The year 2016 saw many significant deaths in the African American community. In this two-part series, we at Nashville PRIDE want to reflect and remember some of the people we mourned in 2016 who impacted our lives in a big way.
Here in part one, we will look at those on the national stage; and next week in part two, we will look at those whose impact was primarily local. They are presented in no particular order.
Prince was found dead on April 21, 2016 at the age of 57, killed by medication he’d been taking to manage chronic pain. It was especially shocking because he had a history of clean, healthy living. His body was found at his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota in the early morning. The beloved artist, born Prince Rogers Nelson, had played a show just five days earlier.
Born Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali lived up to his nickname, “The Greatest of All Time.” In addition to his unrivaled boxing prowess, Ali also did important civil rights work. Ali died from respiratory complications after many years of suffering Parkinson’s disease.
Maurice White died in his sleep after also suffering from Parkinson’s disease for over a decade. The multitalented performer was a singer, drummer, producer, main songwriter, and founder of funk-soul group Earth, Wind and Fire, which sold over 90 million albums and won 7 Grammys.
Philadelphia soul singer Billy Paul died at his home in New Jersey after suffering from pancreatic cancer, and is best remembered for his 1972 Grammy-winning number-one hit single “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
Sportscaster John Saunders, remembered for his long runs on ESPN and ABC, died in August, while still working as the host of ABC’s college-football programming.
Singer, model, and actress Denise Matthews, who performed as Vanity, died in early 2016 after years of kidney disease.She worked with Prince in the 1980s and led the group Vanity 6. In the 1990s she renounced her “Vanity” stage name and became an evangelical minister.
Sharon Jones, a brilliant soul and funk singer who achieved fame later in life, was still at the peak of her career when she died from pancreatic cancer November 18. She led Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings for 20 years.
Clarence Reid, an R&B musician/songwriter, famous late in life for his alternate rapping persona, Blowfly, wore a purple sequinned superhero costume and rapped X-rated material that parodied the explicit lyrics of other hip-hop and pop songs, died January 17.
Rapper Malik Taylor, known as Phife Dawg, died March 23, leaving a lasting impact on music as the cofounder of seminal hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
Natalie Cole, daughter of legendary singer Nat King Cole, was a huge talent on the early R&B scene. She died from congestive heart failure just hours before New Year’s Day of 2016. Cole had hits with “This Will Be,” “Inseparable,” and “Our Love,” and then made a comeback in the ’90s with covers her father’s greatest hits, including “Unforgettable.”
Ron Glass was an actor best known for his roles as literary Det. Ron Harris in the television sitcom Barney Miller (1975–1982), and as the spiritual Shepherd Derrial Book in the 2002 science fiction series Firefly and its sequel film Serenity; he died November 25.
We also mourned Afeni Shakur, mother of Tupac Shakur; and journalists extraordinaire George Curry and Gwen Ifil.