Minnie Riperton, native Chicagoan and Hyde Park High School alum, started her singing career as a receptionist for Chess Records (at 2120 South Michigan Avenue). There, Riperton recorded in a girl group called the Gems, and a Rock/Soul outfit called Rotary Connection (for the story of how, while in Rotary Connection, Minnie came to accept her unique voice in the era of Aretha Franklin, click here). She also recorded her solo debut, 1970’s Come to My Garden, co-produced by labelmate Ramsey Lewis and her husband, Dick Rudolph at Chess. She eventually became one of the best loved sopranos of her age.
In 1976, Minnie Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she continued recording and touring; but on Thursday, July 12, 1979 at 10:00 a.m., while lying in her husband’s arms, Riperton lost her three year struggle with cancer as she listened to a recording Stevie Wonder had made just for her. According to legend, Stevie met Minnie in Chicago, at 1971’s Black Expo.
“Riperton had released a debut album that won critical praise but, frustrated with her record company’s listless promotion effort, was preparing, at age 22, for semi-retirement Florida. “I saw Stevie backstage,” she recalls, “so I went over and whispered in his ear for him to keep up the good work. He asked me what my name was, and I said ‘Minnie.’ Well he started jumping up and down, saying ‘not Minnie Riperton — it’s been my dream to work with you, You sing like an angel’.”
— Margo Jefferson, “Stevie’s Angel”, Newsweek, July 28, 1975.
Riperton touched many people’s hearts in her life. So many hearts, in fact, that an entire star-studded episode of Soul Train was dedicated to her in the wake of her tragic death, with very special performances from a number of artists, among them was her oft collaborator, Stevie Wonder (a clip of which is posted above).