While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died.
We look back at some of the greats who passed away in 2023.
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We’ve Lost In 2023 was originally published on blackamericaweb.com
1. 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”.
2. 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.”
3. 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.”
4. 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.”
5. 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
6. 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.”
7. 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.
8. Young Capone, 35Source:Getty
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.
9. 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.”
10. 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).
11. 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.
12. 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.”
13. 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.
14. YNG Cheese, 25
Gillie’s cousin and co-host of the Million Dollaz Worth of Game podcast, Wallo posted about Cheese’s passing on his official Instagram account, saying “Lil Cuz usually when I talk to you, I got a lot to tell you. Tonight the pain in my heart & tears spoke to you. I love you beyond life Cheese. I got your father, Rest Well!” Tap To Learn More
15. Mutulu Shakur, 73
Activist Kamau Franklin tweeted that Shakur died Thursday night. While no cause of death was immediately reported, Shakur had been suffering from terminal cancer. He was reportedly living with his family in Southern California following his release
“Comrade Mutulu Shakur: veteran of the Revolutionary Action Movement, Republic of New Afrika & Black Liberation Army leader, fighter and political prisoner of 36yrs passes on to the ancestors,” the Malcolm X Movement confirmed on Twitter late Friday morning. “We stay loyal to your path.”
16. Clark Haggans, 46
17. Big Pokey, 45
Late Saturday night (June 17) footage landed online of Pokey fainting during a performance in Beaumont, Texas. And as hours passed, the city prayed and hoped he would pull through. Unfortunately Pokey, born Milton Powell, has passed away at age 45. As part of the Screwed Up Click, Pokey helped plant the flag for H-Town as of a force of its own on the music scene, and his loss will be felt forever.
18. Ray Lewis III, 28
TMZ Sports confirmed Lewis III’s death, but there are no details as to what caused his tragic passing. Looking to follow in his father’s footsteps and hopefully make it into the NFL, he was a star running back at Lake Mary Prep H.S. in Florida, rushing for 1,898 yards and 20 touchdowns plus netting 676 yards and four touchdowns receiving.
He played at Miami (Fla.), Coastal Carolina, and Virginia Union for his college career.
19. John Beasley, 79
The veteran character actor who played a kindly school bus driver on the TV drama “Everwood” and appeared in dozens of films dating back to the 1980s, died on May 30. His death which, was confirmed by his son Tyrone Beasley, comes after John had been undergoing tests on his liver.
In addition to his role on Everwood, Beasley also appeared in The Soul Man with Cedric The Entertainer and in the film Rudy. Recently, he had small parts in Showtime’s Your Honor and Disney+’s Star Wars: The Mandalorian.
20. Tina Turner, 83Source:Getty
The legendary “Queen of Rock ‘N Roll” died May 24 at her home in Switzerland, following a lengthy illness. From her beginnings performing with ex-husband Ike to reestablishing herself as a solo artist, Turner sold over 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling female artists of all time.
21. Bill Lee, 94Source:Getty
The jazz bassist and father of filmmaker Spike Lee died May 24 at his home in Brooklyn, as confirmed by the New York Times. The elder Lee was a revered session musician who recorded with the likes of Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, and Harry Belafonte, and would also score some of Spike’s earliest works, including She’s Gotta Have It, School Daze, and Mo’ Betta Blues.
22. 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”
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. Tori Bowie, 32
The three-time Olympic Gold medalist died on April 23. Bowie became a standout athlete at the 2016 Rio Olympics where she put on a stellar performance as the anchor leg on the US women’s track and field team alongside Tianna Bartoletta, Allyson Felix, and English Gardner. News of her untimely death has shocked the Internet.
“We’re devastated to share the very sad news that Tori Bowie has passed away,” Icon Management said in a statement on Twitter. “We’ve lost a client, dear friend, daughter and sister. Tori was a champion … a beacon of light that shined so bright! We’re truly heartbroken and our prayers are with the family and friends.”
26. 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.”
27. Otis Redding III, 59Source:Getty
The youngest son of iconic soul singer Otis Redding died on April 18, following a battle with cancer. A revered guitarist in his own right, Redding III kept his father’s musical legacy alive as part of the family funk band, The Reddings.
28. Chris Smith, 31
The former NFL defensive lineman’s death was announced on April 18. He played eight seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders, and Houston Texans. He last played five games with the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons, with whom he signed in March.
29. Ahmad Jamal, 92Source:Getty
The prolific jazz pianist died on April 16, following a battle with prostate cancer, as confirmed by his daughter to NPR. In a career spanning eight decades, his work has been sampled by De La Soul, Nas, Common, and many more.
30. N’Neka Garland, 49
The Emmy-winning producer of ABC’s long-running soap opera General Hospital died of a heart attack on March 27. Garland, the half-brother of late rap legend Tupac Shakur, won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in 2021.
31. Randall Robinson, 81Source:Getty
The anti-Apartheid icon and founder of TransAfrica, a nonprofit advocacy group that influenced U.S. foreign policy as it pertains to countries in the African diaspora, died on March 24 in St. Kitts, the Caribbean island where he emigrated to in 2011 after becoming disenchanted with life in the United States.
32. Willis Reed, 80
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.
33. Lance Reddick, 60Source:Getty
Reddick, best known as Officer Cedrick Daniels on HBO’s The Wire, was found dead in his home in Studio City, CA on March 17. His death comes one week before the release of John Wick: Chapter 4, in which he reprises his role as Charon. He also stars as Zeus in the upcoming Disney+ series, Percy Jackson & The Olympians.
34. Sean Lampkin, 54
Sean Lampkin, best known for his recurring role as bar owner “Nipsey” on the hit 90s sitcom Martin, reportedly passed away in early March. His passing was confirmed on social media by close friends, who said that he passed away in his sleep. In addition to Martin, he also had small roles in Life, Big Momma’s House, and Bad Boys II.
35. Felton Spencer, 55
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.
36. Otis Taylor, 80
Former NFL wide receiver and Hall of Famer Otis Taylor died March 9 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.”
37. Wayne Shorter, 89
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.
38. Zandra Flemister, 71
U.S. Secret Service agent Zandra Flemister has died at the age of 71. She was the first Black woman to serve as a special agent for the Secret Service. According to reports, Flemister died from Alzheimer’s complications. Flemister is remembered a pioneer at the agency although she said she left because of racial discrimination.
She went on to spend over three decades as a foreign service officer, rising to the upper ranks of senior foreign service before Alzheimer’s disease forced her to retire in 2011. She did so while juggling family responsibilities, including raising her son, who was diagnosed with autism as a child.
“The level of accomplishments that my wife managed … under the conditions that she lived, that to me says a hell of a lot about the woman,” Flemister’s husband, John Collinge, told NPR in a phone interview.
Flemister’s death — of Alzheimer’s complications and publicized in a Washington Post obituary — has renewed attention to her trailblazing stint at the Secret Service in the 1970s.
“I’ve gotten an incredible outpouring from Black women Secret Service agents past and present, and they are looking to her now as, I guess I would say, a forgotten pioneer who has been rescued from oblivion,” Collinge said, of the emails and calls he has gotten in recent days.
39. Lorenzo “Lo” Jelks, 83
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.
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.
41. Stanley Wilson Jr., 40Source:Getty
The former NFL cornerback, son of ex-Bengals running back Stanley Wilson Sr., died in early February after collapsing at a mental hospital during intake, according to TMZ. Wilson Jr. was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft and played for three seasons before suffering a career-ending Achilles injury before the 2008 season.
42. 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.
43. 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.
44. 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.” (Jan. 29)
No official word on his passing.
45. Jessie 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.”
46. CJ Harris, 31Source:Getty
According to TMZ, the former American Idol contestant suffered a heart attack on Jan. 15. He was only 31 years old.
47. Arthur Duncan, 89Source:Getty
The famed tap dancer, who died on Jan. 4, was one of the first Black regulars on a TV variety show, appearing on The Betty White Show and The Lawrence Welk Show.
48. Charles White, 64Source:Getty
The legendary USC tailback who won the Heisman Trophy in 1979, died on Jan. 11.
49. 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!
50. Gordy Harmon, 79Source:Getty
Gordy Harmon, a founding member of the R&B group The Whispers, died Thursday, January 5 in his sleep at his Los Angeles home. Harmon performed with The Whispers during their early years before leaving in 1973 due to injuring his larynx in a driving accident.
51. Uche Nwaneri, 38 (December 30th)Source:Getty
Jacksonville Jaguars co-owner Tony Khan tweeted on January 2, “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.”
52. 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.
53. 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!
54. 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.