Minnie Riperton was one of a kind! Even though she was able to popularize the whistle register in her lifetime, the music powerhouse’s career was cut short due to breast cancer.
Long before Mariah stole millions of hearts with her whistle register, there was Minnie Riperton, a star from Illinois and the mom of SNL comedian Maya Rudolph. Riperton made a name for herself with her contralto soprano which is reflected in her jazz, soul, and R&B sounds.
Minnie Riperton is known for songs like “Memory Lane” and “Lovin You,” and since her passing, her sounds have remained evergreen and passed on to the newer generations. It is said that the late singer did not reach the full extent of her potential before Cancer, unfortunately, snatched her. Here’s a thorough look at her lifetime.
Who is Minnie Riperton?
Minnie Riperton from Chicago, Illinois, was born the youngest of eight children into a family that loved music. Riperton’s early introduction to entertainment was when her parents enrolled her in ballet and dancing classes.
By the time she was in high school, she joined the Hyde Park Acapella choir to explore her music skills. At the age of 16, Riperton achieved her first musical milestone, as she got signed to Chess Records.
Being signed to the big-shot record label exposed her to more inspiration for her musical career as she sang backup for stars like Etta James and Chuck Berry. The young Riperton formed an all-girls musical group called The Gems, but after a few years, she left the group and joined The Rotary Connection in 1967.
By 1968, she was the lead singer in the band, and it was this time that she met Richard Rudolph, a songwriter, and sound engineer. Riperton and Rudolph would go on to become man and wife and also welcome kids.
Riperton’s Exploration in Music
The President of Chess Records, Marshall Chess, saw the heights that Ruperton could attain with her voice, so he made her expand her vocal range, topping at 5 octaves and an effortless whistle register.
Minnie recorded with The Rotary Connection from 1957 to 1971, within which she worked on her first solo album with Richard. Working with Charles Stephney, who was Riperton’s producer with Rotary Connections, her first album, “Come To My Garden,” was released in 1970.
The album was a collection of soulful sounds believed to be ahead of its time. Riperton did not garner much success from the body of work and was so frustrated by it. She and Richard moved to Gainesville, Florida, and raised a family of two kids, Marc and Maya Rudolph.
However, by 1973, Riperton was back in the music scene, and this time, she got signed to Epic Records. Riperton’s family moved to Los Angeles, where she met and worked with Stevie Wonder.
Richard and his wife were working on her next album during this period, and Wonder was more than happy to produce some of the songs. Riperton was also of tremendous help when Wonder made his legendary album, “Songs in the Key of Life.”
Minnie Riperton’s Success With “Lovin You
In 1974, Riperton released her second studio album, “Perfect Angel.” It started with “Reasons” and “Seeing You This Way,” but they attained moderate success. However, when “Lovin’ You” hit the airwaves, it immediately caught the public’s attention.
“Lovin’ You” made the difference Riperton sought, and it also exceeded expectations. The song reached number one on global charts and catapulted Riperton to fame. Once speaking about how the classic song was made, Richard stated:
“I was sitting in the dining room and Minnie was in the kitchen cooking up a pot of something and I was just playing it and she started singing what became the melody. And we just had it. Right then. It just came right there out of our lives.”
Her Success Did Not Last Long
“Lovin’ You” was the game-changer in Riperton’s career, but not for so long, as a terminal illness plagued her life. In January 1976, doctors diagnosed the mom-of-two with breast cancer.
This was the bane of her life, but Riperton stayed strong for herself and her kids. She continued working as she went to record three more albums, with her husband by her side.
Riperton was also selfless and courageous, becoming one of the first celebrities to discuss her cancer diagnosis publicly. Riperton memorably opened up about breast cancer in August 1976, when she appeared on “The Tonight Show.”
While in her early thirties, Riperton underwent a radical mastectomy, but this did little to save her because cancer had metastasized by the time it was found. She was given six months to live, but Riperton lived until 1979.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter honored Riperton with an American Cancer Society Courage Award for her tenacity. Unfortunately, Riperton later passes on at the Cedar-Sinai Hospital in Australia a few months after her last performance. She died in her husband’s arms while listening to a remarkable record made for her by Stevie Wonder.
How Richard Continued His Wife’s Legacy
Not long after her death, Richard Rudolph became determined about making Ripperton’s legacy evergreen. So he established The Minnie Riperton Legacy Fund for breast and women’s cancer.
The widower was able to gather a million dollars through fans, peers and a concert put together by Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder. The foundation is channeled towards research on immunotherapy and basic laboratory science.