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Notable African American Deaths in 2016


Ralph David Abernathy III. March 17. Son of civil rights activist Dr. Ralph Abernathy. A former Georgia state senator, he died from complications due to colon cancer two days before turning 57.

Colonel Abrams. Nov. 25.  R & B and dance music singer who had several hit songs including “Trapped” and “I’m not Gonna Let You.” He was 67.


Muhammad Ali. June 3. World-renowned boxing champion and civil rights activist, died of respiratory complications at a Phoenix, Ariz., hospital. Known as “The Greatest,” he was 74.

Ernestine Anderson. March 10. Anderson was an American jazz and blues singer with a career that spanned six decades. She was 87.

Prince Be. June 17. His real name was Attrell Cordes, and he was part of the group P.M. Dawn. He was 46.

Howard Bingham. Dec. 15. Bingham was the photographer best known for documenting Muhammad Ali’s life. They were also friends. He was 77.

Tony Burton. Feb. 25. Burton played trainer Tony “Duke” Evers in the “Rocky” films. He was 78.

Nicholas Caldwell. Jan. 5. He died at age 71. Caldwell was one of the founders and lead singers of R&B group The Whispers.

Lady Chablis. Sept. 8. She became a gay icon after finding fame in the 1990s through the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” A transgender performer who died at age 59.

Otis Clay. Jan. 8. Clay was a soul singer and Blues Hall of Famer known for the 1960s hit “That’s How It Is.” He was 73.

Natalie Cole. Dec. 31, 2015. Although the R&B singer died at the end of 2015, her death wasn’t reported until Jan. 1. The 65-year-old Cole was a multi-Grammy Award winner.

Daryl Coley. March 15. Coley was a renowned Gospel and Christian singer. He was 60.


Phife Dawg. March 22. His real name was Malik Taylor, and he was a founding member of rap group A Tribe Called Quest.

Henry English. March 5. President and CEO of the Black United Fund. English, 73, reportedly suffered a heart attack. The Black United Fund, is a non-profit organization that has invested in economic development in Black communities, since 1985.

Tommy Ford. Oct. 12. At age 54, the actor died unexpectedly while recovering from surgery in an Atlanta hospital. Ford was best known as Tommy on the sitcom “Martin.”

Ron Glass. Nov. 25. Veteran TV actor Glass died at 71. He was best known on “Barney Miller,” “The  New Odd Couple” and “Firefly.”

Dennis Green. July 21. At age 67, the former NFL coach had a heart attack at his home. He coached the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals.

Herbert Hardesty. Dec. 3 – Hardesty played saxophone and trumpet with Fats Domino, Duke Ellington and Dave Bartholomew, among others. He was 91.

Youree Dell Harris. July 26. She was known as Miss Cleo, the TV psychic. She died of cancer at age 53.

Leon Haywood. April 5. He was an R&B and disco singer, who died in his sleep at age 74.

Gil Hill. Feb. 29. Hill was a police officer, an actor “Beverly Hills Cop” and president of the Detroit City Council. He was 84.

Bobby Hutcherson. Aug. 15. He was a renowned jazz vibraphonist. He was 75.


Gwen Ifill. Nov. 14. She was a PBS news anchor. She was 61.

Monte Irvin. Jan. 11. At age 96, the Hall of Fame outfielder was regarded as one on the best hitters and all around players in the Negro League. He became one of the first African Americans to play in the majors.

E.J. Jackson. Nov. 3. The 65-year-old was the founder and president of Jackson Limousine Service and known for providing Thanksgiving dinners in South Los Angeles.

Joan Marie Johnson. Oct. 8. Johnson was a founding member of the Dixie Cups trio, who rose to fame with “Chapel of Love.” She was 72.

Sharon Jones. Nov. 18. Jones was the lead singer of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, who found success after working as a prison guard for years. Cancer took her at age 60.

Herb Kent. Oct. 22. Kent was a beloved radio personality whose nickname was “The Cool Gent.” He was 88.

Daisy Lewellyn. April 7. Lewellyn starred in the first two seasons of “Blood, Sweat & Heels.” She was also once a magazine editor. She was 36.

Shawty Lo. Sept. 21. The Atlanta-based rapper died in a car crash at age 40.

James Allen McPherson. July 27. McPherson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for fiction for his collection of short stories called “Elbow Room,” died at age 73

Gloria Naylor. Sept. 28. She was 66. Naylor was a renowned author wrote about Black women in the 1980s and 1990s, including her prize-winning debut novel “The Women of Brewster Place.”

Bill Nunn. Sep. 24. An actor and a director. who died at age 63, after battling cancer.

Billy Paul. April 26. He was 81, when he died at his home in Blackwood, N.J. Paul was a soul singer best known for the hit “Me and Mrs. Jones.”


Prince Rogers Nelson. April 21. Known simply as Prince, the iconic singer/songwriter/musician died at age 57 at his palatial estate near Minneapolis. His case of death was reportedly drug-related.

Willie Rogers. Nov. 22. Rogers was 101. He was the oldest living Tuskegee Airman before his death. The Tuskegee Airmen overcame segregation and prejudice to become one of the most highly respected fighter groups of World War II.

Johnny P. Nov. 27. An R&B singer, he was best known for singing the hooks on songs for Tupac, Twista and others. He was 44.

Aaron Pryor. Oct. 9. Pryor was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 1999 was voted by Associated Press as the world’s best welterweight. He died from heart disease.

Clarence Reid. Jan. 17. Reid was also known as “Blowfly.” He wrote songs for Sam & Dave and other funk/R&B artists. He was 76.

Rashan Salaam. Dec. 5. Salaam won the Heisman Trophy in 1994. He played for Colorado and went on to play for the Chicago Bears. He was 42.

Kashif Saleem. Sept. 25. Formerly Michael Jones, Kashif was a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, record producer, artist, composer, author, director and educator from New York City. His musical contributions were vital to the post-disco development of R&B in the 1980s.

John Saunders. Aug. 10. The renowned sportscaster was found unresponsive in his New York home by his wife. The 61-year-old was a voice on ESPN for 30 years.


Afeni Shakur. May 2. The mother of iconic rapper Tupac Shakur. She was 69.

Kimbo Slice. June 6. The mixed martial arts star’s real name was Kevin Ferguson. He died at age 42 from heart failure.

Will Smith. April 9. A former NFL first-round draft pick, he was shot in New Orleans at age 34.

David Smyrl. March 22. He was an Emmy-winning actor best known for his role as Mr. Hanford on “Sesame Street.” He was 80.

Big Syke. Dec. 5. Syke was best known as a collaborator of Tupac Shakur. His real name was Tyruss Himes. He was 48.

Vanity. Feb. 15. Her real name was Denise Matthews. The “Pretty Mess” singer was once a member of Vanity 6 and also a protégé of Prince.

Horace Ward. April 27. Ward was a civil rights advocate and at one time a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Georgia. He was named Georgia’s first Black federal judge in 1979. He was 88.

Dwayne Alonzo “Pearl” Washington. April 20. He was a Syracuse basketball player who popularized the “shake and bake.” He was 52.

Maurice White. Jan. 4. He was a founding member of iconic group Earth Wind & Fire. He was 74, when he died in his sleep in his home in Los Angeles.

Ruby Wilson. Aug. 12. Known as the Queen of Beale Street in Memphis, she was a blues, gospel and soul singer. She was 68.

Bernie Worrell. June 24. He was 72, when he died due to lung cancer. Worrell was the keyboard player for Parliament-Funkadelic and an unofficial member of the Talking Heads.

John Young. May 8. He died at 67. Young was a former major league baseball player and baseball executive who founded a program (called Returning Baseball to the Inner City), dedicated to giving inner-city kids a chance to play baseball.

Buckwheat Zydeco. Sept. 24. At age 68, the musician was also known as Stanley Dural Jr. He is credited with introducing Zydeco music to the world.