Minnie Julia Riperton-Rudolph (November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979), known professionally as Minnie Riperton, was an American singer-songwriter best known for her 1975 single "Lovin' You". She was married to songwriter and music producer Richard Rudolph from 1972 until her death in 1979. They had two children: music engineer Marc Rudolph and actress/comedian Maya Rudolph.
Riperton grew up on Chicago's South Side. As a child, she studied music, drama, and dance at Chicago's Lincoln Center. In her teen years, she sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group, The Gems. Her early affiliation with the legendary Chicago-based Chess Records afforded her the opportunity to sing backup for various established artists such as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Ramsey Lewis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and Muddy Waters. While at Chess, Riperton also sang lead for the experimental rock/soul group Rotary Connection, from 1967 to 1971. On April 5, 1975, Riperton reached the apex of her career with her #1 single, "Lovin' You". The single was the last release from her 1974 gold album entitled Perfect Angel.
In January 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. By the time of diagnosis, the cancer had metastasized and she was given about six months to live. Despite the grim prognosis, she continued recording and touring. She was one of the first celebrities to go public with her breast cancer diagnosis, but did not disclose she was terminally ill. In 1977, she became a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. In 1978, she received the American Cancer Society's Courage Award which was presented to her at the White House by President Jimmy Carter. She died at age 31 on July 12, 1979.
Riperton was born in Chicago, the daughter of Thelma Inez (Matthews) and Daniel Webster Riperton, a Pullman porter. The youngest of eight children in a musical family, she embraced the arts early. Although she began with ballet and modern dance, her parents recognized her vocal and musical abilities and encouraged her to pursue music and voice. At Chicago's Lincoln Center, she received operatic vocal training from Marion Jeffery. She practiced breathing and phrasing, with particular emphasis on diction. Jeffery also trained Riperton to use her full range. While studying under Jeffery, she sang operettas and show tunes, in preparation for a career in opera. Jeffery was so convinced of her pupil's abilities that she strongly pushed her to further study the classics at Chicago's Junior Lyric Opera. The young Riperton was, however, becoming very interested in soul, rhythm and blues, and rock. After graduating from Hyde Park High School, now Hyde Park Career Academy, she enrolled at Loop College and became a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. She dropped out of college to pursue her music career. In 1967, Riperton met songwriter Richard Rudolph, whom she married five years later. They have a son named Marc, and their daughter is Maya Rudolph, a successful television and film actress/comedian.
Riperton's first professional singing engagement was with The Gems, when she was 15. Raynard Miner, a blind pianist, heard her singing during her stint with Hyde Park's A Cappella Choir and became her musical patron. The Gems had relatively limited commercial success, but proved to be a good outlet for Riperton's talent. Eventually the group became a session group known as Studio Three and it was during this period that they provided the backing vocals on the classic 1965 Fontella Bass hit "Rescue Me". In 1964, The Gems released a local hit, I Can't Help Myself, and their last single, He Makes Me Feel So Good, was released in 1965. The Gems later released records under numerous names—most notably 1966's Baby I Want You by the Girls Three and 1967's My Baby's Real by the Starlets. The latter has achieved cult status with northern soul fans and remains a favorite. It was a Motown-style song reminiscent of Tammi Terrell. In 1968, Watered Down was released as a follow-up, under the name The Starlets. It was the last release of Riperton's former girl group.
While a part of Studio Three, Riperton met her mentor, producer Billy Davis, who wrote her first local hit, "Lonely Girl", as well as "You Gave Me Soul". In honor of Davis, she used the pseudonym Andrea Davis for the release of those two singles. Some months after her Andrea Davis singles hit radio, Riperton joined Rotary Connection, a funky rock-soul group creation of Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. Rotary Connection consisted of Riperton, Chess, Judy Hauff, Sidney Barnes, and Charles Stepney. They released their debut in 1967 and, eventually, five more albums: 1968's Aladdin; the Christmas album Peace; Songs; and finally 1970's Dinner Music and Hey Love. In 1969 Riperton, along with Rotary Connection, played in the first Catholic Rock Mass at the Liturgical Conference National Convention, Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee, WI, produced by James F. Colaianni.
Come to My Garden
Riperton's first solo album, Come to My Garden, produced, arranged, and orchestrated by Charles Stepney, was released in 1970 by GRT Records. She was presented as a solo artist by Ramsey Lewis on Saturday, December 26, 1970 at Chicago's famed London House. She performed several numbers from the album accompanied by Charles Stepney, the album's producer. Although commercially unsuccessful, Come to My Garden is now considered a masterpiece by music critics and many others in the music industry.
Perfect Angel and "Lovin' You"
In 1973, a college intern for Epic Records found Riperton in semi-retirement. She had become a homemaker and a mother of two in Gainesville, Florida. After he heard a demo of the song "Seeing You This Way", the rep took the tape to Don Ellis, VP of A&R for Epic. Riperton signed with Epic Records, and the family moved to Los Angeles, California. The subsequent record, Perfect Angel, turned out to be one of Riperton's best-selling albums. Included were the rock-soul anthem "Reasons"; the second single, "Take a Little Trip" (written by Stevie Wonder, who also coproduced the album); and the third single, "Seeing You This Way". Sales of the album started out slow. Epic was ready to move on to the next record, but Rudolph convinced them to release another single. With the fourth single, "Lovin' You", the album caught on, and in April 1975, the song went to the top of the charts in the U.S. and 24 other countries. The song reached #2 in the UK, and number three on the U.S. R&B charts. It sold more than one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA in April 1975. Perfect Angel went gold and Riperton was finally revered as the "lady with the high voice and flowers in her hair." The album also featured the song "Every Time He Comes Around", with Deniece Williams singing the background vocals. Riperton's daughter, Saturday Night Live actress Maya Rudolph, was a child when "Lovin' You" was recorded. According to the liner notes from Riperton's Petals compilation CD, the melody to "Lovin' You" was created as a distraction for Maya when she was a baby, so Riperton and Richard Rudolph could spend time together. Near the end of the unedited "Lovin' You", Riperton sings "Maya, Maya, Maya"; in concert, near her death, she changed this to "Maya, Maya, Ringo, Maya." Ringo was her nickname for her son, Marc.
After Perfect Angel, Riperton and Richard Rudolph started on Riperton's third album, Adventures in Paradise (1975). Joe Sample of The Crusaders cowrote the title song, "Adventures in Paradise", and Crusaders producer Stewart Levine co-produced the album. While shooting a promotional clip for the album, she was attacked by a lion, but was not seriously injured. During an appearance on The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show, she played the footage of the incident for Sammy and her fellow guests, including Richard Pryor. The album was a modest success. Despite the R&B hit "Inside My Love" (a #5 U.S. R&B hit, later covered by Trina Broussard, Chanté Moore, and Delilah (musician) ), the album did not match the success of Perfect Angel. Some radio stations refused to play "Inside My Love" due to the lyrics: "Will you come inside me?"
Her fourth album for Epic Records entitled Stay in Love featured another collaboration with Stevie Wonder in the funky disco tune "Stick Together". She also sang backup on Wonder's songs "Creepin'" from 1974's Fullfillingness' First Finale and "Ordinary Pain" from 1976's Songs in the Key of Life and was mentioned prominently in his song "Positivity" on A Time to Love. In 1977, Riperton lent her vocal abilities to a track named, "Yesterday and Karma", on Osamu Kitajima's album, "Osamu". In 1978, Riperton's attorney Mike Rosenfeld and her husband, Richard Rudolph, orchestrated a move to Capitol Records for Riperton and her CBS Records catalog.
In April 1979, Riperton released her fifth and final album, Minnie. During the recording of the album, her cancer progressed to the point that she was in a great deal of pain. "Memory Lane" was a hit from the album. Riperton incorporated the sadness of the ending of a relationship while suddenly shifting to cries of "I don't want to go," "save me," "now I'm slippin' fast," "thought it was over; here I go again," and "travelin' down, faster than the speed of sound." It is thought that "Memory Lane" was her farewell to her family and to the world. Her last televised performance was on an episode of The Merv Griffin Show (aired July 6, 1979), during which she performed Memory Lane and Lover and Friend.
Minnie was married to songwriter and music producer Richard Rudolph from 1972 until her death in the summer of 1979. They had two children - a son, music engineer Marc Rudolph and actress Maya Rudolph.
Illness and death
Riperton revealed on the The Tonight Show on August 24, 1976, that she had undergone a mastectomy due to breast cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, Riperton found out her cancer had already spread to the lymphatic system, and was given about six months to live. She continued touring in 1977 and 1978, and became the national spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society's 1978–79 campaign. Extreme lymphedema immobilized her right arm in early 1979. In her final singing appearances on television (most notably on the Mike Douglas Show), her right arm would remain in a fixed position during her performances. By mid-June, she was confined to bed. She entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on July 10. On Thursday, July 12 at 10 am, while lying in her husband's arms, Riperton died while listening to a recording Stevie Wonder had made for her. That Sunday, following a funeral service attended by more than five hundred mourners, Riperton was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Her epitaph is the opening line of her most famous song: "Lovin' you is easy cause you're beautiful."
After Riperton died, several artists contributed vocals to tracks she had recorded before her death, to help compile Richard Rudolph's final tribute to his wife, Love Lives Forever. Included, among others, were Peabo Bryson, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder. Riperton's last single, "Give Me Time", was released in 1980. Richard Rudolph wrote the song, "Now That I Have You" for her, but she never got the chance to record it; he gave the song to Teena Marie, who recorded it (and co-produced it with Rudolph) on Marie's second LP, Lady T. Finally, in 1981, Capitol Records released The Best of Minnie Riperton, a greatest hits collection. The "new" song on the album was a remake of Joni Mitchell's "A Woman of Heart and Mind", which was a holdover from the Minnie sessions. Also included were an alternate mix of "Memory Lane"; live versions of "Can You Feel What I'm Saying", "Lover And Friend", and "Young, Willing and Able"; and two "Moments with Minnie". It also included the hits "Perfect Angel", "Lovin' You", "Inside My Love", "Adventures In Paradise", and two tracks from Love Lives Forever: the singles "Here We Go" and "You Take My Breath Away". During the 1990s, Riperton's music was sampled by many rap and hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, A Tribe Called Quest, Blumentopf, and Tragedy Khadafi.
Riperton had a coloratura soprano vocal range. Aside from her various hits, she is perhaps best remembered today for her ability to sing in the whistle register, in which she had rare facility. Riperton's vocal range spanned five octaves. Riperton's rare ability to enunciate in the high registers set her apart from most other whistle-register singers. This feature is most notably heard in the song "Here We Go", where she sings "here we go" in the whistle register. Whistle-register enunciation can also be heard in songs such as "Inside My Love", "Adventures in Paradise", "Expecting", "Only When I'm Dreaming", and also in "Teach Me How to Fly" and "Like a Rolling Stone" with the Rotary Connection. Riperton was also noted for her ability to sound almost mechanical or instrumental in the whistle register. In "You Take My Breath Away", she sang a portamento ending two octaves above the staff. She has also been credited for her ability to sustain notes in the sixth and seventh octave for long periods of time, as in "Reasons", "Could It Be I'm in Love", "Adventures in Paradise", and "Inside My Love", and also "Love Me Now" with the Rotary Connection. Having an innate ability to imitate many instruments helped lead to Riperton's discovery while she was a secretary at Chess Records. In her recordings, Riperton's highest recorded note reached in the whistle register was F7 on the third scale of "You Take My Breath Away". Riperton reached this extremely high note before on an early recording of "Teach Me How to Fly" and "Could It Be I'm in Love". Also in a live performance of the song "Ruby Tuesday" from Rotary Connection, she sang an F#7. In the song "Loving You" she sings a walkdown on the A Major scale from F#6 to A5. She is known as the Queen of the Whistle Register, The Nightingale, and a Songbird. In a 1998 interview for Vibe magazine, Mariah Carey cited Riperton as an influence on her.
Documentary and tributes
On June 7, 2009, TV One (US TV network's) Unsung series premièred a one-hour documentary on Riperton's career and life. It included interviews with her husband Richard, son Marc, daughter Maya, sister Sandra Riperton, and many others who worked with her. Kate Bush named Riperton in the lyric of "Blow Away (For Bill)", a track on her 1980 album Never for Ever.
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Certifications||Record label|
|1970||Come to My Garden||160||—||—||—||—||GRT|
|1975||Adventures in Paradise||18||5||54||55||—|
|1977||Stay in Love||71||19||—||80||—|
|1980||Love Lives Forever||35||11||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
|Year||Title||Peak positions||Record label|
|1981||The Best of Minnie Riperton||203||59||Capitol|
|1993||Capitol Gold: The Best of Minnie Riperton||—||—|
|1997||Her Chess Years||—||—||Chess|
|2001||Petals: The Minnie Riperton Collection||—||—||The Right Stuff|
|Les Fleurs: The Minnie Riperton Anthology||—||—||EMI|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1972||"Les Fleurs"||—||—||—||—||—||—||Come to My Garden|
|"Seeing You This Way"||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Inside My Love"||76||26||—||—||97||—||Adventures in Paradise|
|1976||"Adventures in Paradise"||—||72||—||—||—||—|
|1977||"Stick Together (Part One)"||—||57||—||—||—||—||Stay in Love|
|"Wouldn't Matter Where You Are"||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Young Willing and Able"||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Lover and Friend"||—||20||—||—||—||—|
|1980||"Here We Go"||—||14||—||—||—||—||Love Lives Forever|
|"Give Me Time"||—||75||—||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
Awards and nominations
- American Music Awards: Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist (Nominated) 1975
- American Music Awards: Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist (Nominated) 1976
- Grammy: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Nominated) 1980 for "Back Down Memory Lane"
- Grammy: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (Nominated) 1981 for "Here We Go"
- George & Minnie Live! (1976–77)
Riperton joined with established jazz guitarist George Benson, to kick-off a co-headlining North American concert tour. The tour ran from 1976 through the fall of 1977.
- On select dates during the tour, Riperton's performance of her hit song "Lovin' You", included a reprise version which featured George Benson.
- Riperton performed "Can You Feel What I'm Saying?" only at select dates during the tour.
|March 15, 1977||Los Angeles, CA||Los Angeles Music Center|
|May 9, 1977||New York City, NY||Avery Fisher Hall|
|July 15, 1977||East Troy, WI||Alpine Valley Music Theatre|
|July 29, 1977||Edwardsville, IL||Mississippi River Festival|
|October 7, 1977||Phoenix, AZ||Celebrity Theatre|
|October 29, 1977||Burlington, VT||Patrick Gymnasium|
- Not all North American dates are listed.