Minnie Julia Riperton (November 8, 1947 ? July 12, 1979) was an American singer-songwriter best known for her vocal range of more than five octaves and her 1975 single "Lovin' You". She was married to songwriter and music producer Richard Rudolph (1968 until her death in 1979). She was also the mother of music engineer Marc Rudolph and actress/comedienne Maya Rudolph.
Riperton grew up in poverty on Chicago's southside. As a child Riperton studied music, drama, and dance at Chicago's Lincoln Center. In her teen years, Riperton sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group, The Gems. Her early affiliation with legendary Chess Records afforded her the opportunity to sing backup for various established artist 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. 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. Riperton reached the apex of her short, but esteemed, career with her number-one hit single, "Lovin' You", on April 4, 1975. The single was the last release from her 1974 gold album entitled Perfect Angel.
In 1976 Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a modified radical mastectomy. Though she was given just six months to live, she continued recording and touring, and in 1977 she became spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. Riperton was one of the first celebrities to go public with her breast cancer diagnosis, but did not disclose that she was terminally ill. In 1978, Riperton also received the prestigious Society's Courage Award presented to her at the White House by then-President Jimmy Carter. She died at age 31 on July 12, 1979.
Riperton was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Daniel and Thelma Riperton. The youngest of eight children in a musical family, Riperton embraced the arts early on. Although she started out with ballet and modern dance, Riperton's parents recognized her vocal and musical abilities and encouraged her to pursue music and voice.
At Chicago's Lincoln Center, Riperton received operatic vocal training from Miss Marion Jeffery. She practiced breathing and phrasing, with particular emphasis on diction. Jeffery also trained Riperton to use her full range, which contradicts traditional operatic training. Many classical purists deem the seventh octave musically worthless.
While studying under Jeffery, Riperton 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. However, this was the 1960s, and young Riperton was 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, but dropped out after only two weeks. Later on she was inducted into the Blue and White Family becoming a member of the prestigious Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. While in Rotary Connection, Riperton met songwriter Richard Rudolph, whom she later married. They have a son named Marc, and a daughter, Maya Rudolph, the Saturday Night Live actress.
Riperton's first professional singing engagement was with The Gems, when she was fifteen. Raynard Miner, a blind pianist, heard Riperton singing during her stint with Hyde Park's A Capella Choir and became her musical patron. The Gems had relatively limited commercial success, but proved to be a good outlet to expose Riperton's talent to the music industry. 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. After that the group 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 also 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. He would write her first local hit, "Lonely Girl", and also "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 the 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. The group 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".
Come to My Garden
Riperton's debut solo album Come to My Garden (1970)
Riperton's first solo album, Come to My Garden?produced, arranged, and orchestrated by Charles Stepney (producer), 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"
Main article: 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 co-produced the album), and the third single, "Seeing You This Way".
Riperton's hit album, Perfect Angel (1974)
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 twenty-four other countries. The song reached number two in the UK, and number three on the R&B charts. 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 is Saturday Night Live actress Maya Rudolph, who 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 that 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. Maya Rudolph can also be heard in discussion with Teena Marie on the final track "Too Many Colors (Tee's Interlude)" of Teena's 1980 album Lady T.
After Perfect Angel, Riperton and Richard Rudolph started on Riperton's third album, Adventures in Paradise (1975). Joe Sample of The Crusaders co-wrote 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 number five U.S. R&B hit, later covered by Trina Broussard and Chant? Moore), 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 song "Ordinary Pain" from 1976's Songs in the Key of Life.
Riperton's last album, Minnie (1979)
In 1978, Riperton's attorney Mike Rosenfeld and her husband, Richard Rudolph, orchestrated a move to Capitol Records for Riperton and her CBS Records catalogue. 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, and was arguably Riperton's greatest work. 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 husband, her children, 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".
Illness and death
Riperton's grave at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
On August 24, 1976, Riperton revealed to Flip Wilson, who was guest hosting for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, that she had undergone a mastectomy in January, 1976 due to breast cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, Riperton found out that 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 spokesperson for the American Cancer Society 1978?79 campaign.
A cancerous tumor paralyzed 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 June 1979, she was confined to bed. She entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on July 10. On Thursday, July 12, 1979 at 10:00 a.m., 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, California. Her family inscribed her headstone with a lyric 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 beloved 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 Riperton, 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" to name a few.
During the 1990s, Riperton's music was sampled by many rap and hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur, A Tribe Called Quest, and Tragedy Khadafi.
Aside from her various hits, Riperton is perhaps best remembered today for her ability to sing in the whistle register, in which she had rare facility. Riperton possessed a five-octave vocal range (the liner notes to her Petals legacy album ascribe five-and-a-half octaves to her). Riperton's 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. It is unmistakably enunciated despite its high pitch. 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 sings 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 note reached in the whistle register was F7 on the third scale of "You Take My Breath Away" Minnie 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 she sung an F#7.
On June 7, 2009, TV One (US TV network's) "Unsung" series premiered a one-hour documentary on Riperton's career and life. Included were interviews with her husband, Richard Rudolph, son, Marc, daughter, Maya Rudolph, sister, Sandra Riperton, and many others that worked with Riperton during her career.