Aretha Franklin and Dennis Edwards

We remember the actors, leaders, icons and more notable people we said goodbye to in 2018; their contributions will forever live on:

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson, 81

The Grammy Award-winning song stylist was an icon with a career that spanned six decades. Nancy’s extraordinary artistry and powerful vocals, along with her striking visual performing talents, left us always wanting more. She died peacefully at her home in Pioneertown, California after a long illness.  December 13

Jesse “Smiley” Rutland, 37

He was co-creator of the popular “Harlem Shake” dance. He was fatally shot at his Brooklyn home. Smiley was a member of the Crazy Boyz Dance Crew whose early 2000s upper-body-gyrating routine captured the attention of Sean Combs, who made it world famous.  December 10 

Willie Naulls, 84

He was a professional basketball player for 10 years in the National Basketball Association. He was a four-time NBA All-Star with the New York Knicks and won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics. November 22

Olivia Hooker, 103

One of the last surviving witnesses of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that occurred in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, also known as Black Wall Street. She was the first the African American woman to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. She passed away of natural causes in White Plains, New York.  November 21

Kim Porter

Kim Porter, 47

Model, actress, entrepreneur, and mother to four of Sean “Diddy” Comb’s children. She died of cardiac arrest in Toluca Lake, California.  November 15

Willie McCovey, 80

The Hall of Fame first baseman who spent 19 of his 22 major-league seasons with the Giants. He passed away as a result of ongoing health issues.  October 31

Ntozake Shange

Ntozake Shange, 70

The legendary playwright and poet, who is best known for her Obie Award-winning play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” passed away in Bowie, Maryland. She died in her sleep.  October 27

George Taliaferro, 91

In 1949, he became the first African-American player to be drafted by an NFL team. He passed away of heart failure in Mason, Ohio. October 8

Otis Rush, 84

The blues guitarist, singer/songwriter was one of the most influential Chicago blues artists of all time. He passed away due to complications from a stroke, which he initially suffered in 2003.  September 29

Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell, 84

He was an American ballet dancer, choreographer and co-founder/director of The Dance Theatre of Harlem. In 1955, he became the first African-American dancer to perform with the New York City Ballet, where he was promoted to principal dancer the following year. He died from congestive heart failure complications at a New York City hospital.  September 19

George Walker, 96

He was a composer, pianist, and organist who in 1996 became the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for music. He passed away in Montclair, New Jersey.  August 23

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan, 80

He was the 7th Secretary-General of the United Nations. In 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in a hospital in Bern, Switzerland, after a brief illness.  August 18

Aretha Franklin, 76

The Queen of Soul had a musical career that spanned over six decades. She had a phenomenal talent that was unmatched. Aretha had an iconic vocal instrument that caused chills and inspired awe whenever she’d perform a song. She passed away from pancreatic cancer.  August 16

Ron Dellums, 82

He was a fiery congressman for over three decades and later became the mayor of Oakland, California from 2007 to 2011. He passed away from complications of prostate cancer.  July 30

Angela Bowen, 82

She was a dancer, a dance teacher, a scholar and a passionate voice on lesbian, Black, and feminist issues. She had battled Alzheimer’s disease for a number of years and passed away in Long Beach, California.  July 12

Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson, 89

The patriarch who launched the famed Jackson musical dynasty had been battling terminal pancreatic cancer. He died in Las Vegas, Nevada.  June 27

Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, 74

A founding member of The Last Poets, a group of poets and musicians who evolved in the 1960s out of the Harlem Writers Workshop in New York City. He garnered the title: “Grandfather of Rap.” He passed in Atlanta, Georgia.  June 4 

Dovey Johnson Roundtree, 104

A pioneer of the civil rights movement who shattered color and gender barriers in the military and transportation. In 1961, she was one of the first women to be ordained as a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She died in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.  May 21

Charles Neville, 79

He was the second oldest member of one of the all-time great family groups, The Neville Brothers. Neville’s saxophone drove many of the group’s biggest hits. Neville died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.  April 26

Yvonne Staples

Yvonne Staples, 80

A singer in her family gospel-soul group The Staples Singers died at her home in Chicago following a brief battle with colon cancer.  April 10

Donald McKayle, 87

A modern dancer and choreographer who brought the Black experience in America to the Broadway stage in musicals such as Raisin and Sophisticated Ladies. He died in an Orange, California hospital after losing a battle with pneumonia. April 6.

Cecil Taylor, 89

The New York-born pianist’s unique and radical improvisation style was a broad influence on the jazz avant garde. The cause of death is unreported. He died in Brooklyn, New York. April 5

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, 81

Freedom icon and former wife of Nelson Mandela was a South African activist. Known as the “the Mother of the Nation,” Winnie embodied dignity, strength, courage, and unapologetic fierceness. She died from diabetes complications. April 2 

Linda Brown, 76

She was the elementary school student at the center of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that ended school segregation in the United States. The cause of death is unknown.  March 25

Les Payne, 76

The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist was a longtime employee of New York Newsday. At the time of his death, he was working on a book about Malcolm X at his home in Harlem when he experienced a fatal heart attack.  March 19

Ensa Cosby, 44

The fourth of Bill Cosby’s five children died from renal disease at Massachusetts General Hospital.  February 23 

Lerone Bennett Jr.

Lerone Bennett Jr., 89

He was a scholar, author, social historian and activist. Bennett’s best-known works include Before the Mayflower (1962) and Forced into Glory (2000). In addition, he was a longtime editor for Ebony and Jet, inspiring generations of Black journalists. The cause of death was complications from advanced vascular dementia.  February 14 

Reg E. Cathey, 59

The Emmy Award-winning actor gained widespread fame from his supporting role on the award-winning cable TV dramas The Wire and Oz before moving on to Netflix’s House of Cards. He died from lung cancer at his home in New York City.  February 9 

Dennis Edwards, 74

A key member of the iconic Motown Records vocal group the Temptations, his gritty vocals brought urgency and drama to hits such as Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone and Cloud Nine. In 1989, Edwards and the Temptations were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He died from meningitis complications.  February 1

Wyatt Tee Walker, 88

He was a Civil Rights leader, pastor, and theologian. Walker was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s chief of staff. In 1967, he became pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem.  Under his dynamic leadership, Canaan’s congregation grew from 800 to 3,000. He died in his sleep at an assisted-living facility near his home in Chester, Virginia.  January 23 

Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela, 78

Known as the father of South African jazz, he was a world-renowned flugelhornist, trumpeter, bandleader, composer, singer and defiant political voice for South Africa. Masekela’s music served as the background for the anti-apartheid movement. He collaborated with artists such as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Masekela passed away after an extended battle with prostate cancer.  January 23

Olivia Cole, 75

The actress was best known for her breakout role in the Roots TV series. She was the first African American to win an Emmy in the category of best supporting actress in a miniseries. She died at her home in San Miguel Allende, Mexico; the cause of death, a heart attack.  January 19

Edwin Hawkins

Edwin Hawkins, 74

He was a gospel musician, pianist, choirmaster, composer, and arranger. He was one of the originators of the urban contemporary gospel sound. He was probably best known for his gospel crossover hit Oh Happy Day in 1969, which was included on the “Songs of the Century” list. Hawkins died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer in Pleasanton, California.  January 15 

Denise LaSalle, 78

Known as the “Queen of the Blues,” one of her best-known songs was Trapped By a Thing Called Love. She suffered from congestive heart failure and later had her leg amputated.” She died at a hospital in Nashville.  January 8