also loved Sylvia's soul food restaurant in New York.

Whitney's career closely mirrored Diana Ross's, first the hits and then the big grossing film (The Bodyguard).

After "The Bodyguard," Whitney was besieged with offers, including a remake of "Cleopatra Jones," she was also offered $1 million dollars to perform for a royal family, and she was approached to perform in Las Vegas for $1.5 million per month but due to unfortunate circumstances she was unable to undertake any of these projects.

What was her attraction to Ray J? Whitney started out as a family friend and considered Brandy a little sister but like everyone else, she saw Ray J's sex tape with Kim and became interested.

At the time of Whitney's and Bobby's courtship, people were surprised because Bobby was in hot pursuit of Rosie Perez at the time.

Whitney used to date Eddie Murphy and really loved him, but it can only be one star in Murphy's household; she even tried to get Eddie jealous by dating Randall Cunningham but it didn't work.

Whitney was a celebrity among celebrities. When Faith Evans had a minor scrape with the law in L.A., Whitney called, is there anything you need? Does anyone need to take your kids to school? Whitney was a good friend to have and Mary J. Blige was her favorite singer.

WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU WHITNEY! RIP!

Though she will be remembered for disco classics such as Love to Love You Baby and I Feel Love, Donna Summer, who has died of cancer aged 63, notched up many achievements in a career lasting more than 40 years. She recorded three multi-platinum albums and three consecutive double albums topping the US chart. She reached a commercial peak in the late 1970s with a string of chart-topping singles, including a duet with Barbra Streisand on No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), and was able to bounce back from a subsequent slump with hit records in succeeding decades. She also branched out into television, with appearances on America's Got Talent and the reality show Platinum Hit.

Born LaDonna Adrian Gaines in Boston, Massachusetts, she and her six siblings were brought up in a religious household, since while her father earned a living as a butcher, he was also a minister. She sang in church choirs as a child, and claimed that when she was eight she heard God telling her she would become famous. During her teens she formed several groups inspired by Motown acts such as the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, and after leaving school to pursue a musical career, she sang with the psychedelic rock band Crow.

She then auditioned for a part in the musical Hair on Broadway, and though initially unsuccessful she was later hired for the German version of the show. This prompted a move to Germany, where she performed in several shows, including Godspell and Show Boat, learned to speak fluent German, and married the Austrian actor Helmut Sommer, from whom she took her performing name.

Living in Munich, she inevitably met the local (though Italian-born) writer and producer Giorgio Moroder, who supervised the recording of her album Lady of the Night (1974). All the songs were written by Moroder and his lyric-writing partner Pete Bellotte, and the album was released only in the Netherlands.

The following year, Summer herself presented the theme and title of Love to Love You Baby to Moroder and Bellotte. Moroder set about turning the song into a sexually charged disco track, encouraging the singer's moanings (which she later said were inspired by Marilyn Monroe). It was recorded for Moroder's Oasis label, but received major distribution through a deal with LA-based Casablanca Records. It sped to No 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 in 1976, and the ensuing album was certified gold in the US. Summer's lubricious performances prompted media controversy, which helped to launch her as "the first lady of love". A 17-minute version of Love to Love You Baby was a clubland smash and helped to create the vogue for 12-inch singles.

Summer followed up with two further gold albums that year, A Love Trilogy and Four Seasons of Love, and the 1977 concept album I Remember Yesterday yielded the single I Feel Love, which epitomised Moroder's vision of trance-like dance electronica. In 1978 she scored her first US chart-topping single, with a version of Jimmy Webb's MacArthur Park, and repeated the feat with Hot Stuff, Bad Girls and No More Tears (Enough Is Enough). Summer made her film acting debut as a disco singer in Thank God It's Friday (1978). A song from the soundtrack, Last Dance, was another big hit and won the singer her first Grammy. She won another for Hot Stuff.

Summer now yearned to break away from the disco format, though she always defended the genre and was proud of her role in it. She split from Casablanca, signed to Geffen Records, and made the rock-styled album The Wanderer (1980). Donna Summer (1982) was produced by Quincy Jones and generated the hits Love Is in Control and State of Independence, while the title song of her subsequent album, She Works Hard for the Money (1983), was another milestone.

Her career hit turbulence in the mid-80s after she was alleged to have made anti-gay remarks about Aids and its victims, which Summer (by then a born-again Christian) denied, though she later apologised for any pain she had caused. She bounced back into the charts in 1989 with Another Place and Time, overseen by the British producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman, and the single This Time I Know It's for Real was a major international success.

She embraced her Christian faith with the gospel-flavoured Christmas Spirit (1994), and accepted a role in the TV sitcom Family Matters. In 1999 she made a television special, Donna Summer – Live and More Encore, which achieved stellar ratings. The new millennium brought more dance hits. Crayons (2008) was her first studio album of new material for 17 years, and reached the US top 20. In 2010 the single To Paris With Love topped Billboard's US dance chart.

She is survived by her second husband, Bruce Sudano; their daughters, Brooklyn and Amanda; her daughter, Mimi, from her previous marriage, which ended in divorce in 1975; and four grandchildren.

• Donna Summer (LaDonna Adrian Gaines), singer, born 31 December 1948; died 17 May 2012

Source: The Guardian (UK)

Aug. 2012: Actor Al Freeman, Jr. died at the age of 78.

The passing of Freeman, Jr. was announced by a representative of Washington, D.C.'s Howard University, where the star also worked as a faculty member. No further information about his death is known.

Freeman, Jr. starred as police Captain Ed Hall on the soap opera "One Life to Live," from 1972 until 1987, and became the first African-American to win a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor for his work on the show.

He is perhaps best known for his portrayal of the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in Spike Lee's 1992 film "Malcolm X," a role that landed him the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

July 2012: Maria Cole, the widow of Nat “King” Cole, the mother of Natalie Cole and a singer in Duke Ellington's band in the mid-1940s, died Tuesday of cancer in Boca Raton, Fla. She was 89.

The Coles were wed in Harlem on Easter Sunday in 1948, just six days after Nat's divorce from his first wife became final, and were married for almost 17 years. The soft-spoken singer of such classics as "Unforgettable," "Nature Boy," "Too Young" and “Mona Lisa” died of lung cancer in Santa Monica in February 1965.

"Our mom was in a class all by herself," Natalie said in a statement released with her twin sisters Timolin and Casey Cole. "She epitomized class and elegance and truly defined what it is to be a real lady. We are so blessed and privileged to have inherited the legacy that she leaves behind along with our father.
"She died how she lived: with great strength, courage and dignity, surrounded by her loving family."

Born in Boston in 1922, Maria Cole and a sister moved to North Carolina to live with an aunt soon after her mother died in childbirth. She took voice and piano lessons as a child, and after graduating in 1938 from the Palmer Memorial Institute -- then one of America’s most prestigious African-American prep schools -- she returned to Boston and sang with a jazz orchestra. She soon moved to New York to pursue a music career with jazz great Benny Carter’s band.
In 1943, she married Spurgeon Ellington, a Tuskegee Airmen flyer during World War II. He was killed in Georgia two years later during a routine postwar training flight.

After performing briefly with Count Basie and swing music innovator Fletcher Henderson, Cole's big break came when Ellington hired her as a vocalist. She stayed with him until 1946, when she began soloing at New York's Club Zanzibar as an opening act for The Mills Brothers. It was there that she met Nat
and they was married in 1948 in a lavish ceremony in Harlem.

The couple traveled throughout Europe in the 1950s, and Maria recorded several songs with her husband for Capitol Records and sang at top venues in California and on the East Coast.

Natalie, a nine-time Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, was born in 1950 as the Coles' first child. She was followed by the late Nat Kelly Cole, adopted in 1959, and the twins Timolin and Casey, who were born in 1961. In 1949, the couple had adopted Carol (known as "Cookie"), the daughter of Maria’s late sister.

After her husband’s death, Maria produced a James Baldwin play, sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, created the Cole Cancer Foundation and was active in charity work.

In 1987, she was interviewed by Natalie and singer Johnny Mathis for a PBS special on Nat. In 1990, Maria and Natalie accepted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her late husband.

In addition to her three daughters, survivors include her sister, Charlotte; her son-in-laws Gary and Julian; and six grandchildren. A private service will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles at a date to be determined.

Source: Hollywood Reporter

Sylvia Woods, who left the rural bean patches of segregated South Carolina to become one of New York’s top restaurateurs as the vivacious “Queen of Soul Food,” died July 19 at her home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. She was 86.

She had Alzheimer’s disease, said her granddaughter Kendra Woods.

July 2012: Amid the bull market of young women in hip-hop today, one of the first ladies of the genre passed away. Ms. Melodie, born Ramona Parker, was a founding member of the group Boogie Down productions and the ex-wife of landmark artist KRS-One. The cause of death is yet unknown, and while reports dispute her age, she was widely believed to be 43.

June 2012: Erica Kennedy, a music writer turned novelist who came to wide attention in 2004 with the publication of her first novel, “Bling,” a satirical roman à clef about the world of hip-hop, was found dead at her home in Miami Beach. She was 42.

Her family confirmed the death to The Associated Press but provided neither the cause nor the precise date Ms. Kennedy died.

Published by Miramax Books, “Bling” tells the story of a young, innocent mixed-race woman trying to break into the music business. A gifted singer, she is remade in flashy style by a rapacious record mogul. Ms. Kennedy was reported to have received an advance of half a million dollars for the novel.

Ms. Kennedy was moved to start work on the book, she later said, by the hoopla surrounding “The Nanny Diaries,” the 2002 novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus that lampooned Manhattan’s elite.

“Everybody kept talking about how scandalous that book was,” Ms. Kennedy told The New York Times in 2004. “I really didn’t see the big deal. I knew I could write a story about a P. Diddy party and show these people what scandal is really all about.”

Reviewing “Bling” in The Times Book Review, Sia Michel took it to task for bagginess (it ran to 509 pages) but called it “gleefully trashy.”

“Bling” captured the attention of the news media, partly for its portrayal of a world of flowing Cristal, powder blue Bentleys and platinum teeth, and partly for the fevered guessing game it engendered: Was its hip-hop mogul based on Russell Simmons, a founder of Def Jam Recordings and a friend of Ms. Kennedy’s? Was its foul-tempered supermodel a thinly veiled Naomi Campbell?

On these points, Ms. Kennedy remained discreetly silent.

Ms. Kennedy’s second novel, “Feminista,” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. That book, a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” did not garner the immense attention of “Bling.”

But Ms. Kennedy’s name continued to be included on the small list of writers whose work, which took the tried-and-true genre of chick lit and gave it a specifically black focus, was the logical heir to the novelist Terry McMillan’s. At the end of 2010, Ms. Kennedy was named to the Ebony Power 100, a list of influential African-Americans.

Ms. Kennedy was born Erica Kennedy Johnson on March 24, 1970, and reared in Bayside, Queens. Her father, a pharmaceutical company executive, died when she was 17; her mother was an interior designer.

As a teenager, Erica dated a record producer and through him met Mr. Simmons, who gave her entree into hip-hop circles. (In 1998, Ms. Kennedy was a bridesmaid at Mr. Simmons’s wedding to Kimora Lee.)

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 1992, Ms. Kennedy was a publicist for the Tommy Hilfiger fashion house and contributed articles on music to Vibe, InStyle and other magazines.

Ms. Kennedy’s survivors include her mother, Mary Mobley Johnson, and a brother, Kirk Johnson.

By all accounts, the flash Ms. Kennedy portrayed in her fiction had little place in her own life. “My hope is that the next black author gets six figures for this kind of book,” she told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2004. “I just want to be home in sweats and glasses, writing.”

April 2009:

Randy Cain, a founding member of the Delfonics, who sang on such Philly soul hits as "La La Means I Love You," and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" died Thursday. He was 63. No cause of death is yet known for Cain who formed the Delfonics with brothers William and Wilbert Hart while attending Overbrook High in the 1960s. Cain left the group in 1971 and was replaced by Major Harris.

In the 1980s Cain returned for a later incarnation of the group and also for the past several months Cain had been again performing with the Delfonics with William Hart, the group's lead singer and songwriter, who is the sole owner of the name of the group. That reunion is somewhat surprising as in 2002 and 2005 Cain and Wilbert Hart filed civil suits against William Hart and against Arista Records/Sony BMG, for back royalties. A court later awarded Cain and Wilbert back royalties.

The three original members were reunited in 2006 by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation which presented the group its Pioneer Award at its annual awards banquet. “That was the first time we were all together in years but we couldn’t work it out,” Wilbert Hart told us Friday night. “I’m gonna miss him. We grew up together since 1968,” Wilbert said of Cain whom he last saw four or five months ago. “We’re gonna have to do what we’re doing until God brings us together,” said Wilbert who now performs with a group as Wil Hart formerly Delfonics.

Cain had lived in Willingboro, NJ with Wilbert and his family but according to Wilbert recently moved into an apartment in Maple Shade. Wilbert said he hopes Cain will long be remembered through the Delfonics music. The group’s timeless tunes saw a resurrection in 1997 after several songs were featured in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film "Jackie Brown."

“That three part harmony with the falsetto sound was phenomenal,” Jerry Blavat says of the Delfonics. Blavat was the first DJ to spin “La La Means I Love You,” and also had Cain and the Hart brothers performing on his TV show “Jerry’s Place,” which was broadcast on WFIL. “The entire rhythm and blues community has lost a beloved voice. We are all grieving,” said Patricia Wilson Aden, executive director of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

"Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and the Philadelphia International Records family deeply mourn the loss of this great artist and give their sincere condolences to the Cain and Delfonics family," said PIR executive Chuck Gamble.

"Gamble and Huff have fond memories of working with Randy and the group at the start of their career with fellow legendary producer Thom Bell who produced and penned many of the Delfonics hits," said Gamble who noted that the label had recently worked with Cain and the Delfonics on its PBS "Love Train" special.

King Floyd III was born in New Orleans in 1945. His musical career started as a singer at the Sho-Bar on Bourbon Street.

In 1970, Wardell Quezergue, an arranger of R&B scores, persuaded Floyd to record "Groove Me" with Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi. Jean Knight recorded her hit, "Mr. Big Stuff," in the same sessions.

At first, "Groove Me" was a B-side to another Floyd song, "What Our Love Needs." New Orleans radio DJ's started playing "Groove Me" and the song became a local hit. Atlantic Records picked up national distribution of "Groove Me," which topped the United States R&B chart and reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Floyd quit his job at the post office to perform a U.S. tour.

His follow-up album, "Think About It," failed to make an impact.

None of his subsequent songs achieved the same, as disco dominated the charts for the remainder of the 1970s. However, Floyd had credits for "Boombastic," recorded in 1995 by Shaggy, which became a big hit. However, his song "Don't Leave Me Lonely" was prominently sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan for the song "For Heaven's Sake" off their album Wu-Tang Forever.

King Floyd died on March 6, 2006 from complications of a stroke and diabetes. He is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren.

June 2012: Actress Yvette Wilson died after losing her battle with stage 4 cervical cancer, according to multiple reports. She was 48.

Wilson was best known for her role as Andell Wilkerson on UPN's "Moesha" and its spinoff "The Parkers," and also appeared in the movies "House Party 2," "House Party 3" and "Friday."

In January, one of Wilson's friends created a website to help raise money for the actress' medical bills.

"Yvette has experienced kidney failure, kidney transplants and cervical cancer, among other things," the site reads. "Her cancer has come back after an extended retreat, and doctors are saying it's very aggressive this time out."

Belita Karen Woods (October 23, 1948 – May 14, 2012) was a lead singer of the late 1970s R&B group, Brainstorm. She also performed with Parliament-Funkadelic for two decades, beginning in 1992.

Brainstorm had a disco hit in 1977 called "Lovin' Is Really My Game". Their follow-up album, 1978's Journey To The Light, featured a more soul-funk sound, anchored by the album tracks "We're On Our Way Home" and "If You Ever Need To Cry". Prior to joining Brainstorm, Woods released a single "Magic Corner"/"Grounded" on Detroit's Moira label in 1967.

Woods began touring with the P-Funk All-Stars in 1992. In 2001 she sang on four songs ("Scratched", "When Jack Met Jill", "Relax", "Tempovision") on French DJ/producer Étienne de Crécy's Tempovision album. The song "Scratched" was produced by fellow P-Funk mate Michael "Clip" Payne, who also sang on the song "Tempovision". She had three solo songs on George Clinton's How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent?, released in 2005: "Don't Dance Too Close", "More Than Words Can Say" and "Saddest Day".

Woods died of heart failure on May 14, 2012. She was 63.

Dick Anthony Williams (August 9, 1938-February 15, 2012) was an actor. Williams is known for his starring performances on Broadway in "The Poison Tree," "What the Wine-Sellers Buy," and "Black Picture Show." He is also remembered for playing the character of Pretty Tony in "The Mack," which starred Max Julien and Richard Pryor.

Williams won the 1974 Drama Desk Award for his performance in "What the Wine-Sellers Buy," for which he was also nominated for a Tony Award, and was nominated in 1975 for both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for his performance in "Black Picture Show." He also has an extensive resume as an actor in films and on television.

Williams married Gloria Edwards, an actress, who died in 1988, and had two children with her.

Dick Anthony Williams died from an undisclosed illness on Feb. 15, 2012.

PART 3: (BLACK CELEBRITIES WHO DIED WITH LITTLE OR NO FANFARE)

Syreeta Wright (August 3, 1946 – July 6, 2004), who recorded professionally under the single name Syreeta, was a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter most notably known for her work with Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston.

Syreeta was born Syreeta Wright in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1946, and started singing at age four. Her father died while serving in the Korean War and Wright and her two sisters, Yvonne (later a songwriter in her own right) and Kim, were raised by their mother Essie and their grandmother. The Wrights moved back and forth from Detroit to South Carolina before finally settling in Detroit just as Wright entered high school. Money problems kept Wright from pursuing a career in ballet so Wright focused her attention on a music career joining several singing groups before landing a job as a receptionist for Motown in 1965. Within a year, she became a secretary for Mickey Stevenson, just as Martha Reeves had done before her.

Wright also performed demo vocals for the Supremes hit "Love Child" and Ross's "Something's On My Mind", which Ross later recorded for her self-titled debut album. When Diana Ross left the Supremes in early 1970, Motown boss Berry Gordy considered replacing her with Syreeta, but offered the place in the group to Jean Terrell. According to several sources, Gordy then changed his mind and tried to replace Terrell with Syreeta, but this was vetoed by Supreme Mary Wilson.

Wright also sang background on records by the Supremes and by Martha and the Vandellas, notably singing the chorus to the group's modest hit single, "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playing." Wright met labelmate Stevie Wonder in 1968, and the two began dating the following year. On the advice of Wonder, Wright became a songwriter. Their first collaboration, "It's a Shame", was recorded by The Spinners, in 1969. Motown withheld its release until July 1970. The song reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Wright also began singing background for Wonder, most notably on the hit "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)", which Wright co-wrote with Wonder. In September 1970, after a year-long courtship, Wright, twenty-four, and Wonder, twenty, married in Detroit. The couple then wrote and arranged songs from Wonder's Where I'm Coming From, which was released much to Berry Gordy's chagrin in the spring of 1971. The Wonder-Wright composition "If You Really Love Me" (which also featured Wright prominently singing background vocals) reached number-eight in the US that year.

Material from Syreeta and Wonder's "Talking Book," were deemed autobiographical due to the rise and fall of the ex-couple's marriage. Remaining best friends, Wright would continue to provide background vocals and compositions with Wonder for the next two decades.

Wright's next effort came courtesy of a chance meeting with Billy Preston, who had signed with Motown in early 1979. Motown assigned the two to collaborate on a pop ballad for the movie Fast Break. Wright and Preston provided the soundtrack of the film and their first collaboration, "With You I'm Born Again", resulted in an international hit reaching number-four US and number-two UK in late 1979.

Syreeta was married three times during her life. Her first marriage, to longtime collaborator Stevie Wonder, lasted eighteen months between 1970 and 1972, while a marriage to bassist Curtis Robertson Jr., was also short lived. Wright briefly lived in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s where she worked as a transcendental meditation teacher.

Syreeta Wright died on July 6, 2004 of congestive heart failure, a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation treatments she was receiving for breast and bone cancers. She was 57 years old. She is survived by her four children Jamal, Hodari, Takiyah and Harmoni, and grandchildren.

Feb. 2012: The idea was simple -- but groundbreaking: Create a live showcase for black music, modeled on "American Bandstand."

Don Cornelius pulled $400 from his own pocket to launch the dance show on a local Chicago TV station in 1970. As host and executive producer of "Soul Train," he was soon at the throttle of a nationally syndicated television institution that was the first dance show to cater to the musical tastes of black teenagers and also helped bring black music, dance, fashion and style to mainstream America.

In the process of presenting the soul, funk and R&B of the day, the Afro-haired, dapper Cornelius became a TV icon, his sonorous baritone welcoming viewers to "the hippest trip in America."

Cornelius, 75, was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles Wednesday after a family member found him in his home in Encino with a gunshot wound to his head, according to law enforcement sources. The wound appeared to be self-inflicted, but the death was being investigated by police. Friends say he had been in poor health.

On Wednesday, those who knew Cornelius recalled his impact on American culture.

"Don was a visionary and giant in our business," producer and composer Quincy Jones said in a statement. "Before MTV there was 'Soul Train'; that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched."

Aretha Franklin said Cornelius "united the young adult community single-handedly and globally."

"With the inception of 'Soul Train,' a young, progressive brother set the pace and worldwide standard for young aspiring African American men and entrepreneurs in TV -- out of Chicago," Franklin, who appeared on the show, said in a statement. "He transcended barriers among young adults. They became one."

"Soul Train," which moved to Los Angeles and entered national syndication in 1971, featured other legendary artists, including James Brown, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 and Barry White.

With its catchy introduction featuring an animated, psychedelic smoke-spewing locomotive, "Soul Train" became destination TV for teenagers across America in the '70s.

Magic Johnson was one of them. "Every Saturday morning I looked forward to watching 'Soul Train,' as did millions of other people," Johnson, chairman of Soul Train Holdings, said in a statement. " 'Soul Train' taught the world how to dance! Don's contribution to us all is immeasurable."

Beyond the music and the artists featured on "Soul Train," much of its popularity was attributed to the young dancers on the show.

Cornelius' teen dance party featured the talents of some of the best young dancers in the area, and one of the show's most popular features was the "Soul Train" line, with dancers going down the line and showing off their best moves.

Among those who went on to later fame are actress Rosie Perez, singer Jody Watley, rapper MC Hammer and Jeffrey Daniel, who taught Michael Jackson how to moonwalk.

In his 1996 book "Funk: The Music, the People and the Rhythm of the One," Rickey Vincent called "Soul Train" the "most undiluted showcase of black sexuality in the country" and "a cultural mecca for the entire decade of the '70s."

That there was a need for such a show was obvious to Cornelius, who had launched his career in radio only a few years before the show's debut.

"It was a period when television was a very white medium, and that didn't make sense to me," he told Billboard magazine in 2005, the year he received the Trustees Award from the Recording Academy for lasting contributions to culture as the creator of "Soul Train."

"I wanted to bring more of our African American entertainment to not only the black [niche] viewers but to the crossover viewers as well," he said.

Robert Santelli, executive producer of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, told The Times on Wednesday that " 'Soul Train' was to soul music what 'American Bandstand' was to early rock 'n' roll, and Don Cornelius was like a black Dick Clark.

"He and his program almost single-handedly made sure that soul music had a presence on TV. For many years, it impacted black culture, black pop culture and black pop music. Few people came close to what he accomplished in those years."

Santelli added that "it also was an entry into black pop music for white kids. You could be living in Des Moines or in Montana and you could connect with what was happening in urban areas. It was an important portal for a lot of white kids who were very interested in black culture."

The show's "overall sense of blackness at this particular time was groundbreaking," Todd Boyd, a USC professor of critical studies, told The Times on Wednesday. Cornelius "effectively capitalized on the changes that took place in America socially and politically and culturally in the 1960s" in the next decade by giving national exposure to acts that previously were seen only in segregated settings.

Source: LA Times

January 2012: Etta James, the earthy blues and R&B singer whose anguished vocals convinced generations of listeners that she would rather go blind than see her love leave, then communicated her joy upon finding that love at last, died. She was 73.

She died at Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside, said her sons, Donto and Sametto James. The cause was complications from leukemia, according to her personal physician.

James had been in failing health for years. Court records in the singer's probate case show she also suffered from dementia and kidney failure. Her two sons had battled their stepfather for control of her $1-million estate but in December agreed to allow him to remain as conservator.

James spent time in a detox facility for addiction to painkillers and over-the-counter medications, Donto told Reuters in 2010. And she had wrestled with complications since undergoing gastric bypass surgery in 2002 to remedy a lifelong struggle with her weight.

Source: LA Times

R&B and gospel singer, David Peaston passed away in Feb. 2012.

Even though it was suspected, official word brings that his death was caused by complications from diabetes, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch. Peaston was 54.

Peaston fought a long battle against diabetes for years. In 2004, it resulted in the amputation of both his legs. In an interview the same year with Post-Dispatch, he blamed himself for acquiring the illness.

“I didn’t want to be back in the public. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed, but I felt I let myself down and, therefore, I let everyone else down. It was my fault for being sick, and I didn’t want anybody to see me like that.”

Known for his vocal range, the singer was a winner at “Showtime at the Apollo” and like many young artists, that’s where it all began.

His rise to fame began with hits “Can I” and “Two Wrongs (Don’t Make a Right)” (hear it below) and later his debut album, “Introducing … David Peaston.”
Following the success of his R&B career, he became the Soul Train Award winning for his rendition of “God Bless the Child.”

Madge Dorita Sinclair (28 April 1938 – 20 December 1995) was a Jamaican character actress.

Sinclair was born Madge Dorita Walters in Kingston, Jamaica, to Herbert and Jemima Walters. She was a teacher in Jamaica until 1968 when she left for New York to pursue her career in acting.

In 1978, she starred in the film Convoy as the Widow Maker. She played Leona Hamiltons in Cornbread, Earl and Me. She would later receive an Emmy Award nomination for her role as Belle in the miniseries Roots. Also in 1978 she co-starred in the short-lived sitcom Grandpa Goes to Washington. She went on to a long-running stint in the 1980s as nurse Ernestine Shoop on the series Trapper John, M.D. opposite Pernell Roberts. She received three Emmy nominations for her work on the show, and critic Donald Bogle praised her for "maintaining her composure and assurance no matter what the script imposed on her."

In 1988, Sinclair played Queen Aoleon opposite James Earl Jones' King Jaffe Joffer in the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America. Later, she would reteam with Jones as King and Queen for the role of Sarabi, Simba’s mother, in the blockbuster Disney animated film The Lion King (1994). The film became one of the best selling titles ever on home video. The two also collaborated on the series Gabriel's Fire, which earned Sinclair an Emmy in 1991 for Best Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series famously beating out the expected winner, L.A. Law's Diana Muldaur. She also received critical praise for her supporting role in the 1992 television movie Jonathan: The Boy Nobody Wanted with JoBeth Williams. In 1994, Sinclair also played a supporting role in the short-lived ABC-TV sitcom Me and the Boys, which starred Steve Harvey.

Sinclair, in her brief role as the captain of the USS Saratoga in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, was the first female starship captain to appear in Star Trek. Years later, she played Geordi La Forge's mother, captain of the USS Hera, in Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Interface."

A capable and versatile businesswoman as well, Sinclair was an art dealer, chairwoman of the women's clothing manufacturer Madge Walters Sinclair Inc., and owner of the Action Income Tax Service.

Sinclair was first married to Royston Sinclair, a police officer, with whom she had two sons, Garry and Wayne. In 1982, she married actor Dean Compton and remained with him until her death.

Sinclair died in 1995 from leukemia. She was cremated. Her ashes were buried in Jamaica.

Oct. 2009:

Johnny Carter, who has died of lung cancer aged 75, was one of the greatest tenor singers in popular music history. He shares with only 15 other musicians the accolade of having being twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He achieved this as a key member of two pioneering black American vocal groups, the Flamingos and the Dells.

Marvin "Marv" Tarplin (June 13, 1941 – September 30, 2011) was a guitarist and songwriter (pictured above holding guitar), best known as the guitarist for The Miracles from the 1950s through the early 1970s. He was one of the group's original members and co-wrote several of their biggest hits, including the 2007 Grammy Hall Of Fame inducted "The Tracks of My Tears." He is also a winner of the BMI Songwriter's Award, and the ASCAP Award Of Merit.

Referred to as the Miracles' "secret weapon," Marv Tarplin began his career accompanying a teenage Detroit, Michigan girl group known as The Primettes (later The Supremes). The Primettes sought an audition with Motown Records, and Tarplin played guitar as they performed for Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson. Robinson was impressed by Tarplin's guitar playing, and lured him away from the Primettes to join The Miracles. Tarplin joined The Miracles in 1958. In the 2006 Motown DVD release, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: The Definitive Performances 1963-1987, Robinson and fellow Miracles Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers commented that Tarplin's unique guitar playing style was reminiscent of the late Curtis Mayfield, and was the inspiration behind many of their greatest hits.His guitar riffs at the beginning of The Miracles' 1965 million-seller, The Tracks Of My Tears, are among the most famous in Pop music history.


While Tarplin remained with the Miracles for as long as Robinson was their lead singer, he is only present on the cover of three Miracles albums: Cookin' with The Miracles (1962), I'll Try Something New (1962), and The Fabulous Miracles (1963). He is mentioned, though not pictured, on the back cover of the group's first album, Hi... We're The Miracles (1961), and listed as an original group member. As a songwriter, Tarplin helped co-compose many of the Miracles' hit singles, amongst them the million-selling Grammy Hall of Fame winner "The Tracks of My Tears" for which he received the ASCAP Award Of Merit (1965), "My Girl Has Gone" (1965), "I Like It Like That", (1964), "Going to a Go-Go" (1965), "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage" (1967), and Point It Out (1968).

In addition, Tarplin co-wrote several Robinson produced hits by Marvin Gaye, including the Top 10 million selling hits, "Ain't That Peculiar" and "I'll Be Doggone". His guitar work was featured on Gaye's Top 40 hit, "One More Heartache", which he also co-wrote, and another of Gaye's chart hits, 1965's "Take This Heart of Mine". He also played on The Four Tops 1970 Top 20 hit, "Still Water (Love)", co-written by Robinson. Tarplin also appeared with the group on The Ed Sullivan Show, the 1964 film, The T.A.M.I. Show, the 1965 CBS television special, Murray The K - It's What's Happening, Baby, and virtually all of the group's personal appearance concerts worldwide, including the Motortown Revue shows in the early 1960s.

Tarplin left the Miracles in 1973, shortly after Smokey Robinson and his wife Claudette left the group. His replacement in The Miracles was Donald Griffin, brother of Billy Griffin.

Robinson and Tarplin continued to collaborate as writers on Robinson's solo recordings, including Top 10 hits such as "Cruisin'" (1979-1980) and the Gold-certified chart-topper "Being with You" (1981). Tarplin also continued to play guitar on record and in concert for Robinson, and, until 2008, continued to tour with Robinson. In 2007, Milwaukee, Wisconsin musician, Paul Cebar, paid homage to Tarplin with his song "Marv's Fluttering Guitar (For Marv Tarplin)" from the album Tomorrow Sound Now For Yes Music People.

Three years after leaving Robinson, he died in his Las Vegas home of undetermined causes on September 30. He was 70.

In 1987, Smokey Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. However, in a decision that has since sparked much scrutiny, debate, and controversy, Tarplin, and the other original members of the Miracles, Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Pete Moore and Claudette Robinson, were not. The Miracles met the qualifications, as did Robinson, but they have not, to date, been inducted. Tarplin retired from touring in 2008. Tarplin is also pictured on the cover of the 2009 Motown CD release, "The Miracles-Depend On Me: The Early Albums."

Tarplin and his former wife Sylvia (who died in 2004), had a daughter named Talese. He also had two other daughters, Lisa and Eboney, from another relationship. Tarplin died in Las Vegas, on September 30, 2011.

January 2012:

In the 1940's-1960's, we heard about black artists passing for white but Johnny Otis was a white man (Greek in origin) who passed for black. In his book, he said he felt more comfortable around blacks and he was flattered when he was mistaken for black.

Johnny Otis, died a day before Etta James (his protege), at his home in Altadena, Calif., at age 90, dedicated his life to promoting the music to mainstream audiences. He earned the title "godfather of rhythm and blues" by helping launch the careers of Etta James, Little Esther Phillips, Big Mama Thornton, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, Little Willie John and others.

Otis was born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes to Greek immigrant parents in Vallejo, Calif., but grew up in a predominately black section of Berkeley, where his father owned a grocery store and Otis developed his love of R&B.

Otis produced and played on the original "Hound Dog," by Big Mama Thornton in 1952, four years before it became a hit for Elvis Presley.

He wrote Etta James' first hit, "Roll With Me Henry," and "Every Beat of My Heart," (originally written for Jackie Wilson) for Gladys Knight and the Pips.

Otis scored 14 top 10 R&B songs, including No. 1 hits "Double Crossing Blues," "Cupid Boogie," "Mistrustin' Blues," and "Willie," and the "Hand Jive."

He continued to tour from time to time, usually with his musician sons, Nicky and Shuggie (writers of the Brothers Johnson's Strawberry Letter 23).

He became a disc jockey in Los Angeles in the early 1950s, and he spread the R&B gospel to audiences for nearly 50 years. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a songwriter and producer in 1994, the R&B Foundation Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2000.

Christopher Lamont Bender, known as Chris Bender, (August 2, 1972 – November 3, 1991) was a R&B singer who reached the national music charts in 1991 with the album entitled Draped. He was from the Boston, Massachusetts area, growing up in Brockton, Massachusetts and later living in Waltham.

At the age of 16, Bender recorded his first album, titled Baby Doll, for Epic Records. Bender's manager Terryl L. Calloway later stated about Baby Doll: "It didn't sell. The video was never [released]. The record didn't sell anything."

Bender nevertheless went on to secure a $500,000 contract with EastWest Records. He signed a seven-album contract, although only one album on that contract was released before his death.

The album Draped hit No. 92 on the Billboard magazine R&B album chart. His two charted singles "I Knew" and "That's Not The Way" broke into the top 70 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. Other songs he was known for included "Who Will I Choose" and "Kiss and Make Up."

On November 3, 1991, at 2:17 A.M., Bender was shot and killed in Brockton while sitting in his blue Mercedes Benz outside of the Crescent Court housing project where his mother lived. Eroy Kindell was convicted of second degree murder and has been recently released from prison. His accomplice Stephen "Sticks" Fernandes was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

The Mysterious Death & Severe Mental Illness Of A Sesame Street Actor:

Northern James Calloway (January 22, 1948 – January 9, 1990) was an actor who played David on Sesame Street from 1971 through 1989, and also voiced Muppet characters including Same Sound Brown.

On Sesame Street, his character David was studying to be a lawyer, but when Mr. Hooper died, David took over Hooper's Store. He was a favorite among the many viewers of Sesame Street during his time on the show, but his later career was increasingly hampered by a serious decline in his mental health until he had to be dismissed from the show and later institutionalized.

In his early thirties, Calloway slowly began to exhibit signs of bipolar disorder which led to a nervous breakdown on the morning of September 19, 1980 in Nashville, Tennessee. He beat marketing director of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center Mary Stagaman with an iron rod, giving her serious head and rib injuries. He then fled into the suburbs of Nashville.

Along the way, he smashed a plate-glass window and storm door at one house and did extensive damage to the interior of another, destroying the family's collection of fine crystal, smashing a television set and breaking light bulbs with his bare hands.

He also stole a backpack from a first grader and smashed a windshield with a rock before fleeing the scene where witnesses reported him wearing only a Superman T-shirt. He was arrested after hiding out in a couple's garage, screaming "Help! I'm David from Sesame Street and they're trying to kill me!"

Despite this incident, Calloway continued to work on Sesame Street, with Calloway promising to continue taking his prescribed lithium. Calloway's final years on the show were marked by periods of declining health and ability punctuated by episodes of erratic behavior; during these years, Calloway reportedly bit music coordinator Danny Epstein during an on-set fight, and he once appeared unannounced at actress Alison Bartlett's high school and proposed to her.

Calloway was subsequently fired from the show by Dulcy Singer for these two incidents.

In his authorized history Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, author Michael Davis reveals that Calloway had been a patient at the Stony Lodge psychiatric facility in Ossining, New York at the end of his life. On January 9, 1990 Calloway died after going into cardiac arrest during a violent altercation with a staff physician. This version of events has been disputed.

He was then taken to Phelps Memorial Hospital in North Tarrytown, where he was pronounced dead at the age of 41.

A coroner's report listed Calloway's official cause of death as exhaustive psychosis, now more commonly referred to as excited delirium syndrome (EDS). He was survived by his mother, a brother, and a sister.

Despite the official death claim, it's been alleged that the Medical Examiner couldn't determine the cause of death.

Alphonso "Fonce" Mizell (and his brothers) were members of The Corporation, the Motown hit-making production team that wrote and produced all of The Jackson 5's essential early hits from 1969 through 1971, including "I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," "Mama's Pearl," and "Maybe Tomorrow." The Corporation also consisted of Motown founder Berry Gordy plus writer-producers Deke Richards, who brought Fonce to the company, and Freddie Perren, a classmate of the Mizell's at Howard who also later worked for Sky High Productions.

When Motown moved to Los Angeles, the Mizell brothers joined up with trumpet player Donald Byrd under whom they had studied while at Howard University. Their first album, Black Byrd on the Blue Note label, was the first of a string of albums together that would define fusion jazz and lay the foundation for acid jazz and neo soul.

Alphonso "Fonce" Mizell died on July 5, 2011. He was 68 years old. The cause of death is unknown.

1994: In 1971, Darine Stern was the first African American to appear on the cover of Playboy magazine.

Stern, 46, of Martha's Vineyard, died of complications from breast cancer (1994) in Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Stern modeled for 17 years in the 1970s and 1980s. During that span, she was represented by Ford Models,( New York) Nina Blanchard, (Los Angeles), Ellen Hart, (Europe), and Shirley Hamilton Models of (Chicago).

"Darine was one of the first entrepreneurs among black women," said Shirley Hamilton.

Backstory:

Darine Stern was well liked and respected in the fashion industry. She was also pursued by famous men (including Marlon Brando).

She danced on Soul Train alongside Pat Cleveland, Sterling St. Jacques and Heather Hunter. She was also a regular at Studio 54.

Despite her glamorous lifestyle, Stern became a savvy businesswoman with an array of good investments.

She lived comfortably on Martha's Vineyard until her death.

Sept. 2011: Los Angeles County John Kades says Vesta Williams was found dead at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in an El Segundo hotel room. An autopsy will determine the cause of death, but Kades says “this could be a drug overdose.”

According to her listing in Wikipedia, Williams was born December 1, 1957 in Coshocton, Ohio. She was originally credited by her full name, but she has also been billed as Vesta since the 1990s.

Although Williams never had any albums certified gold and never had any Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, she scored seven Top 20 R&B hits (including Congratulations and Once Bitten, Twice Shy) from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.

September 2011: McKinley "Bug" Williams was an original member of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. Williams passed away on September 2, 2011 due to a heart attack.

Williams was present when the group went through several transitions, including their days as "Raw Soul" and the group's mentoring by the late Marvin Gaye. It was Gaye who suggested a final name change.

"THE MYSTERIOUS & SUDDEN DEATH OF A POPULAR-GAY MODEL"

Oct. 2011: Popular actor/model Maurice Murrell died suddenly. There are few details on Maurice's death but tributes are pouring in across Facebook and YouTube.

Maurice was one of the first cover models of the re-launched CLIK in January 2006. That cover launched a career in modeling and film. The New Jersey- and New York City-based model appeared in numerous magazines, calendars, two coffee table books and the cover of Lee Hayes' Flesh to Flesh anthology. He also appeared in the film "Finding Me," and its new sequel "Finding Me: Truth."

Source: Rod 2.0

Nov. 2011:

Hip-hop artist Heavy D died Tuesday after collapsing outside his condo in Beverly Hills, and as the music community and other fans offered condolences, an autopsy was on tap to pin down the 44-year-old's cause of death.

Heavy D, real name Dwight Arrington Myers, had trouble breathing when he arrived home after a shopping trip, L.A. Now reported. He was conscious when authorities arrived, but died later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Authorities said that he may have died from complications of pneumonia, with a source telling The Times' Andrew Blankstein the rapper had seen a doctor for a cough in recent days.

Sept. 2011: Sylvia Robinson, a singer, songwriter and record producer who formed the pioneering hip-hop group Sugarhill Gang and made the first commercially successful rap recording with them, died on Thursday in Edison, N.J. She was 75.


She had been in a coma at the New Jersey Institute of Neuroscience and died there of congestive heart failure, a family spokeswoman said. Ms. Robinson lived in Englewood, N.J.

Ms. Robinson had a successful career as a rhythm and blues singer long before she and her husband, Joe Robinson, formed Sugar Hill Records in the 1970s and went on to serve as the midwives for a musical genre that came to dominate pop music.

She sang with Mickey Baker as part of the duo Mickey & Sylvia in the 1950s and had several hits, including “Love Is Strange,” a No. 1 R&B song in 1957. She also had a solo hit, under the name Sylvia, in the spring of 1973 with her sultry and sexually charged song “Pillow Talk.”

In the late 1960s, Ms. Robinson became one of the few women to produce records in any genre when she and her husband founded All Platinum Records. She played an important role in the career of The Moments, producing their 1970 hit single “Love on a Two-Way Street.”

But she achieved her greatest renown for her decision in 1979 to record the nascent art form known as rapping, which had developed at clubs and dance parties in New York City in the 1970s. She was the mastermind behind the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the first hip-hop single to become a commercial hit. Some called her “the mother of hip-hop.”

“Back in the days when you couldn’t find females behind the mixing board, Sylvia was there,” said Dan Charnas, the author of “The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop” (2010). “It was Sylvia’s genius that made ‘Rapper’s Delight’ a hit.”

At the time, the label the Robinsons had founded was awash in lawsuits and losing money. Facing financial ruin, Ms. Robinson got an inspiration when she heard Lovebug Starski rapping over the instrumental breaks in disco songs at the Harlem World nightclub.

“She saw where a D.J. was talking and the crowd was responding to what he was saying, and this was the first time she ever saw this before,” her son, Joey Robinson, recalled in a 2000 interview with NPR. “And she said, ‘Joey, wouldn’t this be a great idea to make a rap record?’ ”

Using Joey Robinson as a talent scout, she found three young, unknown rappers in Englewood — Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee — and persuaded them to record improvised rhymes as the Sugarhill Gang (sometimes rendered as Sugar Hill Gang) over a nearly 15-minute rhythm track adapted from Chic’s “Good Times.”

The song was “Rapper’s Delight,” and the Robinsons chartered a new label, Sugar Hill Records, to produce it. It sold more than 8 million copies, reached No. 4 on the R&B charts and No. 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100, opening the gates for other hip-hop artists.

Ms. Robinson later signed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and in 1982 she was a producer of their seminal song, “The Message.” It was groundbreaking rap about ghetto life that became one of the most powerful social commentaries of its time, laying the groundwork for the gangsta rap of the late 1980s.

Ernest “Ernie” Eugene Barnes, Jr. (July 15, 1938 – April 27, 2009) was an African-American painter, well-known for his unique style of elongation and movement. He was also a professional football player, actor and author.

In December 1959 Barnes was drafted in the 10th round by the then-World Champion Baltimore Colts. He was originally selected in the 8th-round by the Washington Redskins, who renounced the pick minutes after discovering he was a Negro.

Later that month, on December 27, 1959, Barnes was invited to see the Colts’ NFL Championship Game vs. the New York Giants at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. The Colts won 31-16 and Barnes was filled with layers of emotion after watching the game from behind the Colts' bench. He had just signed his football contract and met his new teammates Johnny Unitas, Jim Parker, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Alan Ameche and "Big Daddy" Lipscomb.

In 1981 Barnes played the famed baseball catcher Josh Gibson of the Negro league in the television movie Don’t Look Back: The Story of Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige with Lou Gossett, Jr., who played Paige.

Throughout the Good Times television series (1974–79) most of the paintings “created” by the character JJ are works by Ernie Barnes. However a few images, including a Black Jesus, were not by Barnes. Sugar Shack made its debut on Good Times when it was used during the opening and closing credits during the show’s fourth season. In the fifth season it was only used in the closing credits. In the sixth season, Sugar Shack was only used in the opening credits for the first eight episodes and in a few closing credits during that season. In the fifth and sixth seasons, Sugar Shack appears in the background of the Evans family apartment.

Barnes had a bit part on two early episodes of Good Times.

Barnes died on April 27, 2009 at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, California from a rare blood disorder. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Durham, North Carolina near the site of where his family home once stood, and at the beach in Carmel, California, one of his favorite cities.

MEMPHIS, TN – 2010: Court documents detail a transaction between Lorenzen Wright (above) and an admitted associate of accused Memphis drug kingpin Craig Petties. The documents states: In 2008, Wright sold two luxury cars, a Cadillac SUV and Mercedes Benz to a man named Bobby Cole. At the time Cole was indicted on drug distribution charges in a case in Atlanta and admitted to FBI agents that he was associated with a drug ring connected to Petties. The cars were ultimately seized by the government.

Wright’s bullet riddled body was found in a field, hundreds of yards away from a road often traveled. His body was behind a group of bushes where black marks remain after days of decomposition.

MOST RECENT UPDATE!

Lorenzen Wright's assistant (Wendy Wilson) told a Memphis news station that she had audio recordings of Wright’s ex wife Sherry (above) threatening him! Wendy Wilson told ABC24-WPTY that she played the recordings for Lorenzen, his parents and Memphis police before his murder.

“I have the evidence that she said these things… and she knows it,” Lorenzen’s former personal assistant Wendy Wilson says. While describing the tone of the calls, Wilson said, “Oh, just basically… things like if she caught him with anyone else, she’d have him ‘F’d up’ or whatever.” She went on to say, “I’ve let the mother hear, I’ve let the father hear, I’ve let him hear. I went to Memphis police because I was concerned and made a report. Her conversation was all over… but at the same time it was threatening.”

From the day Lorenzen Wright’s body was found riddled with bullets in a grassy field in Southeast Memphis, Wilson insisted the investigation should focus on Wright’s ex-wife, Sherra. Wilson says the recordings she made of Sherra Wright’s conversations were so unsettling she warned Lorenzen, his parents and Memphis police.

Sherra Wright’s divorce attorney, Gail Mathes, paints a different picture of her client. Mathes says Sherra is a devoted and loving mother of six, struggling to pay the bills. “He gave her a little bit of money and she kept track of it. But, he wasn’t giving her much to support the family,” Mathes said.

When the couple divorced, the court ordered Lorenzen to pay Sherra $26,000 a month in child support and alimony. Mathes says the former NBA player, who earned more than $50 million during his career, hadn’t made any payments since November. “I just feel like Sherra Wright is being placed in a bad light,” Mathes says. “She does not deserve it all. She’s been an incredible mother and woman. And she’s done her best to shield her children from finical difficulties.”

The children are now left to grow up without their famous father; a hometown hero who, Wendy Wilson says, trusted her to have his back… just in case. “He’s a friend and he asked me to keep the tapes,” Wilson said. “I’m a friend to the end, but when it’s all said and done, he wouldn’t have asked me to keep them if he didn’t think he’d need them someday.”

Lorenzen Wright’s family declined to comment on the situation.

This case remains unsolved.

Cornell Gunter died on February 26, 1990. He was a member of the Platters before joining the Coasters.

Cornell (who was gay) was in the process of making a new comeback at the "Lady Luck Hotel," when an unknown assailant shot him in his car in Las Vegas.

He was shot twice in his head, sitting behind the wheel of his car. Trying to escape, he attempted to speed away, but due to his severe injuries he drove into a brick wall-the murderer ran away (a 19-year-old man was later acquitted for the slaying).

Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bill Cosby paid for his funeral expenses.

Cornell Gunter's bass player (Nathan "Buster" Wilson) was shot in the head in 1980 while at home. Unfortunately, it didn't stop here. He also had his arms, legs and head removed and his fingerprints were removed by acid.

He was apparently killed because he knew of a fraudulent checking scheme.

"BLACK SOAP OPERA ACTOR DIED OF AIDS"

Irving Allen Lee (November 21, 1948 - September 5, 1992) was an African American actor known for playing Detective Calvin Stoner on The Edge of Night from 1977-1984 and Dr. Evan Cooper on Ryan's Hope from 1986-1988. He died from an AIDS related illness in 1992.

Backstory:

Irving Allen Lee, a Broadway and television actor and director, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 43 years old.

He died of AIDS-related lymphoma, said his companion, John Uehlein.

Mr. Lee appeared in several musicals, including "Ride the Winds," "Rock-a-Bye Hamlet" and "A Broadway Musical." He replaced Ben Vereen in "Pippin," was the original understudy for the two male roles in "Ain't Misbehavin' " and recreated the role of Big Daddy in the revival of Bob Fosse's "Sweet Charity." As a director, Mr. Lee staged productions at the Manhattan Theater Club, the Henry Street Settlement and the Boston Summer Arts Theater Festival.

He was born in New York City and received a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater from Boston University. After college, he joined the Olatunji African Dance Company and became the associate artistic director of its newly formed theater company.

On television, he performed in "The Edge of Night," "Ryan's Hope" and "As the World Turns." He was also an adjunct professor in the theater arts division of Marymount Manhattan College.

He is survived by his parents, Allen and Ruth Lee of Charleston, S.C., and two brothers, Kenneth and Charles, of New York City.

Johnny Bristol first came to local attention in the Detroit area as a member of the soul duo 'Johnny & Jackey' with Jackey Beavers, an associate Bristol met while in the U.S. Air Force. The pair recorded two singles in 1959 for Anna Records, a label owned by Gwen Gordy (Berry Gordy's sister) and Billy Davis and four 45s for Gwen Gordy and Harvey Fuqua's Tri-Phi label, none of which was a success beyond the Midwestern United States.

In the mid 1960s, Motown had absorbed Tri-Phi and Bristol began working with Fuqua as a songwriter and producer. Among their successes as producers were hit singles such as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1967), "Your Precious Love" (1967), and "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" (1968); Edwin Starr's "Twenty-Five Miles" (1969); and David Ruffin's "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" (1969).

Bristol flourished at Motown working with some of the label's best-selling acts. His producer and/or writer credits included: The Velvelettes "These Things Keep Me Loving You" (1973); Gladys Knight & the Pips' "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" (1971) and "Daddy Could Swear, I Declare" (1972); and Jr. Walker & the All Stars, who charted with a number of Bristol-written songs, including "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" (1969), "Gotta Hold On To This Feeling" (1970) and "Walk in the Night" (1972). One of his last successes was Jermaine Jackson's first solo record, "That's How Love Goes" (1972).

Notably, Bristol was the producer and co-writer of the final singles for both Diana Ross & the Supremes and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, before each group lost its namesake lead singer. While the Miracles' "We've Come Too Far to End It Now" (1972) was an original, the Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together" (1969) was a cover version of a Johnny & Jackey single from 1961. Bristol is the male voice on the Supremes' version of "Someday We'll Be Together," singing response to Diana Ross' lead vocal (Ross actually recorded the song with session singers replacing the other two Supremes).

Bristol left Motown in 1973 to join CBS as a producer. He worked with a number of emerging singers that included Randy Crawford, for whom Bristol wrote "Caught in Love's Triangle", as well as producing established performers such as Marlena Shaw, Johnny Mathis and Boz Scaggs. Now in his early 30s, he was anxious to resume his own recording career, and when CBS/Columbia showed little enthusiasm he signed a recording contract with MGM.

At MGM, Bristol recorded two successful albums and charted with several singles, notably "Hang on in There Baby" (inspired by an adult film).

Johnny Bristol died in in 2004 (of natural causes) at the age of sixty-five.

Tragedy struck, however, when Addie "Micki" Harris McPherson suffered a massive heart attack onstage while performing in Atlanta, Georgia, in June 1982.

Paramedics were unable to save her; Harris died doing what she most loved at the age of 42. In the wake of Harris' tragic death, the original Shirelles disbanded; later, different groups including various former members of the band performed under the name. But the talent and cohesion of the original quartet of high school friends would never again be matched.

Danitra Vance (July 13, 1954 – August 21, 1994) was an American comedienne and actress best known as a cast member on the NBC sketch show "Saturday Night Live," during its eleventh season and for work in feature films like Sticky Fingers (1988), Limit Up (1990) and Jumpin' at the Boneyard (1992).

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, Vance underwent a single mastectomy and incorporated the experience into a solo skit, "The Radical Girl's Guide to Radical Mastectomy." The cancer recurred in 1993 and she died of the disease the following year in Markham, Illinois. She was survived by her longtime companion, Ms. Jones Miller.

July 2011: Butch Lewis (above-right), the flamboyant boxing promoter and manager best known for getting Michael Spinks a $13.5 million pay day for what became 91 seconds in the ring with Mike Tyson, died Saturday at his home in Bethany Beach, Del. He was 65.

His death was announced by Terrie Williams, a representative of his family, who said it was from natural causes.

A shrewd and tenacious figure with a gift for showmanship, Lewis went from the life of a street hustler and used-car salesman in Philadelphia to the pinnacle of dealmaking in the boxing world of the late 1970s and the 1980s.

He made his reputation mostly for representing Leon Spinks and his brother, Michael, who had both won gold medals at the 1976 Olympics.

Louis A. McCall Sr. (first photo) and singer/guitarist Michael Cooper formed Con Funk Shun as high school students in Vallejo, California.

Louis met his wife, Linda Lou Bolden, in 1973, both were working at Stax Records. The couple married on January 15, 1976 in a civil ceremony in San Francisco, California. They had two children, Lindsay Chérie (born in 1979) and Louis Anthony II (born in 1982). In addition to being the band's leader, responsible for booking many of their most lucrative tours, Louis, along with Linda Lou, wrote several songs for Con Funk Shun.

"Honey Wild," (co-written with Con Funk Shun member Danny Thomas), from their 1980 Spirit of Love album was sampled by Lil Wayne for his CD Tha Carter III-Deluxe Edition.

Louis McCall was murdered in a robbery at his Stone Mountain, Georgia home on June 25, 1997. His wife Linda Lou fought to keep the case active for eleven years, even asking the Governor of Georgia to assist in reopening the case in 2003. Finally, a suspect was indicted in 2007 in connection with the murder.

It would take another year before the case made it trial on July 21, 2008, with Marques Clair as a defendant. However, just two days after the start of Clair's murder trial, Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams halted the trial, "based on an omission" of information, said Jada Hudspeth, a spokeswoman for the DeKalb County Georgia district attorney's office. Hudspeth said District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming and her staff would evaluate the evidence in the case before deciding whether to retry Clair.

Marques Clair, 29 at the time of trial, was arrested as a suspect in McCall's slaying in 1999, but prosecutors dropped the charge due to the District Attorney's refusal to bring the case before a jury with insufficient evidence.

On August 7, 2008, after a mistrial was declared, the charges against Marques Clair were formally dismissed with prejudice. After a stressful and futile eleven years, Linda Lou (who had also been battling lupus for many years) and her children left Georgia. They currently reside in Phoenix, Arizona.

August 2011: Details of Paris Dupree’s death remain unconfirmed, but friends and fans began Tweeting “R.I.P. Paris Dupree” on August 15. She was living in New York City at the time of her passing. Dupree made her mark as one of the “big five” House mothers in New York’s ballroom scene. She founded the House of Dupree in the 1970’s alongside her fellow mothers Angie Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey, Avis Pendavis and Pepper LaBeijia.

"The ballroom runway ‘Grand Prize Competition’ in heaven got a bit thicker this week with the passing of Mother Paris Dupree," says famed performer Karl Xtravaganza. "Her death signals the end of an era."

Dupree’s passing also came at a very emotional time for the ballroom community, with two other deaths reported in the last few days, performers Kevin Magnifique Milan and Leo Xtravaganza.

Dupree is seen on the Paris is Burning DVD cover at upper right in the black hat.

August 2011: Nick Ashford, one-half of the legendary Motown songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson, has died at age 70.

Nick Ashford, who wrote many Motown classics with his wife Valerie Simpson, died Monday. He was 70.

His longtime friend and former publicist Liz Rosenberg told the Associated Press that Ashford — who along with wife Valerie Simpson wrote some of Motown's biggest hits — died Monday in a New York City hospital. He had been suffering from throat cancer and had undergone radiation treatment.

Among the songs Ashford & Simpson penned are "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need To Get By," and "Reach Out And Touch Somebody's Hand."

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

August 2011: Esther Gordy Edwards, who helped build Motown Records alongside her brother Berry Gordy Jr. and led efforts to turn its original Detroit headquarters into a museum, has died. She was 91.

Edwards died Wednesday surrounded by family and friends in Detroit, the Motown Historical Museum said in a statement.

Edwards was a Motown executive for nearly three decades, holding numerous leadership positions within the music company whose artists included Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and The Four Tops. Motown Records, which Berry Gordy started with a family loan in 1959, churned out scores of global hits from the building it dubbed "Hitsville, U.S.A." in Detroit. The company moved to Los Angeles in 1972.

Seagram Miller, 26, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Oakland, Calif., in July 1996.

The gangsta rapper released three records on the Rap-a-Lot label.

Miller escaped injury in a shooting directed at him four days earlier that injured a police officer. Authorities say drug dealers from Oakland's 69th Avenue (housing projects) put out a hit on hip-hop artist, because he released an album decrying drugs and gangs in the "69 Ville" projects-where he lived.

Jason "Camoflauge"Johnson (December 9, 1981 - May 19, 2003), also known as Camoflauge, was a rapper from Hitch Village housing

Seeking to put his life experiences to tape, Camoflauge started his rap career when he sold 20,000 copies of Crime Pay$, an album he released with the hip-hop group Crime Affiliates.

Universal Music Group offered the rapper a deal. However, when Camoflauge was arrested for possession of crack cocaine, Universal did not pick up the option on his contract, even though the charges were later dropped. He opened for heavyweight rap acts such as 8 Ball, MJG, Scarface, Master P, Ice-T, Pastor Troy, Lil Boosie, Birdman, Trick Daddy, and Ludacris. His last album, Keepin It Real, was released in August 2002. He was gunned down outside of a recording studio in May 2003. He was only 21 years of age.

May 2011: American plus-size model and actress Mia Amber Davis has died at the age of 36 in Los Angeles, California. Davis, who appeared in the film Road Trip, died one day after undergoing routine knee surgery.

Davis was more than 6 feet tall and weighed over 300 pounds. She was having the surgery after a prolonged basketball injury from her college days. The model returned to the hospital after feeling dizzy and later died there.

Over three years after his murder in New York City, a suspect has finally been arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of DJ Carl Blaze. The Power 105.1 mixer was shot 13 times in the Inwood Section of Washington Heights in December 2006, and robbed of his $20,000 CB gold/diamond studded chain.

Police believe that Zarnoff Taylor, 23, was in a member of a violent gang of drug dealers and motorcycle thieves, who operated in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. According to the New York Post, police believe the robbery was an inside job and that DJ Carl Blaze was set up by someone in his neighborhood.

Taylor is also accused of shooting and killing two men in the Bronx on 16th April. Police claim Taylor shot and killed Jonathan Torres and seriously wounded Juan Quinones. He then allegedly dumped them from a 2001 Dodge Caravan on a street in the Bronx.

June 2011: Clarence Clemons, the larger-than-life saxophone player for the E Street Band who was one of the key influences in Bruce Springsteen's life and music through four decades, has died. He was 69.

Clemons was hospitalized about a week ago after suffering a stroke at his home in Singer Island, Fla. He died of complications from the stroke, spokeswoman Marilyn Laverty said Saturday.

Known as the Big Man for his imposing 6-foot-5-inch, 270-plus pound frame, Clemons and his ever-present saxophone spent much of his life with The Boss, and his booming saxophone solos became a signature sound for the E Street Band on many key songs, including "Jungleland," a triumphant solo he spent 16 hours perfecting, and "Born To Run."

In recent years, Clemons had been slowed by health woes. He endured major spinal surgery in January 2010 and, at the 2009 Super Bowl, Clemons rose from a wheelchair to perform with Springsteen after double knee replacement surgery.

August 2011: Bubba Smith, a former All-Pro football player turned actor and commercial pitchman who delighted TV viewers by wrenching off the tops of "easy-opening cans" of beer, was found dead Wednesday at his Los Angeles home. He was 66.

The cause of death has not been determined, the L.A. County coroner's office said.

A caretaker found Smith at his Baldwin Hills home, police said.

A 6-foot-7, 280-pound defensive end, Smith was the No. 1 NFL draft pick from Michigan State University when he joined the Baltimore Colts in 1967.

He played five seasons for the Colts, which included their upset loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III and a victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. He spent two seasons with the Oakland Raiders and two more with the Houston Oilers before a knee injury ended his career in 1976.

After football, Smith was recruited to the ranks of former professional athletes who appeared as themselves in commercials for Miller Lite beer. He and fellow NFL veteran Dick Butkus were cast as inept golfers and polo players in the TV spots. Smith was also featured solo in one commercial extolling the virtues of the beer, beaming into the camera, "I also love the easy-opening cans," while ripping off the top of the can.

Despite a lucrative contract and widespread popularity, Smith walked away from the job.

"I went back to Michigan State for the homecoming parade last year," Smith told then-Times columnist Scott Ostler in 1986. "I was the grand marshal and I was riding in the back seat of this car. The people were yelling, but they weren't saying, 'Go, State, go!' One side of the street was yelling, 'Tastes great!' and the other side was yelling 'Less filling!'

"Then we go to the stadium. The older folks are yelling 'Kill, Bubba, kill!' But the students are yelling 'Tastes great! Less filling!' Everyone in the stands is drunk. It was like I was contributing to alcohol, and I don't drink. It made me realize I was doing something I didn't want to do."

So he turned to acting in movies and TV, notably playing Moses Hightower in six "Police Academy" movies. He also appeared in a number of TV series, including "Half-Nelson," "Blue Thunder" and "Good Times."

September 2011: Lee Roy Selmon, the Hall of Fame defensive end who became a cornerstone of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their first decade in the National Football League and remained a revered figure in Tampa, Fla., died there Sunday. He was 56. Casue of death: A stroke.

August 2011: Zachery Tims, founder of the megachurch New Destiny Christian Center, is dead and police believe it may be because of a drug overdose.

A police source told the New York Daily News that a small glassine envelope allegedly containing a white powder was found on Tims. He was found dead in a hotel room at the W Hotel in Times Square, New York City, on Friday. However, the New York Medical Examiner hasn't yet published any definitive results following an inconclusive autopsy earlier this week.

Police will test the powder to determine if it's a form of narcotics, the source told the New York paper.

Tims, a former drug addict, was delivered from the habit when he was converted to Christianity. He was then called into ministry, according the church's Web site.

Tims, 42, started the 8,000-member church in Apopka, Fla. in 1996. His death has shocked the congregation.

Some of his followers have asked that the public not to judge Tims, especially seeing that no official reports have been released.

Lorenzo Emile "Lo" Charles (November 25, 1963 – June 27, 2011) was a college and professional basketball player.

Charles was a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School. While playing for the North Carolina State University Wolfpack, Charles scored the game-winning dunk in the championship game of the 1983 NCAA Tournament over the heavily favored Houston Cougars led by Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler and the rest of Phi Slama Jama. Coincidentally, Charles would go on to play for a Cougars team years later — for the United States Basketball League's Raleigh Cougars.

Charles was selected 41st overall in the 1985 NBA draft and went on to have a modest professional career, playing briefly in the National Basketball Association with the Atlanta Hawks, as well as with several European teams, particularity in Italy for Arexons Cantù and Irge Desio.

Charles died on June 27, 2011, in a bus crash on Interstate 40 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was at the controls of the Elite Coach rental bus; there were no passengers.

Sept. 2011: Orlando Brown, a bruising offensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens who was temporarily blinded in one eye by a referee’s errant penalty flag, leading him to file a $200 million lawsuit against the NFL, was found dead in his Baltimore apartment. He was 40.

There were no signs of foul play or suspicious materials at the scene, Anthony Guglielmi, director of public affairs for the Baltimore Police Department, said.

Brown, a 6-foot-7, 360-pound lineman nicknamed "Zeus," was a stalwart for both the Ravens and the Browns.

He was one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the NFL and started 119 games in his 129-game career.

2004: In a varied career which took him from Motown to Madison Avenue, Billy Davis helped many rhythm'n'blues stars of the Fifties and Sixties and contributed to the most memorable advertising jingle and song of the early Seventies.

Roquel Billy Davis, songwriter, record producer and advertising executive; born Detroit 11 July 1932; married (one son); died in New York.

As well as co-writing several of Jackie Wilson's biggest hits under the pseudonym "Tyran Carlo" with his then girlfriend Gwen Gordy and her brother Berry Gordy. Davis helped launch Anna Records, the Detroit label which paved the way for Tamla Motown. He also had a seven-year spell as producer and artist and repertoire director at Chicago's Chess Records, producing "Rescue Me", the hugely popular record by the soul singer Fontella Bass, in 1965. Three years later, the versatile Davis switched to writing jingles and became music director for the McCann Erickson advertising agency in New York.

In January 1972, he really hit pay-dirt when "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)", based on "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke", one of his jingles for Coca-Cola written in partnership with the British songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, reached No 1 in the UK for the New Seekers. It went on to sell six million copies around the world. Another version, by the Hillside Singers, also made the US charts and sold a further million and a half.

The song about the iconic soft drink became a standard and made Billy Davis very rich but he remained active into his seventies and had just finished producing 19 Days in New York, the forthcoming album by the Australian singer Kate Ceberano.

Born in Detroit in 1932, Billy Davis became involved in the local music scene when he began managing the Four Aims, a vocal group featuring his cousin Lawrence Payton alongside Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir and Renaldo "Obie" Benson. In the early Fifties, he would occasionally appear alongside the quartet as the Fifth Aim if he wasn't singing tenor-baritone with the 5 Jets or the 5 Stars.

"My career started early, singing on street corners," he remembered:

There was a doo-wop group for every neighbourhood and talent shows every week. That's when my desire to become a singer got strong.

However, the young Davis showed more promise as a songwriter. His friend the Detroit store-owner Joe Battle sent in some of his compositions to a California record company which paid Davis $356 for a ditty called "Lessie Mae". "This changed my attitude towards writing. From then on, I wrote three or four songs a day," claimed Davis, who was still hustling on behalf of his cousin's group, now renamed the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the Ames Brothers.

In 1956, he got Chess Records in Chicago interested in recording a single - "Kiss Me Baby"/"Could It Be You" - by the Four Tops but, to clinch the deal, he had to give the label two of his compositions ("See Saw" was released by the Moonglows and the Flamingos cut the tender ballad "A Kiss from Your Lips").

Davis was hoping to go to university when he began dating Gwen Gordy, the sister of Berry Gordy Jnr, who fancied himself as a tunesmith and local entrepreneur even if his record shop, 3rd Jazz Mart, had gone bust. Davis was also related to the local rhythm'n'blues singer Jackie Wilson on his father's side and he began pitching their songs to the former boxer whose energetic live shows as lead tenor with the Dominoes had earned him the nickname "Mr Excitement".

When Wilson went solo in 1957 and signed to Brunswick, he recorded their infectious "Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You'll Ever Want to Meet)" and scored a minor pop hit in the US as well as making the Top Ten in Britain (when reissued in 1986, "Reet Petite" became the Christmas No 1).

Soon, Davis - who used the nom de plume "Tyran Carlo" at the time - and the Gordys were on a hit-songwriting roll for Wilson. They penned the ballad "To Be Loved" and the pleading "Lonely Teardrops" as well as "That's Why (I Love You So)" and the catchy "I'll Be Satisfied", four singles which helped the vocalist cross over from the rhythm 'n'blues listings into the mainstream US pop charts. However, they fell out with their manager Nat Tarnapol when he took over Wilson's affairs following the death of the impresario Al Greene.

"We didn't even know how much we were supposed to be paid," recalled Davis, who was quickly learning about contracts and royalties:

Nat Tarnapol's position was: "Jackie's a hit artist, I can get anybody to write for Jackie now." Our answer was: "If that's how you feel, since we're doing everything anyway, we can go out and find our own artists." That's what led to the concept of Motown. If it wasn't for that rejection, then maybe there wouldn't have been a Tamla Motown.

In 1958, Davis set up Anna Records in partnership with Gwen and Anna Gordy (who soon became Marvin Gaye's first wife). The label was distributed by Leonard and Phil Chess, who ran the Chicago blues home to Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters. The first release on Anna - catalogue number Anna 101 - was "Hope and Pray" by the Voicemasters, a quintet comprising such future Motown stalwarts as the songwriter Lamont Dozier and David Ruffin (Temptations).

Davis also worked on singles by the Miracles, Marv Johnson, Joe Tex and Johnny & Jackey (a.k.a. Johnny Bristol and Jackie Beavers).

In 1960, the catchy "Money (That's What I Want)", written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, and recorded by Barrett Strong became the first major hit on the Anna label, reaching No 23 in the American charts (it was one of several Motown songs subsequently covered by the Beatles). However, when Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows joined the operation, he started a relationship with Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis found himself edged out of the embryonic Tamla Motown set-up he had contributed so much to. In 1961 he left for Chicago and a job with Chess Records.

Davis engineered a shift towards a more soulful Chess, through the short-lived Check-Mate imprint and his work with the Dells, Billy Stewart, Etta James and her cousin Sugar Pie DeSanto and the Bobby McClure and Fontella Bass duo. By the time he produced a solo Fontella Bass on "Rescue Me" for Chess in August 1965, Billy Davis was aiming to out-do Motown with a rhythm section comprising the bassist Louis Sattersfield and the future Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White on drums.

"Fontella Bass sang live in the studio," he remembered:

She had big lungs, a wonderful sound, powerful and knock 'em dead delivery. "Rescue Me" wasn't a great song but it had those elements that I thought were great. It hit a groove and it stayed there. I decided to milk the groove even longer.

The success of "Rescue Me", which made the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic, led to Davis's being headhunted by the McCann Erickson agency in 1968 and his subsequent involvement with the "Coke" song. The germ of the idea came from the creative director Bill Backer - the man responsible for "Things Go Better With Coke" - in January 1971 when his London-bound plane from New York was diverted to Shannon airport in Ireland and he shared many bottles of Coca-Cola with fellow passengers while waiting for the fog to lift.

When he eventually reached London and told Roger Cook, Roger Greenaway and Billy Davis his idea, the last improved on it. "If I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke," said Davis. "I'd buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love."

A jingle given the working title "Mom, True Love and Apple Pie" was reworked by the four into "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" and Davis produced the London session with the New Seekers. In February 1971, US radio stations began broadcasting the ad. Davis knew he was on to a winner when some of his old DJ friends began calling him: "They were saying things like: 'I'm getting requests to play your commercial like it's a hit record, you should record it as a proper record.' "

The television spot showing hundreds singing the "Coke" song added further momentum to the campaign and, when the New Seekers' manager claimed his charges were too busy, Davis hastily assembled a New York soundalike session group he called the Hillside Singers to record "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)" for the US market.

A fortnight later, the New Seekers were back in the studio to lay claim to the European charts. The tune proved so successful that it was adapted in many foreign languages. The writers and publishers added further weight to the feel-good message when they agreed to give $80,000 from their royalties to Unicef.

Billy Davis rose to senior vice- president and music director at McCann Erickson, writing further jingles for the Coca-Cola Company - "Have a Coke and a Smile", "Coke is It" - Nescafé, Miller beers, Sony and Nabisco food products. "Using music in a commercial is a great aid to recall," he told interviewers:

It will help you remember the commercial and the product. Music allows you to add emotional content.

Pierre Perrone

Oct. 2011:  The Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth (above-center), a blunt-talking preacher who braved beatings, bombings and fire-hosings to push Birmingham, Ala., to the forefront of the civil rights movement and advanced the historic fight with a confrontational strategy that often put him at odds with its most charismatic leader, has died. He was 89.

Shuttlesworth had been in poor health for the last year and was hospitalized with breathing problems three weeks ago at Birmingham's Princeton Baptist Medical Center, where he died, said family spokeswoman Malena Cunningham.

He was the last of the civil rights movement's "Big Three"; he, along with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957.

In 2004 he tried to revive the venerable civil rights group when it was beset by infighting and financial problems, but was ousted after several months as president when the board rejected his vision of greater activism.

Nov. 2011:

He beat Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century, battled him nearly to the death in the Thrilla in Manila. Then Joe Frazier spent the rest of his life trying to fight his way out of Ali's shadow.

That was one fight Frazier could never win.

He was once a heavyweight champion, and a great one at that. Ali would say as much after Frazier knocked him down in the 15th round en route to becoming the first man to beat Ali at Madison Square Garden in March 1971.

But he bore the burden of being Ali's foil, and he paid the price. Bitter for years about the taunts his former nemesis once threw his way, Frazier only in recent times came to terms with what happened in the past and said he had forgiven Ali for everything he said.

Frazier, who died after a brief battle with liver cancer at the age of 67, will forever be linked to Ali. But no one in boxing would ever dream of anointing Ali as The Greatest unless he, too, was linked to Smokin' Joe.

Nov. 2011:

Patrice O'Neal, 41, a veteran stand-up comic who gained a wider following through TV and radio and helped roast Charlie Sheen in September, died Tuesday from complications of a stroke he suffered last month. O'Neal's manager, Jonathan Brandstein, said he died at a New York-area hospital.

Francis Gregory Alan "Greg" Morris (September 27, 1933 – August 27, 1996) was a television and movie actor.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Morris began his acting career in the 1960s making guest appearances on many TV shows such as The Twilight Zone and Ben Casey.

In 1966, he was cast in his most recognizable role as the electronics expert Barney Collier in the TV series Mission: Impossible. Morris, Peter Lupus and Bob

Johnson were the only actors to remain with the series throughout its entire run.

Morris died in 1996 of brain cancer in Las Vegas, Nevada. Shortly before his death, he went to see the film version of Mission: Impossible that starred Tom Cruise. The reports were that he disliked the movie so much (an opinion that was shared by several of his former co-stars) that he left the theater early.

According to The Associated Press, he said of the movie: "It's an abomination."

Morris was survived by an ex-wife and three children.

PART 1: BLACK CELEBS WHO DIED WITH LITTLE OR NO FANFARE  PART 2: BLACK CELEBS WHO DIED WITH LITTLE OR NO FANFARE