In Memoriam: Notable Black People We Lost in 2021

The incomparable Cicely Tyson. Image: Jack Mitchell /Getty Images.

Throughout 2021, we have lost some significant contributors to Black culture and the world at large. From TV and film, music, politics, art, we’ve witnessed the transition of some of the most heralded trailblazers, barrier-breakers, and trendsetters in their respective fields. In the words of an African proverb, “Good people must die, but death cannot kill their names.”

At EBONY, we pay tribute to the lives and legacies of those who’ve passed away in 2021.

Hank Aaron, MLB legend, 86

(February 5, 1934 – January 22, 2021)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Hank Aaron’s prowess throughout his 23-year career allowed him to rewrite the record books. By the time he retired from the MLB in 1976, the 25-time All-Star was the all-time leader in home runs, runs batted in (RBIs,) (2,297), extra-base hits (1,477), and total bases (6,856).

Cicely Tyson, iconic actress, 96

(December 19 1924-January 28 2021)

The groundbreaking Academy-Award nominated actress Cicely Tyson passed away just days before the release of her highly-anticipated memoir Just As I Am. A winner of two Emmys, the incomparable actress poured her heart into her theatrical performances and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

John Chaney, legendary college basketball coach

(January 21, 1932 – January 29, 2021)

During his 24-year coaching tenure at Temple University, John Chaney embodied what hard-nosed North Philadelphia basketball was all about. Before arriving at Temple, Chaney won the 1978 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament. Upon his retirement, he was one of the most revered and winningest coaches in NCAA history.

Mary Wilson, co-founder of The Supremes, 76

(March 6, 1944 – February 8, 2021)

As a co-founder of the Supremes, one of the most successful girl groups of all time, Mary Wilson helped to shape the “Motown Sound.”  Along with Florence Ballard and Diana Ross, Wilson remained the sole original member and ambassador of the group until her passing.

Vincent Jackson, former NFL star, 38

(January 14, 1983 – February 15, 2021)

In 12 NFL seasons, Vincent Jackson was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and exceeded 1,000 receiving yards six times in his career. Upon his retirement, he co-founded the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation with his wife Lindsey to assist military families, graduated from the University of South Florida, and owned five restaurants in Tampa, Las Vegas, and San Diego.

Prince Markie Dee, co-founder of the Fat Boys, 52

(February 19, 1968 – February 18, 2021)

As one-third of the trailblazing rap trio The Fat Boys, Prince Markie Dee was one of the major pioneers of hip hop’s ascent into the mainstream. Besides his work with the seminal rap group, he worked as a radio host/DJ at 103.5 The Beat WMIB radio in Miami, at the Rock the Bells Sirius XM station, and hosted his own show, The Prince Markie Dee Show.

Bunny Wailer, reggae icon, 73

(April 10, 1947 – March 2, 2021)

Considered one of the longtime standard-bearers of reggae music, Bunny Wailer is an original member of the reggae group The Wailers along with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. The legendary musician is also a three-time Grammy Award winner.

“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxing legend, 66

(May 23, 1954 – March 13, 2021)

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest boxers of all time, Marvelous Marvin Hagler reigned as the undisputed champion of the middleweight division from 1980 to 1987 with 12 twelve successful title defenses. As the undisputed middleweight champion for six years and seven months, he has the  second-longest active reign of the last century and holds the record for the sixth-longest reign as champion in middleweight history,

Yaphet Kotto, actor, 81

(November 15, 1939 – March 15, 2021)

Yaphet Kotto boasted one of the most diverse careers on the small and big screen. Known for numerous film roles, as well as starring in the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street (1993–1999) as Lieutenant Al Giardello. He also appeared in the science-fiction horror film Alien (1979), the science-fiction action film The Running Man (1987), the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973), in which he portrayed the main villain, Mr. Big.

Elgin Baylor, NBA legend, 86

(September 16, 1934 – March 22, 2021)

Appearing in eight finals over his illustrious 14-year NBA career with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers, Elgin Baylor is one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. In his later years, he worked as a general manager for the Los Angeles Clipper for over 20 years.

DMX, rapper, actor, 50

(December 18, 1970 – April 9, 2021)

Earl Simmons aka DMX left an indelible mark on hip hop and pop culture. He dominated the rap game in 1998, becoming just the second rapper to release two number one albums in the same year. As an actor, he starred in several blockbuster action films and will always be remembered as one of the most beloved and charismatic rappers of all time.

Black Rob, rapper, 51

(June 8, 1968– April 17, 2021)

With his 2000 single “Whoa!”, which peaked at number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100, Black Rob helped put Bad Boy records back on the map. A gifted storyteller, he was an influential figure of the New York hip hop scene during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Shock G, rapper-producer, 57

(August 25, 1963 – April 22, 2021)

Shock G was the lead vocalist and producer of the hip hop, funk-influenced group Digital Underground. The group gave the world “The Humpty Dance”, and introduced the world to Tupac Shakur, co-producing his debut album 2Pacalypse Now.

Lee Evans, Olympic champion, 74

(February 25, 1947 – May 19, 2021)

Lee Evans won two gold medals in the 1968 Summer Olympics, setting world records in the 400 meters and the 4 × 400 meters relay, both of which stood for 20 and 24 years. He co-founded the Olympic Project for Human Rights, took part in the athlete’s boycott during the 1968 Olympics.

Paul Mooney, comedian, writer, 79

 (August 4, 1941 – May 19, 2021)

Paul Mooney was your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian. He was a writer on Sanford and Son, the Richard Pryor Show, Living Color, and was a legendary stand-up comedian known for his analysis of race in America.

Clarence Williams III, actor, 81

(August 21, 1939 – June 4, 2021)

Clarence Williams III had his major breakout television role playing undercover cop Linc Hayes on ABC’s The Mod Squad. Since then, he’s played numerous roles on stage and screen such as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Half-Baked, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and drama Purple Rain.

Suzzanne Douglas, actress, 64

(April 12, 1957 – July 6, 2021)

An acclaimed actress, Suzanne Douglas first gained fame for her portrayal of Amy Simms in the 1989 dance/drama film Tap, for which she won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. She played Geraldine “Jerri” Peterson on The WB sitcom The Parent ‘Hood and many other roles in TV and film in her remarkable career

Biz Markie, hip hop legend, 57

(April 8, 1964 – July 16, 2021)

Biz Markie was one of the most infectious personalities in hip hop history. Busting on the scene, during the 1980s, Biz was best known for his 1989 hit “Just a Friend,” which became a top 40 hit across the globe. He enjoyed worldwide success again as an in-demand DJ and appeared in several films and TV series including the kid’s show Yo Gabba Gabba!

Bob Moses, civil rights leader, 86

(January 23, 1935 – July 25, 2021)

A freedom fighter in the highest order, Bob Moses was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on voter education and registration in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. Later in life, he received a MacArthur Fellowship and established the Algebra Project which prompted math literacy across the world.

Chucky Thompson, music producer, 53

(July 12, 1968 – August 9, 2021)

Chucky Thompson was one of the key architects of the Bad Boy sound and his collaborations with Mary J. Blige on My Life, produced legendary results. He went on to produce hitmaking tracks on The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die, Faith Evans’s Faith, and many more.

Michael K. Williams, actor, 54

(November 22, 1966 – September 6, 2021)

No matter what role he played, Michael K. Williams brought an undeniable presence to each character.  He played Omar Little on the HBO drama series The Wire and Albert “Chalky” White on Boardwalk Empire. In his last role, playing  Montrose Freeman in Lovecraft Country, he received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama.

Melvin van Peebles, filmmaker and movie director, 89

(August 21, 1932 – September 21, 2021)

Known as the “Godfather of Black Cinema,” Melvin van Peebles broke down many barriers in Hollywood for Black filmmakers. In 1967, he debuted his first feature film The Story of a Three-Day Pass. And in 1971, he released his best-known work, creating and starring in Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, which is considered one of the gold standards of the blaxploitation genre. 

Colin Powell, military veteran and statesmen

(April 5, 1937 – October 18, 2021)

In his illustrious career as a military leader and statesmen, Colin Powell has distinguished himself as one of the greatest leaders of his generation. He was the Unites States first African-American secretary of state, the first Black national security advisor (1987 to 1989), and was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989 to 1993). In 1991, Powell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush.

Jovita Moore, broadcast TV news anchor, 53

(October 4, 1967 – October 28, 2021)

Jovita Moore was a mainstay in Atlanta as a news broadcaster and philanthropist. Since 1998, Moore was the evening anchor of Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News and won several Emmy awards for her news broadcasts.

Ronnie Wilson, Gap Band co-founder, 73

(April 7, 1948-November 2, 2021)

Along with his brothers Charlie and Robert, Ronnie Wilson was a founding member of the legendary R&B/funk trio, the Gap Band. The group released several classics such as “Early in the Morning,”  “Burn Rubber on Me,” “You Dropped a Bomb On Me,” “Yearning for You For Your Love,” and “Outstanding,” which is one of the most sampled songs of all-time.

Young Dolph, rapper, 36

(July 27, 1985 – November 17, 2021)

Young Dolph, a legend in his hometown of Memphis, burst on the hip hop scene with his debut studio album, King of Memphis. His last album, Rich Slave, was released in 2020 and became his highest-charting LP, debuting at number four on the Billboard 200.

Lee Elder, professional golfer, 87

(July 14, 1934 – November 28, 2021)

Lee Elder, a trailblazer in professional golf, was the first African-American to play in the Masters Tournament. In 1979, he became the first Black person to qualify for play in the Ryder Cup, At the age of 50, he joined the Senior PGA Tour, winning a total of eight tournaments on the senior tour between 1984 and 1988.

Virgil Abloh, fashion designer, 41

(September 30, 1980 – November 28, 2021)

Virgil Abloh, a creative visionary, was the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection and CEO of Off-White, a fashion house he founded in 2013. He was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2018.

Greg Tate, writer and cultural critic, 64 

(October 14, 1957 – December 7, 2021)

A true renaissance man, Gregory Tate, a prolific writer, guitarist for the band Burnt Sugar, as well as founding member of the Black Rock Coalition, was well-known for his long-time tenure as cultural critic for The Village Voice. Tate’s work centered on African-American music and culture where he helped to establish hip-hop criticism. His 1992 tome Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America is considered seminal work in music criticism.

Robbie Shakespeare, reggae bassist, 68

(September 27, 1953 – December 8, 2021)

Best known as half of the reggae duo Sly and Robbie, Robbie Shakespeare is regarded as one of the most influential reggae bassists ever. As a producer, the multiple Grammy-Award winner worked with artists in several genres such as Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Joe Cocker, Yoko Ono, and Grace Jones

Demaryius Thomas, former NFL star, 33

(December 25, 1987 – December 9, 2021)

Throughout his stellar NFL tcareer, Demaryius Thomas was named to five straight Pro Bowl teams and was a part of the Broncos squad that won Super Bowl 50. In addition to the Broncos, he played for the Houston Texans and ended his career with the New York Jets.

bell hooks,  author and professor, 69

(September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021)

An internationally recognized scholar, Black feminist, activist, and professor, Bell Hooks was an intellectual giant for close to 40 years. Throughout the length and breadth of her scholarship, Hooks challenged patriarchal and misogynistic norms in society, the effects of capitalism, race, and the perpetuation of systems of oppression and class domination. 

Leonard Hubbard, former Roots bassist, 62

 (c. 1959 – December 16, 2021)

For 25 years, Leonard Hubbard was the bass player for the Grammy-Award winning hip hop band, the Roots. Although he departed from the Roots for health reasons, Hubbard was still in demand as a session player and backing musician. At the time of his passing, he had curated an album of music he composed and played throughout his remarkable career. 

Kangol Kid, co-founder of UTFO, 55

(August 10, 1966 – December 18, 2021)

Shaun Shiller Fequiere, famously known by his stage name Kangol Kid, was a founding member of the legendary group UTFO. Along with members Educated Rapper, Doctor Ice, and Mix Master Ice, the group was best known for their classic 1984 hit song “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The song went to the top 10 on R&B charts, and sparked what became known as the “Roxanne Wars.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu, religious leader, and activist, 90

(October 7, 1931 – December 26. 2021)

A South African Anglican bishop and theologian, Bishop Desmond Tutu was known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist. He was Bishop of South African city of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and then Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996, becoming the first Black African to hold each position. He received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent work for civil and racial equity in South Africa. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

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