The year 2016 was brutal. Remembering all of the lives we lost and putting them in a list was heavy. From Prince to Tommy Ford, Maurice White, Afeni Shakur, Phife Dawg, Gwen Ifill, Muhammad Ali and too many other names to mention, the black community took countless L’s this year.
We had to say goodbye to beloved musicians, athletes, actors, our favorite journalists and activists, our transgender family members and friends, and everyday people killed by police whose names became hashtags, with a new one seemingly arriving almost every day. Examining the impact they had on us, their accomplishments and the ways they died, hurt. Some lived close to or over 100 years, while others’ lives ended when they were in their 20s.
As we begin a new chapter in 2017, let’s acknowledge the people we looked up to, who taught us something new, helped us discover who we are, ignited a fire in us to seek and pursue change, or encouraged us to be the best that we can be: black and proud.
Dr. Frances Cress Welsing
The psychiatrist, scholar, “Queen Mother of Black Consciousness” and author of The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors reportedly died of complications from a stroke Jan. 2 at age 80.
An original member of the R&B vocal group the Whispers, Caldwell was an award-winning songwriter and producer, credited with the group’s most widely acclaimed ballads: “Lady,” “Say Yes” and “Are You Going My Way.” He died Jan. 5 in San Francisco at the age of 71.
A transgender man, he was shot and killed in his Baton Rouge, La., home. The man who shot him admitted doing the shooting but claimed that he thought the gun was empty. Stansberry died Feb. 27 at 30 years of age.
Ligon, the front man for the Grammy-winning gospel group the Mighty Clouds of Joy, died Dec. 11 at age 80.
A Guyanese author, diplomat and former Royal Air Force pilot, Braithwaite wrote a book, To Sir With Love, that was adapted into a successful film in 1967 starring Sidney Poitier. He died Dec. 12 in Rockville, Md., at age 104.
The renowned photojournalist captured the lives of world leaders and movie stars and was the close friend and personal photographer of Muhammad Ali. He died at a Los Angeles hospital Dec. 15 at 77 years of age.
The former linebacker and undrafted free agent for the Buffalo Bills was found shot to death Dec. 20 at a home in Detroit. Eddins was 28.
A comedian and actor and the voice of DJ Eaz-E-Dick and TaaDow on Snoop Dogg’s debut album, Doggystyle, Harris is known for his skits on Def Comedy Jam and for appearances in the films and television shows Poetic Justice, The District, The Tracy Morgan Show, The Game, Everybody Hates Chris and The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. He died from a heart attack Dec. 26 at the age of 54.
The youngest musician on Broadway in the ’70s and founder of the group Weather Report, he recorded with artists like Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Chubby Checker. Mouzon died Dec. 26 at the age of 68.
The former safety, who played several seasons for the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons, died Dec. 29 at a hospital in Miami. Carpenter was 39.
Known as Inspector Todd in the Beverly Hills Cop films, the movie star, former Detroit City Council president and prominent police detective died Feb. 29 in Detroit. He was 84.
The 16-year-old, who went by the names Kedarie and Kandicee, identified as transgender and gender fluid. Authorities found Kedarie/Kandicee shot to death in an alley March 2 in Burlington, Iowa.
He was a gospel singer, minister and founder of the Love Fellowship Tabernacle in Los Angeles. His most popular songs include “He’s Preparing Me,” “When Sunday Comes” and “Beyond the Vail.” Coley died March 15 at the age of 60.
Andrews was lead singer of the Philadelphia doo-wop group Lee Andrews & the Hearts and is the father of the Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. He died March 16 at age 79.
The 23-year-old Baltimore Ravens cornerback died in a dirt bike accident in Liberty City, Fla., on March 18 when he collided with an SUV. Walker played in eight games with the Ravens during the 2015 season.
Smyrl, an Emmy Award-winning actor, was best-known for his role as Mr. Handford, the retired firefighter who ran and owned Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street. He died March 22 at the Lankenau Medical Center outside of Philadelphia. He was 80.
Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor
The hit-making R&B singer, songwriter and producer died in Los Angeles on April 5 at age 74. His 1975 single “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You” was sampled as the hook on Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s song “Nuthin’ but a G Thang.”
The star of Bravo’s Blood, Sweat & Heels; style expert; author of Never Pay Retail Again: Shop Smart, Spend Less, and Look Your Best Ever; and former accessories editor with Essence died April 8 at the age of 36 after a battle with cancer.
The soul singer and Blues Hall of Fame Inductee, with hits such as “Trying to Live My Life Without You,” “The Only Way Is Up” and “She's About a Mover,” died in Chicago on Jan. 8. Clay was 73 years old.
A former NFL player with the Saints, Smith was shot and killed in New Orleans on April 9 in what police called a case of road rage. His wife was shot twice in the leg in the incident but survived. He was 34.
The 34-year-old transgender woman was beaten by a group of men, stabbed and shot to death April 11 in Houston.
Host of the syndicated show The Doug Banks Morning Show, the veteran radio and television personality died April 11 at his home in Florida. He was 57.
The Malian photographer was known for changing the way Westerners viewed Africa, making him one of Africa’s most celebrated artists. He received the Hasselblad Award and a Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement, the first given to either a photographer or African artist. He died April 14 in Bamako, Mali.
Blakeney, a transgender woman, was found stabbed to death in a Maryland hotel room April 16. She was 22 years old.
Dwayne “Pearl” Washington
The NBA and CBA player and Syracuse basketball star was known for his size and crossover dribble, playing for the New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat, Rapid City Thrillers and San Jose Jammers. He died April 20 at the age of 52.
Prince Rogers Nelson
An iconic singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, Prince was best-known for the album and concert film Purple Rain. The unique, innovative artist whose career spanned almost four decades was found dead in his Paisley Park complex in Minnesota, from an accidental drug overdose, on April 21. He was 57.
Parker, who was elected mayor of Teaneck, N.J., in 2014, and was the first African-American woman to become mayor of Bergen County, N.J., died in Teaneck on April 24 at the age of 44.
The singer of the soul hit “Me and Mrs. Jones” died in his New Jersey home April 24 after a battle with cancer. Paul was 81 years old.
A Congolese music star who toured around the world, he pioneered a blend of African, Cuban and Western sounds that became one of the most popular musical styles in Africa. Wemba died April 24 at age 66 after collapsing onstage during a concert.
As one of the first black players to be signed professionally, this Negro League, Mexican League and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer played with the Newark Eagles, New York Giants and Chicago Cubs. Irvin died Jan. 11 in Houston at age 96.
Tyreece “Reecey” Walker
In Wichita, Kan., the 32-year-old transgender woman died May 1 after being stabbed by a 16-year-old boy.
The mother of slain rapper Tupac was also a political and social activist, former Black Panther and member of the Panther 21. Shakur died May 2 in Sausalito, Calif., at age 69.
Anne Deborah Atai-Omoruto
The Ugandan doctor went to Liberia at the request of the World Health Organization during the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and was instrumental in reducing its impact. She died May 5 from pancreatic cancer, according to her daughter. Atai-Omoruto was 59.
Michael S. Harper
Harper—an English professor at Brown University and poet laureate of Rhode Island from 1988 to 1993—wrote poems infused with jazz, history and his personal experiences. He died May 7 in Rhinebeck, N.Y., at 78 years old.
Susannah Mushatt Jones
Born before 1900, Jones was the world’s oldest living person and, at 116 years and 311 days old, the last living American born in the 19th century. For decades she made a living by working as a nanny for wealthy families, retiring in 1965. She died May 12 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
A performer under the stage name Mercedes Successful, the 32-year-old black transgender woman, also known as Shavon Marlon Shawn, was shot and killed May 15. She was found in a parking lot in Haines City, Fla.
The former deputy White House counsel and nominee for the ambassadorship to the Bahamas died May 25 at her home in Washington, D.C. Butts was 50.
The legendary heavyweight boxing champion, political activist and philanthropist, who was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, died June 3 in Scottsdale, Ariz., at 74 years old.
On June 5 the body of a transgender woman known as Goddess was found in a burning car in New Orleans. The coroner confirmed that Diamond died as a result of blunt force trauma. She was 20 years old.
Cedric James Robinson
Robinson, an activist and the author of several highly regarded books, including Black Marxism, was director of the Center for Black Studies Research and a faculty member of the political science department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He died June 5 at age 76.
Clarence “Blowfly” Reid
The musician, soul singer, songwriter, producer and rapper who also performed under the alias “Blowfly” died Jan. 17 at the age of 76 in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.
Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson
The street fighter-turned-popular MMA fighter Kevin Ferguson, better known as Kimbo Slice, died in Coral Springs, Fla., on June 6 at age 42.
A former NBA center and Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach, Rooks collapsed and died of a heart attack June 7 while having dinner at a restaurant in Philadelphia. He was 46 years old.
The former NFL defensive lineman, who played 14 seasons for the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals, was found dead June 11 in a motel room in Milwaukee. Robinson was 41.
Attrell “Prince Be” Cordes
A singer and rapper, Cordes was known by his stage name Prince Be as half of the hip-hop/R&B group P.M. Dawn, which he started with his brother Jarrett “DJ Minutemix” Cordes in 1988. Their song “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1991. Cordes died in New Jersey on June 17 at the age of 46.
The keyboardist, composer and founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, along with 15 other members of the group. Worrell died June 24 at the age of 72 after a battle with lung cancer.
Lee Wesley Gibson
Gibson, believed to have been the oldest living Pullman porter, died in Los Angeles on June 25 at age 106. He started working for the Union Pacific Railroad as a coach attendant in 1936, at the peak of the Great Depression, and was later promoted to Pullman porter, serving first-class passengers, including celebrities.
A veteran award-winning journalist and Minnesota Public Radio news editor, Randolph was hired at MPR in 2003 and covered homelessness, immigration and politics. She was also an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists and a mentor and teacher to aspiring journalists of color. She died July 3 at age 53 after a battle with cancer.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., on July 4, Small was shot and killed by off-duty New York City Police Officer Wayne Isaacs after the two got into an argument about Isaacs reportedly cutting Small off in traffic, according to authorities. He was 37 years old.
The 37-year-old was selling music CDs in front of a store July 5 when two Baton Rouge, La., police officers arrived, responding to an anonymous call indicating that a man wearing a red shirt had threatened the caller with a gun. An altercation between Sterling and the police ensued, leading one of the officers to fatally shoot him. Part of the altercation and shooting was captured on video.
On July 6 in Falcon Heights, Minn., Castile was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. His girlfriend, Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, which was circulated nationwide before being removed from the site. He was 32 years old.
This singer and member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame was the co-founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire. They won six Grammy Awards, an NAACP Hall of Fame Award, four American Music Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. White was 74 years old when he died Feb. 4 in Los Angeles.
A transgender woman, Dodds was shot July 4 and left on a street in Washington, D.C. According to media reports, she was taken off life support nine days later and died July 13 at the age of 22.
This 11-year Golden State Warriors player and Hall of Famer was in the NBA for 14 years. A seven-time All-Star in the 1960s and ’70s, Thurmond died July 16 at 74 after battling leukemia.
The former NFL coach died July 21 at age 67 from complications of cardiac arrest. Green led the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals over 13 seasons.
A registered nurse, the 25-year-old transgender woman was visiting the 7th Annual Gulf Coast Black Rodeo in Biloxi, Miss. Whigham was stabbed to stabbed to death in a hotel room July 23.
Youree “Miss Cleo” Harris
The self-proclaimed psychic became famous for her late-night psychic-hotline commercials of the ’90s, in which she asked viewers to “Call me now!” She died in Palm Beach County, Fla., on July 16 at 53 years old.
James Alan McPherson
A MacArthur Fellowship recipient, McPherson was the first black writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He died in Iowa City on July 27 as a result of complications from pneumonia. He was 72.
The unarmed 27-year-old was initially identified as a suspect in a carjacking and was fatally shot by a deputy July 28. According to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Thompson was actually innocent.
Antonio and Dawn Armstrong
The former NFL player and his wife, both 42, were shot and killed July 29 by their 16-year-old son in their Houston home. Dawn died in their bedroom, and Antonio was pronounced dead at the hospital. Antonio was a Texas A&M All-American and played for the Miami Dolphins as a linebacker.
Inez Y. Kaiser
Kaiser was the first black woman to own a national public relations firm, doing so in the late 1950s, and was also the first African American to open a business in Kansas City, Mo. She died in Overland Park, Kan., on July 31 at the age of 98.
The 23-year-old mother was fatally shot by Baltimore County police officers Aug. 1 after an hourslong standoff in Randallstown, Md.
Denise “Vanity” Matthews
Better known as Vanity, the “Nasty Girl” singer was a protégée of music legend Prince and former member of the girl group Vanity 6. She died in Freemont, Calif., on Feb. 15 at age 57.
Alfredo “Dr. Sebi” Bowman
Dr. Sebi, born Alfredo Bowman, was a world-renowned vegetarian herbalist, healer, pathologist and biochemist who claimed to have found a cure for AIDS, cancer and other diseases. On Aug. 6, Bowman was rushed to a local hospital, reportedly for pneumonia complications. He died before they arrived, at 82 years old.
The broadcaster worked for ESPN close to 30 years, covering college football, basketball and the NHL, and was an anchor of SportsCenter and The Sports Reporters. Saunders died Aug. 10 at age 61.
Thomas, a transgender woman from Columbus, Ohio, was shot and beaten by her mother’s ex-boyfriend, who called her “the devil.” She died in their home Aug. 12 at age 28.
The veteran journalist advocated for the black press and was reviving his award-winning magazine Emerge as an online publication before he died in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 20 at the age of 69.
The former NPR commentator and self-proclaimed “culinary griot,” who celebrated the Gullah food and culture of her native South Carolina in the 1970 book Vibration Cooking: or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl, died Sept. 3 at age 79.
In Chicago, Saffore, a transgender woman, was found dead near railroad tracks with her throat slit. She died of multiple stab and incision wounds Sept. 11 at age 28.
On Sept. 11, Sterling was shot and killed by Brian Trainer, a Washington, D.C., police officer who activated his body camera after he fired his weapon. Trainer said that he shot Sterling because he intentionally ran Trainer's motorcycle into his cruiser. Witnesses indicated that the collision was unavoidable and Sterling did not intentionally strike the cruiser. He was 31.
Columbus, Ohio, police officers were responding to an armed robbery call when they shot and killed the 13-year-old. According to them, Tyre pulled a gun from his waistband; later they learned that it was a BB gun. He died Sept. 14.
Crutcher, unarmed, was shot and killed Sept. 16 by Tulsa, Okla., Police Officer Betty Shelby, who was charged with first-degree manslaughter. A police helicopter captured video footage of the incident. He was 40 years old.
Around 3 a.m. on Sept. 16, Baltimore police found 32-year-old Edmonds, a transgender woman, suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. She died at a hospital in Baltimore several hours later.
Recorded as the first black transgender woman killed this year, the 25-year-old was found on a street in Philadelphia on Feb. 20 after being stabbed multiple times. Young died later at the Aria Frankford Hospital.
GLAAD reports that 2016 was the deadliest year for transgender people in the United States, with 26 murdered as of November. According to a 2015 report (pdf) by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, of the reported LGBTQ people killed, 67 percent were transgender and gender nonconforming, and 54 percent were transgender women of color.
The Baltimore Ravens’ assistant coach and longest-tenured coach died Sept. 17 at a hospital in Weston, Fla., after battling cancer. Brooks was 65.
Keith Lamont Scott
On Sept. 20, Scott, a disabled man, was fatally shot by Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., officers who were reportedly searching for someone who had outstanding warrants. Cellphone footage captures the moments before and after Scott was shot. He died at the hospital at age 43.
Carlos “Shawty Lo” Walker
The rapper and founding member of the hip-hop group D4L was killed in a hit-and-run accident Sept. 21, when his car was hit by another vehicle on Interstate 285 in Georgia. He was 40.
On Sept. 23, Alford, a transgender woman, was found by housekeeping at a Birmingham, Ala., motel shot to death. She was 30 years old.
Stanley Joseph “Buckwheat” Dural Jr.
The accordionist was the founder of the band Buckwheat Zydeco, which toured for 30 years, winning a Grammy and an Emmy Award. Dural died Sept. 24 in Lafayette, La., at 68.
He’s the actor best known for his role as Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, but he also appeared in Lee’s School Daze, Mo’ Better Blues and He Got Game. Nunn also appeared in Kiss the Girls, New Jack City, Sister Act and three Spiderman films. He died Sept. 24 in his hometown of Pittsburgh at age 62.
Born Michael Jones, the multi-Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and producer was known for introducing the synthesizer to R&B and writing and producing for artists such as Whitney Houston and Barry White. Saleem died Sept. 25 at age 56 in Los Angeles.
Olango, unarmed, was in mental distress Sept. 27 when El Cajon, Calif., police officers shot and killed him in a shopping center. They were aware of his mental state, and his sister had called for someone to help him. He was 30 years old.
The renowned author of The Women of Brewster Place, released in 1982, won a National Book Award and American Book Award in 1983. It was adapted for television as a trailblazing series in 1989, starring Oprah Winfrey, Robin Givens, Mary Alice and Cicely Tyson. Naylor was 66 years old when she died of heart failure Sept. 28 near her home in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Carnell Snell Jr.
Snell was shot by Los Angeles police five times Oct. 1 after a foot chase, which stirred protests. Surveillance footage of the moments leading up to the shooting was released by officials. He died at age 18.
Marquintan Sandlin and Kisha Michael
According to family, on Feb. 21 the couple had wrapped up a night out and pulled over on the side of the road to take a nap. Inglewood, Calif., police responded to a call about a suspicious vehicle around 3 a.m. The details aren’t clear as to why, but the officers shot and killed Michael, 31, and Sandlin, 32.
Brandi “Chill” Bledsoe
The body of the 32-year-old transgender woman was discovered by a child in a driveway behind a home in Cleveland. Bledsoe’s Oct. 8 death is being investigated as a suspected homicide.
A professional boxer and two-time light welterweight world champion, Pryor was known around the world as “the Hawk.” He died Oct. 9 at 60 years old after a long battle with heart disease.
Kenneth P. Thompson
Thompson, the first black district attorney of Brooklyn, N.Y., died Oct. 9 at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City at age 50.
Thomas “Tommy” Ford
Ford is known and loved for his role as Tommy Strawn, Martin Payne’s best friend on the ’90s sitcom Martin. He also appeared in the Kid ’n Play movie Class Act as Mink and in Harlem Nights as Tommy Smalls, in addition to television's Against the Law, The Jamie Foxx Show and The Parkers. He died in an Atlanta hospital Oct. 12 at age 52.
She was the first black female judge in California and one of the state’s longest-serving jurists. Spencer died Oct. 25 at the age of 96.
The work of Nauflett, a renowned chemist and inventor, was featured in the book The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity, published in 2004. On Oct. 28 he died in a fire at his Oxon Hill, Md., home. He was 84.
The actor played Dan Erickson in Land of the Giants, starred in Star Trek and appeared in the TV show Julia with Diahann Carroll. Marshall died Oct. 30 in Los Angeles at age 80.
On Nov. 5, officers were called to Hull Street in Richmond, Va., where the 30-year-old transgender woman was found on the ground suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Norwood was taken to a local hospital, where she died several hours later.
A celebrated journalist, co-managing editor of PBS NewsHour and managing editor of Washington Week, Ifill was an inspiration for black women in media. She died Nov. 14 from cancer at 61 years of age. During the 2016 campaign she became the first black woman to moderate a presidential debate, doing so for a debate between Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and the first woman of color to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992.
The well-known lead singer of the soul and funk band Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings died Nov. 18 at the age of 60 after battling pancreatic cancer. In 2014 she was nominated for her first Grammy in the Best R&B Album category for Give the People What They Want.
The actor, comedian, professional boxer and football player is known for his role as Tony “Duke” Evers, Apollo Creed’s trainer in the Rocky films. Burton died Feb. 25 at age 78 in Menifee, Calif.
Willie N. Rogers
Rogers was the oldest remaining member of the historic and heroic all-black Tuskegee Airmen, where he was master sergeant. He died Nov. 18 in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., at age 101.
Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr.
A musician, restaurant owner and social-justice advocate, Chase and his wife, Leah, turned the family’s Treme, La., sandwich shop into a world-famous restaurant. They also used a room upstairs, in violation of the law, as a gathering place for black and white civil rights leaders, activists and supporters such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., James Meredith and Thurgood Marshall to eat and plan. Chase died Nov. 22 at 88.
Raye, 19, was shot and killed Nov. 23 by a Chicago police officer who said that the teen pointed a gun at him twice, although no weapon was ever found.
Richard “Onion” Horton
Horton, a St. Louis radio veteran of over three decades, was a controversial media personality who openly shared his confrontational views about race on air. He died Nov. 24 at 80 years old.
Colonel Abrams Page
Known by his first and middle names, the ’80s dance-music artist and R&B singer of “Not Gonna Let You” and “Trapped” died Nov. 24 at age 67.
A ’70s sitcom star, Glass is recognized for his role on the police TV show Barney Miller. He portrayed the character Ron Harris, a dapper detective with literary chops, and was nominated for an Emmy for his work. Glass died of respiratory failure Nov. 25 at age 71.
The 28-year-old former NFL running back, who played for the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs, was shot and killed Dec. 1 in a road rage incident near New Orleans.
The New Orleans rhythm and blues tenor saxophonist, known for his association with pianist Fats Domino and producer Dave Bartholomew, died Dec. 3 from cancer in Las Vegas. He was 91.
Tyruss “Big Syke” Himes
The rapper, better known as Big Syke, was a longtime friend and member of Tupac Shakur’s Thug Life group who dropped verses on some of the icon's most popular songs, including “All Eyez on Me,” “Picture Me Rollin’” and “Check Out Time.” He was found dead Dec. 5 at his home in Hawthorne, Calif. He was 48.
On Dec. 5 the Heisman Trophy winner and former Chicago Bears player was found dead at Eben G. Fine Park in Boulder, Colo., 2 miles from Folsom Field, where he played as a running back for the University of Colorado from 1992 to 1994. Authorities said that a gun and a note were found at the scene. He was 42 years old.