While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
Keep reading below to learn more about the notable Black people we’ve lost in 2023…
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We’ve Lost In 2023 was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. Jean Knight, 80Source:Getty
New Orleans-based singer Jean Knight passed away on November 22, according to a family statement given to USA Today. Knight’s biggest hit was the infectious “Mr. Big Stuff,” which sold over one million copies and earned her a Grammy nomination in 1972 for best female R&B vocal performance.
2. George “Funky” Brown, 74Source:Getty
George “Funky” Brown, founding drummer for Kool & The Gang, passed away on November 16, following a battle with stage 4 lung cancer. In addition to being the drummer for the band, he also co-wrote some of their biggest hits, including “Jungle Boogie,” “Ladies Night,” “Celebration,” and “Cherish.”
3. Aaron Spears, 47Source:Getty
It was confirmed on October 30 that Aaron Spears, an accomplished drummer who played behind Usher, Ariana Grande and more, passed away at the age of 47. A cause of death was not known at press time.
In addition to his accomplishments as a drummer, Spears was also a Grammy-nominated producer, receiving his nom for Usher’s 2004 Confessions album. He also served as musical coordinator for season 3 of Fox’s The Masked Singer.
4. Richard Roundtree, 81Source:Getty
Richard Roundtree, known as film’s first Black action hero, passed away on October 24 at the age of 81, following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. With over 100 film and TV credits to his name, he is best known as the lead of Shaft, one of the biggest films of the Blaxploitation era of the early 1970s. The film earned Roundtree a Golden Globe nomination.
Other credits include Roots, Original Gangstas, and most recently, OWN’s Cherish The Day.
5. DJ Mark The 45 King, 62
Legendary DJ and producer DJ Mark The 45 King passed away on October 19, just three days after his 62nd birthday. Born Mark Howard James, he worked with a lot of Hip-Hop royalty, including Queen Latifah, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and more.
6. Rudolph Isley, 84Source:Getty
Rudolph Isley (L), founding member of the legendary soul/funk group, The Isley Brothers, died October 11 in Illinois at the age of 84. Sources tell TMZ that it is believed that he died of a heart attack. Rudolph founded the group with brothers Ron, O’Kelly, and Vernon Isley in the mid-1950s, scoring hits like “Shout,” “This Old Heart Of Mine” and more.
Rudolph retired from the group in 1989 to become a Christian minister.
7. Zoleka Mandela, 43Source:Getty
Zoleka Mandela passed away of cancer Sept. 25 at the age of 43. The granddaughter of South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela, was surrounded by friends and family in her final moments.
Zoleka Mandela is seen as an inspiration for detailing her cancer treatment and her history of drug addiction. She has raised “awareness about cancer prevention” as well as “breaking down the stigma surrounding the disease”.
8. Irish Grinstead, 43Source:Getty
On Sept. 16, Irish Grinstead, a founding member of the 90s R&B girl group 702, passed away from undisclosed causes. Her sister and groupmate, LeMisha Grinstead, confirmed the news on Instagram.
“It is with great sadness that I have to let you know that my beautiful sister and friend has passed away this evening,” Lemisha’s post read. “She has had a long battle and she is finally at peace. That girl was as bright as the stars! She was not only beautiful on the outside, but also within. Sharing the stage with her was a joy I will cherish for the rest of my life! We, the family ask for prayers and respect for our privacy as we grieve an outstanding loss to our family. Love always, Misha.”
9. Mike Williams, 36
Former NFL wide receiver Mike Williams died on Sept. 12, following a construction site accident one week earlier.
His former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, released a statement sending their condolences to the family.
“We are saddened to hear of the untimely death of Mike Williams, which has left our organization, his former teammates and fans with very heavy hearts,” said the Bucs organization. “We send our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones as they mourn this tragedy.”
10. Brandon Hunter, 42
Former NBA player Brandon Hunter died Sept. 12 at the age of 42. His cause of death has not been publicly released. Hunter was a standout player at Ohio University, earning three All-MAC First Team awards. The Cincinnati native was the 56th overall pick in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft. He played his NBA ball with the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic.
“We are terribly saddened to learn of the loss of our former teammate, Brandon Hunter,” the team said in a statement. “We send our deepest condolences to the entire Hunter family.”
11. Bill Pinkney, 87
Bill Pinkney, the first Black American to sail around the world solo via the Capes died August 31 at the age of 87.
According to reports, Pinkney died after complications from falling down a staircase. He suffered a serious brain injury from the fall.
Captain Bill Pinkney was most known for his adventures on the water. In 1992 the Black sailor sailed around the world by himself, leaving from Boston, sailing around Cape Horn and returning to Boston
12. August 08, 31
The passing of rising R&B singer/songwriter August 08, birth name Ray Jacobs, was confirmed by Def Jam Records on August 29. The first signee to Jhené Aiko’s Allel Sound imprint, his debut album, Seasick, was released in August 2022. August 08 was also a writer on hits like DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One,” Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” and Sabrina Claudio’s “Orion’s Belt.”
13. Ron Cephas Jones, 66Source:Getty
The beloved actor passed away on August 19 from a “long-standing pulmonary issue,” according to his manager. The Emmy winner was a veteran of the stage and screen, best known for roles in Paid In Full, Marvel’s Luke Cage, and, most notably, This Is Us. His reoccurring role in the latter series earned him 2 Emmys in 2018 and 2020. He and his daughter, fellow actor Jasmine Cephas Jones, are the first father-daughter duo to win Emmys in the same year.
14. Young Capone, 35Source:Getty
Rap artist Rodriguez Smith, better known as Young Capone, was confirmed dead on August 16 after being reported missing in Chicago earlier in the summer. Smith, who also performed as Dopeboy Ra and Rara, signed with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def imprint after making moves on the East Atlanta Hip-Hop scene in the early 2000s.
15. Clarence Avant, 92Source:Getty
Clarence Avant, whose connections and impact in the worlds of music, sports, entertainment and politics deemed him as the “Black Godfather,” has died at the age of 92.
“It is with a heavy heart that the Avant/Sarandos family announce the passing of Clarence Alexander Avant,” says a statement from his children, Nicole and Alexander, and his son-in-law, Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos.
“Through his revolutionary business leadership, Clarence became affectionately known as ‘the Black Godfather’ in the worlds of music, entertainment, politics, and sports. Clarence leaves behind a loving family and a sea of friends and associates that have changed the world and will continue to change the world for generations to come. The joy of his legacy eases the sorrow of our loss.”
16. Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff, 50Source:Getty
Rapper Magoo, best known as a member of the iconic “Supafriends” collective who released three albums with partner Timbaland, passed away on August 13 at the age of 50. A cause of death is not known.
R&B star Ginuwine, who was also a part of the Supafriends clique, shared his condolences over the passing of Magoo. “Times get rough but we keep on pushing just heard some news I hope it ain’t true …I just want everyone to know that time is short love who you love and make sure they know it,” he wrote on Instagram Sunday (August 13).
17. DJ Casper, 58Source:Getty
Music fans got some sad news Monday (August 7) as news broke that DJ Casper, the Chicago native who birthed an international dance craze with the “Cha Cha Slide,” has passed away. He was 58 years old.
Born Willie Perry Jr, Casper had been diagnosed with kidney and liver cancer in 2016. His time in the limelight began with the “Cha Cha Slide” release in 2000. The record, which was accompanied by a dance, topped music charts in the United States and abroad. Even twenty years later, the track remains a popular song of choice at parties, celebrations and sporting events.
18. Charles Ogletree, 70Source:Getty
Attorney-Professor Charles Ogletree also refereed as the gentleman scholar with a profound intellect and desire for “justice for all,” died Friday August 4, 2023 at age 70.
Professor Ogletree went public about his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. He retired from Harvard Law School a few years later.
Professor Ogletree’s s scope and influence were wide and had a great impact. Harvard Law Today stated, “Throughout his career, Ogletree was a nationally recognized leader in addressing issues of race, justice, and equality. His teaching shaped generations of students working on those issues, including the future President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Ogletree’s mentorship of law students was renowned across Harvard’s campus and beyond.”
19. New Jersey Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, 71Source:Getty
New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver was the first woman of color to serve in a statewide elected office in the history of New Jersey and served as the state’s lieutenant governor for five years starting in January 2018. She passed away on August 1 of an undisclosed illness.
20. Sheldon Reynolds, 63
Reynolds, a former guitarist and vocalist for Earth, Wind and Fire and The Commodores, died May 23. EWF’s Philip Bailey confirmed the news on social media. “This news of Sheldon Reynolds transition is very sad for all of us who knew and worked with him. Sheldon vocally had Reese down. That’s what Maurice said when he hired Sheldon to share vocals and play guitar. Sheldon was an excellent addition to the band, a great writer and producer, and a genuinely kind and loving person. He will be missed. Our condolences to his family.
Rest in Peace.
Listening to Sunday Morning”
21. Jim Brown, 87Source:Getty
Considered the greatest football player to ever live, the Cleveland Browns legend died on May 18. The Hall of Famer was the NFL’s MVP in 1965, leading the Browns to their last NFL championship before retiring in prime to become an actor.
22. Harry Belafonte, 96Source:Getty
The barrier-breaking singer, actor, and activist passed away on April 25 from congestive heart failure. Arguably the most successful Caribbean-American artist in pop music, his 1956 album, Calypso, topped the Billboard album chart shortly after release and stayed there for 31 weeks. That album is said to be the first to sell a million copies.
He would go on to appear in movies like Carmen Jones and would dedicate the majority of his life to fighting for civil rights and other philanthropic efforts.
23. Isaac Wiley, 69
The official Facebook page of the funk group, The Dazz Band, confirmed the passing of founding drummer Isaac “Ike” Wiley on April 23. Formed in 1976 in Cleveland, The Dazz Band had a string of hits throughout the 80s, including “Joystick,” Let It All Blow,” and their biggest hit, “Let It Whip.”
24. Otis Redding IIISource:Getty
Born in 1963, Otis III was only three when his famous father died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. However, Otis III and his older brother, Dexter, would keep their father’s musical legacy alive with their funk band, The Reddings.
The Reddings would achieve moderate success, releasing six studio albums between 1980 and 1988. Their singles included “Remote Control” (peaking at #6 on Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart) and “Call The Law” (#16 on Hot Black Singles).
25. Pianist, Ahmad JamalSource:Getty
26. Howell Wayans
Howell Wayans is the father to Keenan Ivory, Damon, Shawn, Dwayne, Kim, Nadia, Elvira, Diedra, Vonnie and Marlon. Their family is arguably the most successful Black family in Entertainment. Howell Wayans lost his wife Elvira in 2020.
Howell’s children took to social to express their emotions around their father’s loss and touched on their dad’s legacy.
“Thank you Pop for being an example of a Man to all your boys. I pray all young black boys can grow up to be a Man like you,” Marlon wrote on Instagram. “Baby boy loves you. And if ever i need you i know exactly where to find you… in my Bible that now sits by bed. Rest well. Kiss Ma for me. Tell her her babies miss her,” the actor continued. “I got two angels. I feel y’all lifting me already.”
Diedra also took to Instagram to share a heartfelt message about her father.
“My Heart is Heavy,” she wrote on her Instagram. “I thank God for allowing Us to have so many years of love, memories and great parents. The kind that never gave up on their kids. I know I was a handful but through y’all tough love, discipline and devotion, I became a phenomenal woman just like you Momta. A Spiritual woman like you Dad. And so it ends with a beautiful love story. Back together again. I can only imagine the joy y’all experienced seeing and holding each other again.”
27. Randall Robinson, Anti-Apartheid Icon And TransAfrica FounderSource:Getty
Robinson, who was also a lawyer, author, and the founder of TransAfrica, a nonprofit advocacy group that influenced U.S. foreign policy as it pertains to countries in the African diaspora, died Friday. Journalist Roland Martin tweeted on Saturday that Robinson’s sister confirmed the death in a text message that her brother “passed away yesterday at dawn.”
28. Willis Reed, NBA Legend
Willis Reed, a former 7-time All-Star for the New York Knicks, has passed away. He was 80 years old.
Reed was drafted in the second round by the Knicks in the 1964 NBA draft. He was that year’s Rookie of the Year and went to seven straight All-Star games. He also made the All-NBA Team five times. The former center and power forward helped New York win titles in 1970 and 1973, and was the league MVP in the 1969-70 season.
29. Lance Reddick, ActorSource:Getty
Lance Reddick, the actor widely known for his role in the hit cable crime drama, “The Wire,” has died, according to reports.
First reported by TMZ, Reddick was found dead at his home in California on Friday morning. His cause of death was not immediately reported.
TMZ reported that law enforcement said the death of the 60-year-old “appears to be natural.”
NBC News published a statement from Reddick’s publicist asking to respect the actor’s grieving family’s privacy.
“Acclaimed actor Lance Reddick passed away suddenly this morning from natural causes,” Mia Hansen said. “Lance will be greatly missed. Please respect his family’s privacy at this time.”
Reddick also made a name for starring in the John Wick movie series, the latest of which he had been in the middle of promoting when he died.
“John Wick: Chapter 4” is scheduled to be released in movie theaters on March 24.
Reddick rose to fame playing the character of Baltimore Police Lieutenant Cedric Daniels, who appeared in all five seasons of “The Wire” on HBO.
Acting wasn’t Reddick’s only talent in the arts.
In 2011, he released his first album, “Contemplations and Rememberances.”
He previously attended the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he studied classical composition. He also played piano and said he always wanted to be a musician, but the acting jobs came first, which allowed him to take care of his family.
Reddick is survived by his wife, Stephanie Reddick, and two children, daughter Yvonne Nicole and son Christopher Reddick.
30. Felton Spencer, former NBA playerSource:Getty
Before Spencer took his talents to the NBA, he was a standout student-athlete at the University of Louisville. Spencer ended his college career with h 1,168 points and 694 rebounds. He also holds the school record for career field goal percentage (62.8%). During his time at the school, he helped the Cardinals win three consecutive Metro Conference tournaments and two Sweet 16 appearances.
31. Otis Taylor, NFL Player
Former NFL wide receiver and Hall of Famer Otis Taylor died last week at the age of 80. According to his family, Taylor had been battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia for more than a decade. According to ESPN, the former Kansas City Chiefs star was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and associated dementia in 1990, and in 2012, his family filed a lawsuit against the NFL claiming it was legally responsible for health issues he experienced beginning with seizures in 1969.
Taylor spent all 10-plus years of his career in Kansas City, where he was a fourth-round pick out of Prairie View A&M in the 1965 AFL draft. He went on to have two 1,000-yard seasons during an era in which the passing game was still evolving, and he finished his career with 7,306 receiving yards and 57 touchdown catches.
“My family and I would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Otis’ wife Regina, his sister Odell and the entire Taylor family as we mourn his passing,” Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. “He was one of the most dynamic receivers of his era, and he helped revolutionize the position. Off the field, he was kind and dedicated to his community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Otis’ legacy will live forever.”
32. Wayne Shorter, jazz legendSource:Getty
Legendary jazz musician Wayne Shorter died on March 2 at the age of 89 in Los Angeles. His death was confirmed by his publicist Alisse Kingsley.
The saxophonist and composer was one of the most influential jazz musicians on the planet.
Coming in prominence in the 1950s, Shorter was the primary composer for Art Blakey’s Bass Messengers. He would later partner with Miles Davis joining his Second Great Quintet, then co-founding the world-renowned jazz fusion band Weather Report.
Shorter composed 20 albums as a bandleader of the Weather Report. He also recorded several albums for Blue Note Records, composing the majority of the music.
33. Zandra Flemister
34. Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, rock ‘n roll pianistSource:Getty
Huey “Piano” Smith, whose two-fisted keyboard style and rambunctious songs propelled the sound of New Orleans R&B into the pop Top 10 in the late 1950s, died on Feb. 13 at his home in Baton Rouge. He was 89.
His daughter Acquelyn Donsereaux confirmed his death.
Mr. Smith wrote songs that became cornerstones of New Orleans R&B and rock ’n’ roll perennials, notably “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It” and “Sea Cruise.”
35. Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, pioneering TV reporter
Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, the first Black television reporter in Atlanta, has died at age 83.
The media milestone was reached when WSB-TV hired him in 1967. He would remain with the station through 1976.
36. Thomas W. Dortch Jr.Source:Getty
Atlanta civic leader Thomas W. Dortch Jr., the chairman of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s board and former leader of 100 Black Men of America, has died at the age of 72. No cause or date of Dortch’s death was immediately reported. The Georgia native was also a successful businessman in his own right.
37. Stanley Wilson Jr., former NFL playerSource:Getty
Stanley Wilson Jr., a former NFL cornerback with the Detroit Lions, died on Feb. 1 in police custody. He was just 40 years old.
38. AKA, rapperSource:Getty
AKA, a South African rapper, was shot to death on Feb. 10 outside of a restaurant in the city of Durban. He was 35 years old.
The police said that AKA, 35, had been walking to his car on a popular nightlife strip shortly after 10 p.m. when two armed people approached from across the street and fired several shots at close range before running away.
AKA, whose legal name was Kiernan Forbes, and another man died at the scene, the police said. Although the police did not name the second victim, South African news reports identified him as AKA’s close friend Tebello Motsoane, a 34-year-old chef and music entrepreneur known as Tibz.
39. Roslyn Pope, civil rights leader
Roslyn Pope, who as a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta wrote a 1960 manifesto that set the stage for dramatic advances in civil rights in the city and inspired generations of activists around the country, died on Jan. 19 in Arlington, Texas. She was 84.
Spelman College confirmed the death.
40. Charlie Thomas, of the DriftersSource:Getty
Charlie Thomas, who recorded memorable songs like “There Goes My Baby” and “Under the Boardwalk” with the Drifters, the silken-voiced R&B group that had a long string of hits from 1959 to 1964 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Fame, died on Jan. 31 at his home in Bowie, Md. He was 85.
The singer Peter Lemongello Jr., a close friend, said the cause was liver cancer.
Mr. Thomas, a tenor, was a Drifter for more than 60 years, from the version of the group that had its first hits in the late 1950s to the version he led and toured with until the pandemic struck.
41. Trugoy The Dove, 54
Trugoy The Dove, co-founder of the legendary Hip-Hop trio De La Soul has died. The cause of Death has not been released to the public. Trugoy, born David Jude Jolicoeur along with high school friends Posdnuos (Kelvin Mercer) and Maseo (Vincent Mason) would form De La Soul in the mid-80s. The group would go on to release their groundbreaking debut “3 Feet High and Rising” in 1988. Their more conscious style of rap made them known as “Hip-Hop Hippies.” De La Soul, along with A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and Black Sheep would be known as the “Native Tounges,” delivering more positive-minded, Afrocentric, and eclectic lyrics behind sampled beats that would inspire a generation.
42. Barrett Strong, 82
The Motown Museum confirmed the passing of singer/songwriter Barrett Strong on Jan. 29. Strong sang “Money (That’s What I Want)” which became Motown Records’ first hit in 1959.
43. Brandon Smiley, 32Source:Getty
“I just had bad news this morning. I’m on the way to the airport to get to Birmingham. I just want everybody to pray for me, pray for our family,” Rickey said in a video. “My son, Brandon Smiley, has passed away this morning.”
No official word on his passing.
44. Jesse Lemonier, 25Source:Getty
His former team, the Detroit Lions released a statement on Twitter, saying “We are shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of former Detroit Lion Jessie Lemonier,” the Detroit Lions wrote in a statement shared via Twitter. “Jessie was a model teammate and wonderful young man who is gone far too soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
45. CJ Harris, 31Source:Getty
According to TMZ, the former American Idol contestant suffered a heart attack. He was only 31 years old.
46. Arthur Duncan, 89Source:Getty
47. Charles White, 64Source:Getty
48. Kevin Lemons, 44
Official Announcement from The Lemons Family 🕊️
It is with great sadness that we announce the transition of our Founder – Kevin Lemons. Please keep his wife Tiunna, Family and Higher Calling lifted in prayer as we all process this sudden loss. Thank you all for the outpouring of love already shown. We are so appreciative and grateful for each of you! 🍋🕊️
49. Gordy Harmon, 79Source:Getty
Gordy Harmon, a founding member of the R&B group The Whispers, died Thursday in his sleep at his Los Angeles home.
50. Uche Nwaneri, 38Source:Getty
Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan tweeted “Rest In Peace, Uche Nwaneri. Nwaneri played 7 seasons with the Jaguars, 2007-2013, and forged a strong bond with the Jags fans that’s remained to this day. On behalf of the Jaguars organization and my family, our thoughts are with Uche’s family + friends at this terrible time.”
51. Gangsta Boo, 43Source:Getty
Mitchell was the second woman to join Three 6 Mafia in the early ’90s, and after her departure from the group, she continued to record mixtapes and appear on singles from the likes of Gucci Mane, La Chat, and more. When she was fifteen, she contributed to Three 6’s Mystic Stylez album and remained a fixture in Memphis through her untimely passing.
52. Fred White, Earth Wind & Fire Drummer, 67Source:Getty
Verdine White confirmed the news on Instagram saying
Our family is saddened today. With the loss of an amazing and talented family member, Our beloved brother Frederick Eugene “Freddie” White.
He joins our brothers Maurice, Monte and Ronald in heaven and is now drumming with the angels! 🥁🥁 Child protégé, member of the EWF ORIGINAL 9, with gold records at the young age of 16 years old! He was brother number 4 in the family lineup. ❤️❤️❤️❤️
But more than that at home and beyond he was the wonderful bro that was always entertaining and delightfully mischievous!
And we could always count on him to make a seemingly bad situation more light hearted!🙏🏾😍🙏🏾
He will live in our hearts forever, rest in power beloved Freddie!!
We thank you all for your love, blessings and support at this time. Soar high baby bro, we love you to the shining ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️and back!
53. Anita Pointer, 74 (December 31st)Source:Getty
Pointer’s family, in a statement obtained by CBS News, said, “While we are deeply saddened by the loss of Anita, we are comforted in knowing she is now with her daughter, Jada and her sisters June & Bonnie and at peace. She was the one that kept all of us close and together for so long. Her love of our family will live on in each of us. Please respect our privacy during this period of grief and loss. Heaven is a more loving, beautiful place with Anita there.”
Pointer is preceded in death by her only daughter Jada, who passed in 2003, and sisters Bonnie and June, who passed in 2020 and 2006 respectively.