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Black Arts and Culture

2017: Famous People Who Died

In November, Della Reese died at age 86. She starred as heaven-sent Tess on the television series “Touched by an Angel,” a role many Americans remember from watching her each week.
Reese was one of several famous African-Americans who died in 2017. As we end the year, New Journal and Guide looks back at a few of those who were a part of our readership family through film, music, or on the stage.

In addition to her fans, she left behind children James, Franklin, and Dominique, as well as husband Franklin Lett. She was predeceased by daughter Deloreese.
In the late ’60s, she began to expand her career from a jazz nightclub act to all-around entertainer by breaking into television. She became a familiar face on the small screen, securing guest spots on a host of shows, including The Mod Squad, The Love Boat, Sanford and Son, MacGyver, Night Court, and The Young and the Restless, and, of course, Touched by An Angel.

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry died March 18 at age 90 in his native St. Louis.

One of the founding fathers of rock ’n’ roll, he recorded well-known hits such as “Maybellene,” “Johnny B. Goode” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

While much is known about his six Top 10 hits from 1955 through 1964, less is known about his private life. His real name was Charles Anderson Edward Berry. He was one of six children born to Henry, (a carpenter), and Martha (a teacher). The Berry family lived in a comfortable segregated neighborhood in St. Louis. His parents enjoyed poetry and other literature, which made a deep impression on their children.

Berry sang in a choir at a Baptist church and in the high school glee club. When Berry was 17, he and two friends stole a car and robbed three businesses in Kansas City. Berry received the maximum sentence of 10 years. Inside the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men in Algoa, Mo., he sang in a gospel group and learned to box, and he was released after serving three years.

Back in St. Louis, he worked at an auto plant and as a hairdresser, and supplemented his income by playing guitar in local bands. He married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs in 1948, and he and his wife would have four children. Berry is survived by his wife, Thelma Suggs, and his children, Ingrid Berry Clay, Chuck Berry Jr., Aloha Isa Lei Berry and Melody Exes Berry.

Bernie Casey

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Bernie Casey, former football star and ‘Bill & Ted’ actor, died on Sept. 19 at 78 from complications of a stroke.

He was born in Wyco, W. Va., on June 8, 1939 and raised in Columbus, Ohio. His real name was Bernard Terry Casey. His father, Frank, was a coal miner. His mother was the former Flossie Coleman. Their son received an athletic scholarship to Bowling Green State University where he excelled in track and field and football.

Casey signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 1961. He went on to play wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams before going back to his alma mater to get a master’s degree in fine arts.

Casey’s professional acting career began with “Guns of the Magnificent Seven,” a sequel to “The Magnificent Seven,” in 1969. He appeared in some 35 films.
His sister, Frankie Murray, survives him. His marriage to Paula Campbell ended in divorce. They had no children.

Cuba Gooding Sr.

Cuba Gooding Sr. died April 20 at age 72. Known for the 1972 hit “Everybody Plays the Fool,” he was the father of Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. The body of Cuba Gooding Sr. was found in a car in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles. Coroner’s Assistant Chief Ed Winter says the cause of death is under investigation, but drug paraphernalia and alcohol were found in the car parked on a busy street.

Gooding sang with the rhythm-and-blues group The Main Ingredient. His hit song helped the family move from the Bronx to Southern California. The group also had another top-10 single, the million-selling “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely.”

Gooding is survived by his wife, the singer Shirley Gooding (born Sullivan), and their four children: actors Cuba Gooding Jr., Omar Gooding, and April Gooding, and musician Tommy Gooding.

Gooding Sr., who later acted in minor roles, separated from his wife in 1974. In 1995, however, they remarried, some 21 years later.

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory satirist and activist, died Aug. 19 at age 84. His son, Christian Gregory, announced the death on Gregory’s official social media accounts. The cause was not reported.

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Robert Guillaume

Robert Guillaume, Emmy-winning actor known for “Soap,” “Benson” and “The Lion King,” died Oct. 24 at 89.

Earle Hyman

Earle Hyman died just before Thanksgiving at age 91, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, N.J.

Hyman was best known for playing Cliff Huxtable’s father, Russell, on “The Cosby Show.” Widely regarded for his stage work – he won a Tony Award for “The Lady from Dubuque” in 1980 – before joining the Cosby cast.

He was born in Rocky Mount, N.C. to Zachariah Hyman and Maria Lilly Plummer Hyman. Nominated for an Emmy in 1986, he never married nor had any children.

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau died Feb. 12 at age 76 at a Los Angeles hospital surrounded by family and friends.

The Grammy Award-winning singer had been treated for exhaustion. The cause of death was not immediately known, according to The L.A. Times, but news of his passing came two days after he announced his retirement from touring and was admitted to the hospital for exhaustion.

Jarreau was loosely classified as a jazz singer, but launched and polished a style that was uniquely his own during years of obscure apprenticeship in lonely nightclubs. He did not release his first album until 1975, when he was 35, but within two years, he had won the first of his seven Grammy Awards and had begun to attract a wide following.

He is the only Grammy vocalist to have won awards in the jazz, pop and R&B; categories.

He was born Alwin Lopez-Jarreau in Milwaukee in 1940. His father was a minister, and his mother was a piano teacher. Jarreau began singing in the church choir at age 4 and later counted jazz scat artist Jon Hendricks and ballad singer Johnny Mathis among his greatest influences.

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He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1960 from Wisconsin’s Ripon College, where he performed on weekends with a group called the Indigos. He went on to the University of Iowa, earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation and later moved to San Francisco to begin a brief career as a social worker.

Jarreau is survived by his wife, Susan, and son, Ryan.

Charlie Murphy

Charlie Murphy died April 12 at age 57 in a New York hospital after undergoing chemotherapy treatment for leukemia.

He was a standup comedian like his brother, Eddie Murphy, and famously co-starred on “Chappelle’s Show” with Dave Chappelle. Their most memorable skits together included spoofs of Prince and Rick James: “What’d the five fingers say to the face? SLAP!”

Mobb Deep-Prodigy

Mobb Deep-Prodigy died at age 42 in June. A cause of death was not announced, but Prodigy was reportedly hospitalized days earlier in Las Vegas with complications caused by sickle cell anemia. He had battled the disease since birth. His real name was Albert Johnson.

He got his start with Kejuan Muchita, better known as Havoc, in Queens, New York. They released their first record as Poetical Prophets in 1992, then changed their name to Mobb Deep. The duo’s 1995 album, “The Infamous,” is considered a classic thanks to the iconic song “Shook Ones Pt. II.”

Joni Sledge

Joni Sledge a member of the family group Sister Sledge died on March 10 at age to. The group recorded the dance anthem “We Are Family.”

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor

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