As 2021 comes to a close it is time to commemorate some of the notable and celebrity figures that we have sadly said goodbye to over the last 12 months.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu (7 October 1931 – 26 December 2021)
The anti-apartheid and human-rights activist was born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, to Xhosa and Tswana parents, and dedicated his life to the rights of Black South Africans. Tutu propagated the idea of SA as “The Rainbow Nation” and was appointed by then President Nelson Mandela as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated allegations of human rights abuses during the apartheid era.
The legend that helped to end racial segregation with Nelson Mandela died age 90 in Cape Town with his family.
Rest in Power Desmond Tutu.
Virgil Abloh (30 September 1980 – 28 November 2021)
Fashion’s highest profile Black designer and creative mind behind Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections, died age 41 of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. Born in the eighties in Illinois, to Ghanaian immigrant parents, it was from his seamstress mother that he learned how to sew.
The ‘essence of modern creativity’ had been battling the disease privately for years and passed away in his home of Chicago.
Rest in Power Virgil Abloh.
Lee “Scratch” Perry (20 March 1936 – 29 August 2021)
Born in Kendal, Jamaica, the record producer and singer, noted for his innovative studio techniques and production style, was a pioneer in the 1970s development of dub music. His early adoption of remixing and studio effects to create new instrumental or vocal versions of existing reggae tracks added to his success. Perry worked with Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, Beastie Boys, The Clash, and many more. He passed away aged 81 at hospital in Jamaica.
Rest in Power Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Mary Wilson (6 March 1944 – 8 February 2021)
Born in Mississippi, Wilson was the founding member of The Supremes, the most successful Motown act of the 1960s and one of the best-selling girl groups of all time. The singer, best-selling author, motivational speaker, businesswoman, former U.S. Cultural Ambassador, mother, and grandmother, the legendary Mary Wilson made great strides on her inevitable journey to greatness. Wilson passed away at her home in Nevada aged 76.
Rest in Power Mary Wilson.
Cicely Tyson (19 December 1924 – 28 January 2021)
Born in the Bronx, New York City, award-winning actress, Cicely Tyson’s career spanned more than seven decades, beginning as a fashion model, and progressing to become known for her portrayal of strong African American women. In addition to her on screen career, she also conquered theatre, winning many awards for her performances.
The first black woman to wear her natural hair on TV, Wilson passed away this year aged 96, in her home of Harlem.
Rest in Power Cicely Tyson.
Bunny Wailer (10 April 1947 – 2 March 2021)
Neville O’Riley Livingston, known professionally as Bunny Wailer, was a Jamaican singer-songwriter and percussionist. Born in Kingston, he was an original member of The Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. A three-time Grammy Award winner, he is considered one of the long-time standard-bearers of reggae music. He was also known as Jah B, Bunny O’Riley, and Bunny Livingston. Wailer passed away in hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, aged 73.
Rest in Power Bunny Wailer.
Earl Simmons, DMX (18 December 1970 – 9 April 2021)
Earl Simmons, known by his stage name DMX, was an American rapper and actor, born in New York. With his debut album reaching critical acclaim, and his following albums’ gaining commercial success, he wrote and performed hit singles like “Party Up (Up In Here)” and “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”. DMX featured in many films and published a book of his memoirs entitled, E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX. He passed away aged 50.
Rest in Power DMX.
bell hooks (25 September 1952 – 15 December 2021)
Gloria Jean Watkins, known best by her pen name bell hooks, was an American author, professor, feminist, and social activist, born in Kentucky. Her writing focused on the intersectionality of race, capitalism, and gender, and she described their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. She published over 30 books and taught at institutions including Stanford University and Yale University, before founding the bell hooks Institute. hooks passed away at her home in Kentucky aged 69.
Rest in Power bell hooks.
Larry King (19 November 1933 – 23 January 2021)
Larry King was an American television and radio host, who over his career hosted more than 50,000 interviews. Born to Russian parents who emigrated to Brooklyn from Belarus, King desired to work in radio and broadcasting from his earliest days. King remained active as a writer and television personality throughout his life and founded the Larry King Cardiac Foundation, funding life-saving cardiac procedures for people who otherwise would not be able to afford them. Larry King passed away at hospital in Los Angeles, aged 87.
Rest in Power Larry King.
Wanda Young (9 August 1943 – 15 December 2021)
Wanda LaFaye Young was an American singer and part of the Motown female singing group the Marvelettes. Young brought Motown to the Billboard charts with ‘Please Mr. Postman”, of which remakes by The Beatles and the Carpenters’ reached No.1 around the world. It was the second song to ever hit No. 1 by two different artists. The Marvelettes were nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and again in 2015. Wanda Young passed away in Michigan, aged 78.
Rest in Power Wanda Young.
Kangol Kid (10 August 1966 – 18 December 2021)
Also known as Shaun Shiller Fequiere, Kangol Kid was an American hip hop producer, songwriter and breakdancer. Born in Brooklyn to Haitian parents, Shaun acquired his stage name from friends due to the many Kangol hats he owned and wore and was the first artist to endorse a product through his sponsorship with Kangol headwear. The hip-hop pioneer who was an advocate and fundraiser of breast cancer research, passed away in New York aged 55.
Rest in Power Kangol Kid.
Shirley McBay (4 May 1935 – 27 November 2021)
Shirley McBay was an American mathematician who founded the Quality Education for Minorities Network, a non-profit dedicated to improving minority education. She was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D from the University of Georgia, as well as receiving both a B.A and M.S in chemistry and an M.S in mathematics. McBay was recognised by Mathematically Gifted & Black as a Black History Month 2017 Honouree. Shirley McBay passed away in Los Angeles aged 86.
Rest in Power Shirley McBay.
Robbie Shakespeare (27 September 1953 – 8 December 2021)
Robbie Shakespeare was regarded as one of the most influential reggae bassists of all time. He grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, where he learnt to play bass, forming one half of the duo Sly and Robbie, with drummer Sly Dunbar. Robbie went on to collaborate with Madonna, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, and other greats, revolutionising the sound of reggae and dancehall music. He passed away in Florida, at the age of 68.
Rest in Power Robbie Shakespeare.
Greg Tate (14 October 1957 – 7 December 2021)
Gregory Tate was an American writer, musician, and producer, focusing on African American music and culture, helping to establish hip-hop as a genre worthy of music criticism. Tate’s parents were civil rights activists involved in the Congress of Racial Equality, with Tate later becoming the leading critic on Black culture for the Voice, and his work was published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone and many more. Tate passed away in New York City at the age of 64.
Rest in Power Greg Tate.
Melvin van Peebles (21 August 1932 – 21 September 2021)
Melvin van Peebles was an American actor, filmmaker, playwright, novelist, and composer, who gained a degree in literature before serving in the Air Force for over three years. He went on to write stories and make films depicting racism and what it means to be Black. His film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was one of many acclaimed by the Black Panther Party for its political resonance with the Black struggle. Peebles passed away at his home in Manhattan aged 89.
Rest in Power Melvin van Peebles.
Carl Bean (26 May 1944 – 7 September 2021)
Carl Bean was a was an American singer and activist who was the founding prelate of the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a liberal protestant denomination that is particularly welcoming of LGBTQ+ African Americans. Known for his version of the early gay liberation song “I Was Born This Way”, openly gay Bean was also an activist, campaigning for people with AIDS. Carl Bean passed away at the age of 77.
Rest in Power Carl Bean.
Michael K. Williams (22 November 1966 – 6 September 2021)
Michael Kenneth Williams was an American actor, known for his roles in The Wire (2002), When They See Us (2019), and Community (2011). Born in Brooklyn, he left school and quit his job to pursue a career as a dancer, proceeding to become an established actor. Williams also served as the American Civil Liberties Union celebrity ambassador to the Campaign for Smart Justice. His portrayals of openly gay characters were deemed to be revolutionary. Williams passed away in Brooklyn, aged 54.
Rest in Power Michael K. Williams.
Yaphet Kotto (15 November 1939 – 15 March 2021)
Yaphet Kotto was an American actor known for numerous film roles including portraying the main villain Dr. Kananga in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973), and his role in comedy thriller Midnight Run (1988) opposite Robert De Niro. Born in New York City, Kotto began his acting career aged 19, making his professional acting debut in Othello. Yaphet passed away aged 81.
Rest in Power Yaphet Kotto.
Menelik Shabazz (30 May 1954 – 28 June 2021)
Menelik Shabazz was a Barbados-born British film director, producer, educator, and writer, acknowledged as a pioneer in the development of independent Black British cinema, having been at the forefront of contemporary British filmmaking for more than 30 years. In 1998, Shabazz founded Black Filmmaker Magazine (BFM), the first Black film publication aimed at the global Black filmmaking industry, and over the next decade the publication was distributed in Europe and the US. In 1999 he started the BFM International Film Festival as a platform for screening black world cinema and to inspire British talent, which became the biggest of its kind in Europe. Shabazz passed away in Zimbabwe aged 67.
Rest in Power Menelik Shabazz.
Paul Mooney (4 August 1941 – 19 May 2021)
Paul Gladney, better known by stage name Paul Mooney, was an American comedian, writer, social critic, and actor and is best known for his collaborations with Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Dave Chappelle. Mooney grew up in California and began professionally writing for multiple successful shows such as Saturday Night Live. Mooney passed away at his home in California aged 79.
Rest in Power Paul Mooney.
Colin Powell (5 April 1937 – 18 October 2021)
Colin Luther Powell was an American politician, statesman, diplomat, and United States Army officer who served as the 65th United States secretary of state from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African American secretary of state. Powell was born in New York City in 1937 to parents who had immigrated from Jamaica, and after receiving a bachelor’s degree in geology from the City College of New York and upon graduation became an Army second lieutenant. He was a professional soldier for 35 years, during which time he to the rank of four-star general. Powell went on to have many political positions after his military service. Colin Powell passed away at the age of 84.
Rest in Power Colin Powell.