UPDATED: 11:33 a.m. ET, April 30 —
While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died. This running file commemorating some of the notable Black folks who have died in 2020 is meant to pay homage to their contributions in life that will live on well after their deaths.
Prior to that, legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr. died at the age of 85 after suffering complications from the coronavirus. That followed the death of Wallace Roney, a jazz trumpeter who also tested positive or the COVID-19 disease.
Prior to that, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, the man who was also known as the dean of civil rights, died March 27. Lowery was widely regarded as the top lieutenant for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and contributed to the civil rights movement in the most profound of ways that include working to end segregation on buses in Mobile, Alabama, before Rosa Parks as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He was 98 years old.
Some other notable Black folks who have died this year include the legendary NBA champion Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. The former Los Angeles Lakers star was just 41 years old. Emergency personnel responded to the accident, but there were no survivors. His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was on the helicopter along with seven other people who all died, as well.
But there are others who died after living a full life of notable contributions to society, such as Katherine Johnson, the pioneering “Hidden Figures” NASA mathematician who died Feb. 24 at 101 years old. “She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a tweet when announcing her death.
B. Smith, the restaurateur, lifestyle maven and esteemed businesswoman, died in February, according to her husband, Dan Gasby, who announced the news of his wife’s passing in a Facebook post. “It is with great sadness that my daughter Dana and I announce the passing of my wife, Barbara Elaine Smith,” he wrote. “B. died peacefully Saturday, February 22, 2020, at 10:50 pm, of Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease in our home in Long Island, New York. She was 70.”
Up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, known for his record “Welcome To The Party” was shot and killed in Hollywood Hills on the morning of Feb. 19. The rapper was at a Hollywood Hills home that he may have been renting when at least four men were suspected of breaking into the property wearing hoodies and masks, according to law enforcement sources. Multiple fires were shot, striking and critically wounding the Brooklyn rapper. The men, who have not yet been identified, were seen fleeing the scene on foot. It is unclear Pop Smoke he knew his killers. However, it has been reported that there was a party or gathering at the home before the alleged home invasion took place.
Pop Smoke was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Hollywood, where he was pronounced dead. He was 20 years old.
Famed actress Ja’Net DuBois, who played the role of Willona Woods on “Good Times,” died Feb. 18 at the age of 74. DuBois reportedly unexpectedly died in her sleep while at her Glendale, California home.
Veteran T.V. and movie actress, Esther Scott died Feb. 14 after suffering a heart attack days earlier. A family member announced that the actress, known for her roles in “Boyz N The Hood,” “90210,” “Birth of a Nation” and more, suffered a heart attack in her Santa Monica home and was later found unconscious. She was hospitalized and died days later. She was 66 years old.
Prior to that, the Jan. 9 death of Yolanda Carr, whose daughter, Atatiana Jefferson, was killed in her own home by police in Texas in November, was announced. Carr’s death came a couple of months after Jefferson’s father also died. His death was attributed in part to a broken heart while Carr’s cause of death was not immediately confirmed. Studies have shown a direct correlation between people affected by police brutality and the deterioration of their health that “can lead to conditions such as diabetes, stroke, ulcers, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, accelerated aging, and death.”
Legendary sports journalist Roscoe Nance also died Jan. 9 at the age of 71, according to an obituary published on the website of a funeral home in Alabama. Nance covered HBCU sports up until his death but was also an NBA reporter at one point. He was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame in 105, calling the honor “the highlight of my career,” according to the HBCU Gameday website.
Scroll down to learn more about some of the other notable Black folks who have died this year.
1. Stezo, rapper and pioneering hip-hop dancer, 51
Steve Williams, the old school rapper who was more popularly known as Stezo, has reportedly died April 29 at the age of 51. Not only known for a series of cult hits in the late 1980s, but Stezo was also an accomplished hip-hop dancer who famously showed off his fancy footwork in the music video for EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill” in 1988. There was an outpouring of support and condolences posted to social media.
2. Ashley ‘Ms. Minnie’ Ross, reality TV star, 34
Ashley “Ms. Minnie” Ross, star of the Lifetime network reality TV show, “Little Women Atlanta,” died on April 27 after being in what her publicist called “a tragic hit and run car accident.” Ross was 34 years old.
3. Mike Huckaby, techno and house music pioneer and DJ, 54
“DJ Mike Huckaby, whose soulful, studied work made him one of the prominent early figures in Detroit techno and house music, died [April 24] after a lengthy hospitalization following a stroke,” the Detroit Free press reported. Huckaby tested positive for the coronavirus while he was hospitalized. He was 54 years old.
4. Don “Campbellock” Campbell, creator of locking dance style, 69
Don Campbell, the creator of locking, which later became a prominent feature of breakdancing, died on March 30, the New York Times reported. He was 69 years old. Campbell’s nickname was “Campbellock,” which was ultimately shortened to simply “locking,” the pioneering dance moves that came before “popping, b-boying and other styles that are often collected under the label hip-hop,” the Times wrote.
5. Cheryl A. Wall, literary scholar, 71
Cheryl A. Wall, an award-winning scholar of African American literature and a Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers University, died April 18. She was 71 years old and had planned to retire at the end of this school year, according to the university.
6. Gil Bailey, radio pioneer
Gil Bailey, the radio broadcaster and personality known as “The G0dfather” died April 13. His death came from complications after contracting the coronavirus, according to Jamaica Observer. The native Jamaican rose to prominence on radio stations with Caribbean music programming in the New York City area.
7. Grace F. Edwards, author, 87
Grace F. Edwards, a novelist whose work focused on her native Harlem, died Feb. 25. She was 87 years old. Her death was reported by the Amsterdam News on April 9.
8. Samuel Hargress Jr., owner of legendary Harlem nightclub, 83
Samuel Hargress Jr., the owner and operator of legendary New York City jazz and blues nightclub, Paris Blues, died following complications after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 83 years old. Hargress opened the club in 1969 and ran it for 51 years. The Harlem Bespoke blog reported his death.
9. Tarvaris Jackson, former NFL quarterback, 36
Former NFL quarterback Tarvaris Jackson died in a car accident in Alabama on April 12. He was just 36. Jackson, who graduated from Alabama State University — an HBCU — played in the NFL from 2006-2015 for the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills.
10. Chynna Marie Rogers, model turned rapper, 25
Chynna Marie Rogers, a model who later became a rapper, died April 8. She was just 25 years old. Her cause of death was reported on social media as a drug overdose.
11. Ahmed Ismail Hussein, Somali singer, 92
Ahmed Ismail Hussein, the legendary Somali singer and musician who was also popularly known as “Hudeydi,” was hospitalized in the UK after contracting the coronavirus. Nicknamed the “King of Oud,” a reference to the Arabic instrument resembling a guitar, died in a London hospital. His date of death was not immediately reported, but it was announced April 8.
12. Earl G. Graves, Sr., founder of Black Enterprise, 85
Earl G. Graves, Sr., who championed the intersection of Black people, the business world and personal finance on his way to founding the seminal Black Enterprise magazine and growing it into a bona fide multimedia conglomerate, died April 7 following complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 85 years old. Pictured: Earl G Graves, Sr. appearing in the Walt Disney Television News special “Black Businessmen.”
13. Bobby Mitchell, NFL player, 84
Bobby Mitchell, who played 11 seasons in the NFL player, died April 5 at the age of 84. Mitchell played for both the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins before he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1983.
14. Bill Withers, singer, 81
Bill Withers, whose smooth and soulful voice brought decades of positive messages of upliftment with his award-winning music that includes the hit songs, “Lean On Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Lovely Day,” has died, according to a report on April 3. He was 81. The cause of death was attributed to heart complications. Pictured: Bill Withers performs on UK TV show in London in 1972.
15. Ellis Marsalis Jr., legendary jazz pianist, 85
Ellis Marsalis Jr., a legendary jazz pianist who is also the father of accomplished jazz musicians Branford and Wynton Marsalis, died April 1 from complications after contracting the coronavirus. He was 85 years old. Pictured: Ellis Marsalis performs during the 2017 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 7, 2017, in New Orleans.
16. Wallace Roney, jazz trumpeter, 59
Wallace Roney, a Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter who was associated with and influenced by the legendary Miles Davis, died March 31. His death was caused by complications after he contracted the coronavirus. He was just 59 years old. Pictured: Wallace Roney plays trumpet as he makes a guest appearance with the Ron Carter Foursight Quartet at the Blue Note Jazz Festival’s ‘The Legends Honor McCoy–McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes’ concert at Central Park SummerStage, New York, New York, Aug. 4, 2016.
17. Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, civil right pioneer, 99
The Rev. Dr. Joseph Echols Lowery, who was also known as the dean of civil rights, died March 27. Lowery was widely regarded as the top lieutenant for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and contributed to the civil rights movement in the most profound of ways that include working to end segregation on buses in Mobile, Alabama, before Rosa Parks as well as being a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He died March 27 at the age of 98. Pictured: Lowery at his 96th Birthday Celebration at Rialto Center for the Arts on October 4, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.
18. Emma Cooper-Harris, first African American Mayor of Anguilla, Mississippi
Emma Cooper-Harris, who was remembered as a “community organizer” and “a civil rights icon in Mississippi,” has died. She was the first African American mayor of the Mississippi town of Anguilla and also served as a minister at a local church.
19. Fred “Curly” Neal, Harlem Globetrotters legend, 77
Fred “Curly” Neal, the Harlem Globetrotters legend who thrilled audiences with his dazzling dribbling display that included his signature move of bouncing the ball while sliding on one knee, died March 26. He was 77 years old. Pictured: Harlem Globetrotter Fred “Curly” Neal visits SiriusXM Studio on February 13, 2012, in New York City.
20. Rev. Darius L. Swann, civil rights activist, 95
The Rev. Darius L. Swann, whose opposition to segregated schools led to the busing movement, died March 8. He was 95 years old.
21. Airickca Gordon-Taylor, civil rights activist and Emmett Till’s relative, 50
Airickca Gordon-Taylor, the daughter of Emmett Till’s cousin who had a career in bringing attention to his lynching death through a charitable foundation, died March 22 after suffering from “kidney problems for decades,” according to the Associated Press. She was 50 years old.
22. Manu Dibango, saxophonist, 86
Manu Dibango, the legendary saxophonist from Cameroon known for his 1972 hit, “Soul Makossa,” died March 24 following complications from the coronavirus. He was 86. Pictured: Manu Dibango performs during Celtic Connections Festival at The Old Fruit Market on January 26, 2014, in Glasgow, United Kingdom.
23. Barbara C. Harris, Episcopal Bishop, 89
Barbara C. Harris, the world’s first ordained Episcopal bishop who is a woman, died March 13. Pictured: Bishop Barbara Harris during service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Boston on Apr. 9, 1998.
24. Roger Mayweather, boxing champion and trainer, 58
Roger Mayweather, a former boxing champion and boxing trainer who is also the uncle of boxing champion Floyd Mayweather, died March 17. He was 58 years old. His death came one week after Josie Harris, Floyd Mayweather’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of three of his children, was found dead in California at the age of 40.
25. Josie Harris, former longtime girlfriend of Floyd Mayweather, 40
Josie Harris, Floyd Mayweather’s former longtime girlfriend, died Monday night, according to TMZ, which reported that she was found in her car at her home in Valencia, California. She was 40 years old.
26. Barbara Neely, author, 78
“Barbara Neely, an award-winning writer best known for her groundbreaking mystery series based on a Black woman sleuth named Blanche White, died earlier on March 2 after an unspecified illness,” Madame Noire reported.
27. Danny Tidwell, dancer, 35
Danny Tidwell, who rose to fame as a contestant and finalist on the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance?” was killed in a car crash on March 6. He was just 35 years old.
28. Sam “The Man” Burns, DC house music DJ, dies
Sam “The Man” Burns, a legendary DJ in Washington, D.C., died March 7. Burns’ career spanned more than 40 years of spinning dance and house music in his native District of Columbia and has had a lasting effect on the city’s nightlife scene.
29. McCoy Tyner, legendary jazz pianist, 81
Legendary jazz musician and pianist, McCoy Tyner, died March 6. The renowned musician was a key figure in John Coltrane‘s jazz quartet. He was 81 years old. Pictured: McCoy Tyner performing at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 18, 2005.
30. Katherine Johnson, 101
“Hidden Figures” NASA mathematician died on Feb. 24 at age 101.
31. B. Smith, 70
B. Smith, restaurateur, lifestyle maven, died at age 70 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
32. Pop Smoke, 20
Up-and-coming Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, known for his record “Welcome To The Party” was shot and killed in Hollywood Hills on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
33. Ja’Net DuBois, 74
Famed actress Ja’Net DuBois, who played the role of Willona Woods on “Good Times,” passed away in her sleep unexpectedly on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
34. Esther Scott, 66
Esther Scott, known for her roles in “Boyz N The Hood,” “90210,” “Birth of a Nation” and more, died on Feb. 14 after suffering a heart attack days prior.
35. Isadora Perkins-Boyd, ‘Super-Centenarian,’ 111
Isadora Perkins-Boyd, one of the oldest people in the U.S., died Jan. 24 in her native South Carolina at the age of 111. Her obituary referred to her in part as an “American Super-Centenarian.”
36. Nathaniel Jones, former federal judge, 93
Nathaniel Jones, a former federal judge in Cincinnati, died on Jan. 26 at the age of 93. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Jones “had a 23-year career on the federal appeals court bench in Cincinnati” and that he “never wavered in his commitment to civil rights.”
37. Kobe Bryant, NBA legend, 41
Kobe Bryant, the five-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41. Pictured: Bryant shows off his jersey during a game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on Feb. 19, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.
38. Jimmy Heath jazz saxophonist, 93
Jimmy Heath, a jazz saxophonist who played with the genres greats including John Coltrane and Miles Davis, died from natural causes at the age of 93. Pictured: Heath plays tenor saxophone while performing with his Big Band at the 4th Annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park in New York, New York, Aug. 25, 1996. (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)
39. Yolanda Carr, mother of Atatiana Jefferson
Source:S. Lee Merritt
Yolanda Carr, the mother of Atatiana Jefferson, who was shot and killed by a Texas police officer inside of her home, died Jan. 9. Carr’s death followed the death of Jefferson’s father, meaning the police officer effectively wiped out two generations of one family in just a few short months with his misguided shooting of Jefferson in November 2019.
40. Roscoe Vance, journalist, 71
The legendary sports journalist who covered the NBA and HBCU sports died Jan. 9 at the age of 71.
41. Nick Gordon, ex-boyfriend of Bobbi Kristina, 30
Nick Gordon, who was most famous for his relationship with Bobbi Kristina, died on Jan. 1 of an overdose. He was 30 years old.