As celebrations around the world rang in the new year on Jan. 1, 2020, no one could have imagined—let alone predicted—the staggering loss and grief that would come to define the year.
The shocking deaths of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in January would be the first of many emotional losses we would endure. In the coming months, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd would unleash a reckoning over police brutality and racial injustice in this country that would spread to all corners of the globe. All the while, a previously unknown virus was also spreading around the world, growing into a global pandemic that—due to government failure and inaction—would strike harder and deeper in Black and Latinx communities. At year’s end, more than 300,000 Americans would be dead, with one study showing that among those, more than 52,000 were African Americans.
But the arrival of a pair of vaccines provides a glimmer of hope for brighter days in the coming new year. But before we leave this wretched year behind, let’s honor those who have joined the ancestors.
Nick Gordon, former boyfriend of the late Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, died on Jan. 1 following a drug overdose. He was 30 years old.
The mother of Atatiana Jefferson, Yolanda Carr, died on Jan. 9 due to ongoing illness months after her daughter was fatally shot by police. Jefferson had been her caretaker leading up to her death. She was 55.
Roscoe Nance was a graduate of Tuskegee University and began his career as the Clarion-Ledger’s first Black sportswriter. Known as the “dean of Black college sports writers,” the former USA Today reporter spanned a career focusing on HBCU sports and the NBA. Nance died on Jan. 9 and was 71.
WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson was known as one of the two stars in the Soul Patrol duo with Tony Atlas. The pair was the first Black tag team to exist in WWE history. As father to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rocky saw his son’s own wrestling and acting career skyrocket. Johnson died on Jan. 15 at the age of 75.
As a tenor saxophonist, Jimmy Heath played with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and became a jazz legend himself. He was awarded the title of Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. He died on Jan. 19 at the age of 93.
As a model-turned-makeup-artist, Vanessa Evelyn was renowned for working with everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio and Rosa Parks to Tupac Shakur. As she made a name behind the scenes, her distinct style has graced the magazines of Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity fair, among others. After a battle with cancer, she died on Jan. 22. She was 55.
Across his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant became known as one of the NBA’s most prolific scorers. The five-time NBA champion solidified his status as one of the greatest athletes of all time with 18 NBA All-Star appearances, earning a total of four MVP All-Star Awards to go along with his two NBA Finals MVP wins. Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant, on Jan. 26.
Lovingly referred to as Gigi, Gianna Bryant had a strong desire to walk in her father’s footsteps; she had a heart for the game and the talent to match. Gianna was posthumously memorialized, along with two others, as the first honorary 2020 draft picks in the WNBA. The University of Connecticut also paid tribute by naming her an honorary member of her dream team, the Huskies. She died Jan. 26 at age 13.
Born and raised in New York, Esther Scott was most known for her roles in Boyz N the Hood, Birth of a Nation, Dreamgirls, Martin and Sister, Sister. On Feb. 14, she died from a heart attack in Los Angeles at 66.
In 2016, young Ugandan actress Nikita Pearl Waligwa captivated audiences in Disney’s Queen of Katwe as the friend of lead character, Phiona Mutesi, played by Madina Lawanga. She died on Feb. 15 from a brain tumor. She was 15.
Ja’Net DuBois lit up the stage as Willona Woods on Good Times and co-wrote and sang the forever classic song, “Movin’ On Up,”which was the theme to The Jeffersons. The two-time Emmy award winner also starred in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and several other TV sitcoms. On Feb. 17, she died at 74.
Pop Smoke, born Bashar Barakah Jackson, was redefining new-era Brooklyn rap with tracks “Dior,” “Welcome to the Party’’ and “Christopher Walking.” Smoke released Meet the Woo 2, his second mixtape of final project on Feb. 7. He was shot and killed during a home invasion in Los Angeles on Feb. 19. He was 20.
B. Smith blazed trails as a Wilhelmina model and in 1976 she became the first Black model and second Black woman to cover Mademoiselle magazine. She then became a household name after successfully pivoting from a fashion model to an entrepreneurial restaurateur, despite being banned as a youth because of her race from joining the Future Homemakers of America. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013 and died at 70 on Feb. 22.
On Feb. 23, while out for a jog, Ahmaud Arbery was chased down by three men and shot and killed. “Ahmaud was humble. Ahmaud was a good boy. To know Ahmaud is to love Ahmaud. Ahmaud didn’t deserve to go the way he went,” said his mother, Wanda Cooper Jones. Arbery was 26 years old.
When the magnificent story of Katherine Johnson was unveiled in the book and film Hidden Figures, the world was introduced to the human computer whose complex calculations brought men to the moon. A testament to her keen intelligence and innate determination, Johnson completed high school at 14 and grew up to become one of the pioneering Black women in NASA despite the barriers in her path. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. She died on Feb. 24. She was 101.
Barbara Neely, crime writer and author of a Black female detective series, was recently named 2020 Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America. She died on March 2 at 78 following a brief illness.
American Jazz pianist, composer and bandleader McCoy Tyner was the last surviving member of the John Coltrane Quartet and heavily influenced jazz in the 1960s. The Philadelphia-born artist was known for his melodic harmonies and recorded for albums My Favorite Things, Coltrane Jazz and Coltrane Plays the Blues. He died on March 6 at 81 years old.
Darius L. Swann, of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, was crucial to the Supreme Court decision mandating busing as a method for desegregation. He died on March 8 at the age of 95.
Breonna Taylor, a hospital emergency room technician, was killed by police during a botched police raid in Louisville, Ky., on March 13. Her name, along with George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, rang out during the summer of this country’s racial reckoning. Since Taylor’s death, no-knock warrants have been banned in Louisville under “Breonna’s Law.” She was 26.
From a volunteer prison chaplain to the first woman to serve as an Episcopal bishop, Barbara C. Harris was an ambassador of God’s love and an LGBTQ activist. On March 13, she died in hospice care at 89 years old.
Uncle and trainer to Floyd Mayweather Jr., Roger “Black Mamba” Mayweather held the title of world champion boxer in two weight classes but he was more well-known as the trainer to his nephew. He died at 58 due to unspecified health issues on March 17.
North Carolina businesswoman and transgender activist, Monika Diamond, is known to have created safe spaces for member of the LGBTQ+ community in Charlotte. Active in her community, she was the co-CEO of a pageant that honors LGBTQ+ mothers. She was fatally shot on March 18. She was 34 years old.
Airickca Gordon-Taylor, a relative of Emmett Till and founder of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, spent her life devoted to civil rights education and empowering youth. She died on March 22 at age 50.
French-Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango was famous for his 1972 song “Soul Makossa,” which was sampled by Michael Jackson, Akon and Rihanna. He worked with Herbie Hancock and has a career spanning over 60 years. He died at 86 on March 24 due to COVID complications.
From 1963 to 1985, Fred “Curly” Neal played over 6,000 games with the Harlem Globetrotters in 97 countries. Playing was more than a job or mere entertainment to Neal, he regarded it a “responsibility.” He died on March 26 at 77 years old.
Alongside Martin Luther King, Rev. Joseph E. Lowery co-founded and went on to lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference until 1997. His civil rights work included organizing to desegregate buses in Alabama and advocating the rights of Selma marchers to the Alabama governor. Lowery died on March 27 at the age of 98.
Bob Andy topped U.K. charts with “Young, Gifted and Black” with Marcia Griffiths, a cover of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Social consciousness was at the root of his music he went on to work for Bob Marley’s label, Tuff Gong. He died of cancer on March 27 at the age of 75.
Bill Withers lent inspiration to many and left indelible marks in the lives of all who listened to his classic hits like “Lean on Me,” “Just the Two of Us,” “Lovely Day,” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 2015. He died on March 30 at the age of 81.
Don Campbell was the founding father of locking and was first to showcase the Campbellock, the popular hip-hop street dance that became famous around the world along with break dancing. He died of cardiac arrest on March 30 at 69 years old.
Hailed as “one of the best bandleaders in the music” Wallace Roney was a musician with a 40 year career playing trumpet and composing music. He released 20 albums and won a Grammy for the album A Tribute to Miles. He was 59 years old when he died due to COVID complications on March 31.
Legendary jazz pianist and New Orleans Jazz family patriarch, Ellis Marsalis Jr., spent his days performing, mentoring talent and supporting the work of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. Marsalis, 85, died on April 1 due to COVID complications.
Former Philadelphia Eagles running back, M*A*S*H* movie and TV show actor, Timothy Brown, died on April 4 at 82. He reportedly suffered from dementia.
Cheryl A. Wall, a literary champion in African American studies, was a celebrated figure in literature and academia. The notable historian co-founded the Rutgers English Diversity Institute and edited two volumes of Zora Neal Hurston’s work. She died on April 4 from asthma complications. Wall was 71 years old.
During a time when NFL owners did not want Black players on their team, Bobby Mitchell defied the odds as the first African American player to sign with the Washington Redskins. In 1983, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He died April 5 at 84.
Earl G. Graves raised the bar and empowered the community when he founded and launched Black Enterprise in 1970. He established the media company by highlighting Black-owned businesses and utilizing the platform for economic justice. Graves endured a long battle with Alzheimer’s and died April 6 at the age of 85.
Model and Philly rapper, Chynna Roger, died at the age of 25 on April 8. Prior to her death, she was very open about her struggles with drug addiction. It was at 14 she started modeling with Ford and then began to release music in 2013 as she further developed as an artist.
Former Houston State Rep. Al Edwards’ work to make Juneteenth a statewide holiday and his time protesting apartheid in South Africa are testaments of his character and principles. He died of natural causes at 83 years old on April 29.
The “Father of Afrobeats,” Tony Allen, died in Paris on April 30. The Nigerian-born drummer played with Fela Kuti and innovated new sounds that shaped the popular global genre. The cause of death was an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 79 years old.
Jamaican singer Millie Small took ska music worldwide with her song “My Boy Lollipop” in 1963. The record sold 6 million copies. On May 5, Small died of a stroke at the age of 72 in England.
Andre Harrell was the man behind the label that cultivated the careers of Heavy D, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci and Diddy. As founder of Uptown Records during the late ’80s early ’90s, the sounds produced then influenced such a quintessential time in hip-hop and R&B. Harrell died at 59 on May 7.
Very rarely can an artist combine gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues and absolutely no one has done it quite like Little Richard. His vocal range and flamboyant style were an inspiration to generations of performers. Considered one of the the architects of rock and roll, Richard died at the age of 87 on May 9.
Betty Wright was another iconic music artist who started out in gospel. She made famous the 1974 Grammy winning hit “Where is the Love?” and released music over the course of 50 years. In 2011, the Roots helped bring her story to life with Betty Wright: The Movie. On May 10, Wright died at 66 years old.
Fred L. Davis marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., was a pioneer in Black-owned business and was Memphis’s first Black city council chairman. Davis died on May 12, after being ill for several months. He was 86.
From President Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, Wilson Roosevelt Jerman served 11 U.S. presidents as a member of the White House staff. He began as a cleaner, advanced to become a butler and was promoted to maître d. Jerman died at 91 due to COVID-19 on May 16.
WWE wrestler Shad Gaspard, dubbed Da Beast, made headlines as part of the Cryme Tyme tag team duo with JTG. He acted in Kevin Hart’s Get Hard and pursued other roles in TV and film. Gaspard died at 39 on May 17 after getting caught in a rip tide while saving his 10-year-old son.
Contemporary artist Emma Amos explored the intersectionality between race and gender before it was coined as a term used in the mainstream. Evoking the elements of vibrant, Black middle-class life and American culture, her art was a form of activism. Amos died at the age of 83 on May 21, due to complications with Alzheimer’s.
Tony McDade, a Black transgender man, was fatally shot on May 27 at 38 years old. Marking the third officer-involved killing in Tallahassee in less than two months, his death sparked protests against police brutality and calls for accountability.
Legendary drummer James Wilbur Cobb can be heard playing on Mile Davis’s celebrated Kind of Blue. He was the last surviving member of the First Great Sextet, which included Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderly. On May 28, he died at 91 from lung cancer.
The painfully public death of George Floyd on May 25 while in custody of the Minneapolis police dug into the wound of a nation and set off a chain reaction of protests across the globe. His death marked a crucial point in the struggle for Black lives and amplified the deaths of all those who had experienced police brutality and racial injustice. Floyd was 46.
Wes Unseld was an NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame honoree. The Louisville, Ky., native is one of two players (with Wilt Chamberlain) to be Rookie of the Year and MVP in a single season. He helped propel the then-Washington Bullets (now Wizards) to the franchise’s lone NBA championship. On June 2, Unseld died at 74 after enduring health complications, including pneumonia.
Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin Salau is remembered for her passionate, spiritual and loving nature. She fought diligently for the rights Black lives deserve, while suffering herself. Toyin went missing on June 6 after speaking at a Tallahassee protest for Tony McDade, a Black trans man killed by police. She was found dead on June 13 and her death confirmed on June 15.
Known for their high-powered ’80s dance hits, the Pointer Sisters brought energy to “I’m so Excited,” “He’s So Shy,” and “Jump (For My Love).” Bonnie Pointer was part of the original singing duo prior to becoming the trio that Atlantic signed. Together they share three Grammy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Pointer was 69 and died from cardiac arrest on June 8.
This is Us writer, author and television personality Jas Waters shared her talent across different mediums within the media industry. Waters was a former columnist at Vibe magazine and hailed from Evanston, Illinois. The 39-year-old’s death on June 9 was ruled a suicide.
Emma Sanders worked as an activist during anti-segregation campaigns, and she pushed to have a federal building to be named after Dr. A.H. McCoy, a civil rights activist. It was the first federal building to be named after a Black person. At 91, she died June 24 in Branders, Miss.
St. Louis rapper Huey, also known as Baby Huey, made popular “Pop Lock & Drop it,” which debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2007. The 31-year-old rapper died from gunshot wounds on June 25.
Earl Cameron is heralded as Britain’s first leading Black actor and holds the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to drama. He broke barriers in the British film industry when he first appeared in Pool of London, then in James Bond film Thunderball and in his later years had a small role in Inception. He died at the age of 102 on July 3.
Naya Rivera dazzled audiences as a child actor on TV sitcoms like Family Matters and as an adult in the musical drama series Glee. On July 8, Rivera took her son Josey out on a boat to swim. She managed to bring her son to safety before mysteriously drowning. Rivera was 33 years old.
Nicole Thea was a YouTuber who amassed 87,000 subscribers with her beauty tutorials, dance videos and travel vlogs. Thea was 24 years old and died with her unborn son, Reign, on July 11. Her death brought attention to the rates of death for Black mothers and the disparities in the quality of healthcare provided to Black women.
Nelson Mandela’s youngest daughter, Zindzi Mandela, died on July 13 at 59 years old. In 1985, she was tasked with reading her father’s rejection of former president P.W. Botha’s offer to be released from prison. Mandela served as South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark and was to lead a new mission in Monrovia.
Actress Galyn Görg starred in Robocop 2, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and most recently Sam Raimi’s series M.A.N.T.I.S. After a nine-month struggle with cancer, Görg passed away at 55, the day before her birthday.
The child of sharecroppers, U.S. Rep. John Lewis was a lifelong activist, bold public servant and crucial figure in the civil rights movement. He is one of the original 13 Freedom Riders and was the youngest of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. As a politician he represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes most of Atlanta. He died at 80 years old on July 17 after battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
Rev. C.T. Vivian participated in the Freedom Rides and was an executive member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He created Upward Bound, launched the Black Action Strategies and Information Center, and authored Black Power and the American Myth. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Vivian died on July 17 due to natural causes at 95 years old.
The Roots rapper Malik B., born Malik Abdul Basit, died on July 29 at 47 years old. He along with Black Thought and Questlove released their independent album, Organix, in 1993. It was Do You Want More?!!!??! that showcased Black Thought and Malik B.’s matched lyrical abilities. “Your steel sharpened my steel as I watched you create cadences from the ether and set them free into the universe to become poetic law,” wrote Black Thought in a tribute.
Herman Cain ran for president as a Republican candidate in 2012. Cain was a businessman and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. He also hosted The Herman Cain Show on his website and Herman Cain’s American on Newsmax. On July 30, Cain died at the age of 74 in Atlanta from COVID-19, less than two weeks after he attended a Trump rally without a mask.
Bob Ryland was the first African American to play professional tennis and was one of the first to compete in the NCAA men’s tennis tournament. During his career, he offered lessons to Arthur Ashe and taught Serena and Venus Williams. Ryland died at 100 after a bout with pneumonia on Aug. 2.
Wrestler James Harris played the role of Kamala “The Ugandan Giant” in the -then-World Wrestling Federation (now WWE). The 6-foot, 7-inch Mississippi native retired from the sport in 1993. Harris died on Aug. 9 from COVID-19 at 70 years old.
Raymond Allen kept crowds laughing with his roles in Sanford and Son as Uncle Woody and in Good Times as Ned the Wino. Allen also made memorable appearances in classic shows such as The Jeffersons, The Love Boat and What’s Happening. He died at the age of 91 on Aug. 10.
DJ and A&R music executive Quinn Coleman was the son of former BET Chairman and CEO Debra Lee. Coleman spent his career working for Capitol Records, Warner Bros. Records and Sirius XM. He died on Aug. 16 at the age of 31.
Zavion Davenport, best known as Chi Chi Devayne, starred in the eighth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and All Stars 3 spin-off. The 34-year-old was hospitalized for kidney issues a month prior to her death on Aug. 20.
Our forever Black Panther Chadwick Boseman inspired a new generation with his portrayal of T’Challa, while proving to be a real-life superhero off the big screen. He kept his health diagnosis private while continuing to press on in his purpose. Boseman’s charisma and magnetism shined in films such as Get On Up, Marshall, 42, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and illustrated his dedication to tell and amplify Black stories. On Aug. 28, he died at 43 years old after battling colon cancer.
NBA Basketball player Cliff Robinson played 18 seasons with the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors and the Detroit Pistons. He died at 53 due to lymphoma on Aug. 29.
John Thompson was the first African-American coach to win an NCAA championship as head coach of Georgetown University and completed his tenure with 596 NCAA wins. Thompson was also known to have mentored and recruited players who went on to stellar careers in the NBA, including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson. He died on Aug. 30 at 78 years old.
Baseball outfielder Lou Brock was one of the most revered members of the Cardinals and a prolific base stealer. During his 19-year big league career, he stole 938 bases, including 118 in 1974, which were both major league records until they were broken by Ricky Henderson. Brock was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1985 as soon as he became eligible. The 81-year-old died on Sept. 6.
After joining The Temptations in 2007, Bruce Williamson performed the group’s long-time hits such as “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” He died on Sept. 6 at 49 years old.
Kool & the Gang singer Ronald “Khalis” Bell co-founded the group with his brother Robert “Kool” Bell. Fusing R&B, jazz and funk, the group went on to create several cookout/club anthems, including “Jungle Boogie,” “Celebration,” “Ladies Night,” and “Get Down On It.” In 2014, they were the recipients of the BET Soul Train Lifetime Achievement Award. The self-taught musician died at 68 on Sept. 9.
Frederick Nathaniel, known as Toots Hibbert, fused R&B and soul with reggae to produce songs that resonated with his native Jamaica and honored the original artists. Hibbert was the lead singer in Toots and the Maytals and his last album, Got To Be Tough, was released in August of 2020. Prior to his death, he was hospitalized for complications due to COVID-19 and died at 77 on Sept. 11.
Veteran TV producer Jeremy Hutchins, was the showrunner for Entertainment Weekly’s Quibi series, Last Night’s Late Night, and has worked on The View and 106th and Park. He died Sept. 15 at 37.
Manhattan-born playwright Steve Carter won awards for his work addressing complex themes and untold narratives found within Black- and Caribbean-American communities. The product of the Black Arts movement and Negro Ensemble Company, Carter died at the age of 90 on Sept. 15.
Stanley Crouch began his career in the 1960s as a Village Voice and New York Daily News columnist. He was a founder of the Jazz at Lincoln Center, a mentor to Wynton Marsalis and the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Crouch died at 74 on Sept. 16.
Roy C. Hammond wrote socially conscious messages in songs such as “Open Letter to the President” and “Great Great Grandson of a Slave.” In 1973, he wrote “Impeach the President” as his artistic response to the Richard Nixon Watergate scandal. On Sept. 16, 81-year-old Hammond died of liver cancer.
Pamela Hutchinson of the Grammy Award-winning group the Emotions achieved great success in the 1970s with the group’s single “Best of My Love.” She died on Sept. 18 at the age of 61.
The Marvelettes helped put Motown on the map with “Please Mr. Postman” celebrated as Motown’s first No. 1 Billboard Hot 100. Although Georgia Dobbins Davis, an original Marvelette member, had to leave the group before the group even scored the No. 1 hit because of family reasons, she still is credited with co-writing the hit. She died of cardiac arrest at the age of 78 on Sept. 18.
Gale Sayers, one of the NFL’s greatest running backs who famously said “Give me 18 inches of daylight, that’s all I need,” died at the age of 77 on Sept. 23 after battling dementia. At 34 years old, he was the youngest person inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame, having accumulated nearly 5,000 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns—including six touchdown in one game during his rookie season— during his career.
Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson was one of the first and few African-American pitchers bestowed with the prestigious Cy Young Award. He won it twice, along with being named World Series MVP in 1964 and 1967. He died on Oct. 2 at 84 years old from pancreatic cancer.
Actor Thomas Jefferson Byrd is remembered for his performances in Chi-Raq, Red Hook Summer, He Got Game and Clockers died after being shot in Atlanta on Oct. 3. He was 70.
Armelia McQueen, Ain’t Misbehavin’ Broadway star and actress in Ghost, had an entertainment career spanning over 30 years. McQueen died at 68 years old on Oct. 3.
Trans rights activist and journalist Monica Roberts founded her GLAAD Award-winning blog, TransGriot, in 2006 to center trans stories throughout the African diaspora. She became a beacon in the LGBTQ+ community for doing the work and wrote for publications including Ebony, The Advocate and OutSmart Magazine. Roberts, 58, passed away on Oct. 5.
Johnny Nash, crooner of the timeless classic “I Can See Clearly Now,” led the charts at the age of 30. The tune has been covered by stars such as Ray Charles, Jimmy Cliff and Donny Osmond. Nash is even noted to have helped Bob Marley launch his career. He died of natural causes on Oct. 6. He was 80 years old.
Cincinnati Reds’ Joe Morgan was a 10-time All-Star player, winning five Gold glove and helping his team win the World series in 1975 and 1976. He died Oct. 11 at 77 due to a nerve condition.
From 1990-1993, Joyce Dinkins served as New York City’s first lady after her husband, David Dinkins, became the city’s first Black mayor. Dinkins was a Harlem native, who attended Howard University and devoted her time in office to improving education and making the arts more accessible to city youth. Dinkins died Oct. 11 at 89 years old.
Actor and former Vietnam veteran Anthony Chisholm was a regular in the plays of August Wilson, earning a Tony Award nomination for his work in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle series. Chisholm also appeared in Spike Lee’s Chi-raq and received the NAACP Theatre Award. He died at the age of 77 on Oct. 16.
The light of an anointed gospel legend has dimmed with the loss of singer Rance Allen. He took runs to a new level, shared “Something About the Name of Jesus’’ and offered a taste of how true angels sing. The 71-year-old died after a medical procedure on Oct. 31.
The eclectic rapper born Daniel Dumile, who went by several names, including Metal Face, King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn and the Villain, died on Oct. 31 at age 49. The cause of death is unknown and his family kept his death private until his record label posted the news on Instagram on Dec. 31.
Actor Bert Belasco was quarantining prior to filming a movie when he was found dead on Nov. 8. Belasco co-starred in BET’s Let’s Stay Together and Fox’s Pitch. He was 38 years old.
Pentecostal pastor Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. was known for his conservative views and for serving as a spiritual adviser to President Donald Trump. Jackson died on Nov. 9 at 67 years old.
It took more than courage for Lucille Bridges, the mother of civil rights activist Ruby Bridges, to send her daughter, escorted by U.S. marshals, to become the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in New Orleans. Her daughter would be immortalized in a Norman Rockwell painting and Lucille would go on to be recognized as one of the mothers of the civil rights movement. Bridges died Nov. 17 at 86.
Drew Days III was the first African American to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Born and raised in the segregated South, he was a champion of racial equality and was at one-time a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He died Nov. 15 at 79 due to complications from dementia.
At the tender age of 14, Ben Watkins impressed judges on MasterChef Junior and was selected as one of the top 18 contestants. Despite enduring family trauma at a young age, he was remembered by celebrities and family for his positive spirit and determination to overcome. He died on Nov. 16 from a rare form of cancer.
The son of Bobby Brown and Kim Ward, Robert Barisford “Bobby” Brown Jr., was found dead on Nov. 18 in Los Angeles. He was 28 years old.
Marguerite Ray made television and soap history as the first Black woman regularly featured on The Young and the Restless. She died at age 89 on Nov. 18.
With parents known as Mr. and Mrs. Civil Rights, Bruce Boynton was born into a family of activists and inspired the 1961 Freedom Rides. His mother, Amelia Boynton Robinson, was a civil rights activist whose image was captured in an iconic photo from the “Bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Ala in 1965. His victory in the case Boynton v. Virginia (1960), with the help of Thurgood Marshall, declared segregation at bus stations illegal. The Howard Law graduate died at 83 on Nov. 23.
David Dinkins made history as the first Black mayor in New York City, America’s largest city. Dinkins graduated from Howard University and Brooklyn Law school and is a WWII veteran. On Nov. 23, Dinkins died at 93.
Markus Paul, NFL strength and conditioning coach of 22 years, was an NFL player turned Dallas Cowboys coach. He died on Nov. 25 due a medical emergency after suddenly collapsing. Paul was 54 years old.
USA Track & Field commemorated Arnie Robinson Jr. as “one of the greatest long jumpers in history.” Robinson won bronze in 1972 and gold at the Olympics in 1976. The 72-year-old San Diego native died on Dec. 1 due to COVID complications.
Rafer Johnson became an Olympic Decathlon Gold medalist and the first Black captain of a U.S. Olympic team at the 1960 Rome games that proved to be historic for African American athletes. Johnsons is also the first Black athlete to carry the US flag at the opening ceremonies and his career is decorated with achievements. On Dec. 2, he died at the age of 86.
John Smallwood was recognized by Sixers coach Doc Rivers as a pioneering Black columnist, “not just for Philadelphia, but for the entire [United] States.” Smallwood had a knack for interviewing, reporting and getting to the heart of a story. He authored seven NBA-related books and was revered by athletes and journalists alike. Smallwood died at 55 due to complications from cancer on Dec. 6.
Natalie Desselle-Reid graced the big and silver screens, playing unforgettable roles in B*A*P*S, Roger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and Eve. Desselle-Reid was 53 years old and died on Dec. 7.
Electrical engineer, mathematician and physicist, Marcus Garvey III, was the son of Pan-African activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey Jr. Jamaican-born Garvey III, maintained the role of president of the United Negro Improvement Association. He died at age 90 on Dec. 8 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Veteran actress Carol Sutton was another who lost her life due to coronavirus complications. After making her acting debut in the 1960s, she has had roles in Lovecraft Country, Monster’s Ball, Ray, Queen Sugar and Steel Magnolias. She died at 76 years old on Dec. 12.
Friday won’t be the same. Fans and the community were heartbroken to hear of the loss of “gentle giant,” character actor and former wrestler Tommy “Tiny” Lister, who became famous playing neighborhood bully Deebo in the Friday movie franchise. His extensive acting credits include The Fifth Element, The Dark Knight and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. Lister died on Dec. 10 at 62.
Country Music Hall of Famer Charley Pride repeatedly topped the Billboard country charts in the face of adversity. He was an emblem of Black pride, despite being discounted in his career because of his race. He was named the Entertainer of the Year in 1971 and he accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2020 Country Music Awards. He died Dec. 12 at 86 years old due to COVID-19.
Civil rights activist and one of the first Black elected officials voted into Memphis City Council, James L. Netters Sr. was at the helm of integration in the South and worked alongside MLK and Fred L. Davis. Netters died on Dec. 13 at 93 years old.
Alfred Thomas Farrar, aerospace engineer and former Tuskegee Airman, defied gravity and adversity serving the country with the U.S. Army Air corps during the second World War. He was 99 years old and died on Dec. 17.
John “Ecstasy” Fletcher was a member of iconic hip-hop trio Whodini, whose hits included “Friends,” “Freaks Come Out at Night,” and “Five Minutes of Funk.” He died Dec. 23 at age 56.
K.C. Jones, who was a tenacious point guard and legendary coach for the Boston Celtics, was the very definition of winning. He won eight NBA titles in his nine-year career in the league, all of them with the Celtics. He would go on to coach a team featuring Hall of Famers Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to four straight NBA Finals from 1984-87, winning title in ’84 and ’86. He died on Dec. 25 at age 88.
Joe Clark, the bat-wielding New Jersey principal immortalized in the film Lean On Me starring Morgan Freeman as Clark, died on Dec. 29 at his home in Gainesville, Fla., following a long illness. He was 82.
Dancer, choreographer and locking innovator Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quiñones, who starred in both Breakin’ movies and was a founding member of the Lockers, the dance team that propelled the hip-hop dance style into the mainstream, died Dec. 29 at age 65. Quiñones formed the Lockers with locking creator Don Campbell, who died in March.