Minnie Julia Riperton (November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979) was an American singer and songwriter noted for her five-and-a-half octave vocal range, with her 1975 single "Lovin' You."
As a child, Riperton studied music, drama, and dance at Chicago's Lincoln Center. As a teen, Riperton sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group the Gems. Her early affiliation with the legendary Chess record label afforded her the opportunity to sing backup for such acts as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Ramsey Lewis, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters. While with Chess, Riperton also sang for the experimental rock/soul group Rotary Connection from 1967 to 1971. In 1969 Riperton and the 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 career with her number one single, "Lovin' You," in the spring of 1975. The single was the last release from her 1974 gold album "Perfect Angel."
In 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. In 1977 Riperton became the first black female to serve as spokesperson for the American Cancer Society and to receive the Society's Courage Award from President Jimmy Carter. On July 12, 1979, Riperton died from the cancer while in her husband's arms, listening to a recording of a song Stevie Wonder had written for her. On Sunday July 15, 1979, Riperton was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, following a funeral service attended by more than five hundred mourners.
Riperton was born in Chicago
, the daughter of Thelma and Daniel Riperton. As the youngest of eight children in a musically inclined family, Riperton embraced the arts early in life. Although she started out in ballet
and modern dance
, Riperton's parents recognized her vocal and musical abilities early, and they directed her interests towards 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 worthless.
While studying under Jeffery, Riperton sang operettas and show tunes, preparing for a life 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, she enrolled at Loop College, but dropped out after only three weeks.
Riperton was a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
Riperton's first professional appearance was when she was 15 as part of The Gems
. Raynard Miner
, a blind pianist, heard Riperton during her time in Hyde Park's A Capella Choir. The Gems had relatively limited commercial success with Chess Records
, but proved to be a good outlet to expose Riperton's talents to the music industry. Eventually the group became a session group called "Studio Three." 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
-styled 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
The band consisted of Riperton, Chess, Judy Hauff, Sidney Barnes and Charles Stepney. While in Rotary Connection, she met her future husband and songwriting partner, Richard Rudolph. 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 first solo album, Come To My Garden
(1970)--produced, arranged, and orchestrated by Charles Stepney—was released on 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" was considered a masterpiece by critics.
"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. Minnie 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," 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 US and 24 other countries. The song reached number two in the UK, and number three on the R&B charts. Perfect Angel went gold, and Minnie 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. 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). Leon Ware
co-wrote the title song, "Adventures in Paradise", and co-produced the album. The album was a modest success. Despite the R&B hit "Inside My Love" (a number five US R&B hit, later covered by Trina Broussard
and Chanté Moore
), the album didn't match the success of Perfect Angel.
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 Stevie Wonder's song "Ordinary Pain" from 1976's Songs in the Key of Life.
In 1978, Riperton's attorney Mike Rosenfeld and her husband orchestrated a move to Capitol Records for Riperton and her CBS Records catalogue. In April 1979, Riperton released her fifth and final album, Minnie. 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
In 1976, Riperton revealed to Flip Wilson
, who was guest hosting for Johnny Carson
on The Tonight Show,
that she had undergone a mastectomy
due to breast cancer
. At the time of her diagnosis, Riperton found out that her cancer had already spread to the lymphatic system
. She continued touring in 1977 and 1978, and became the national spokesperson for the American Cancer Society
The cancer paralyzed her right arm in early 1979. In her final singing appearances on television (most notably on the Merv Griffin 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, California on July 10. On July 12, 1979, Riperton died in her husband's arms. 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 Teena Marie's second LP, Lady T. Finally, in 1982, Capitol Records released The Best Of Minnie Riperton, a greatest hits collection.
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.
GRT Records: 1969-1970 Epic Records: 1974-1977 Capitol Records: 1979-1980
- 1981: Best Of...Hits, Live & Then Some
- 1993: Capitol Gold: The Best Of Minnie Riperton
- 1997: Her Chess Years
- 2001: Petals: The Minnie Riperton Collection
- 2001: Les Fleurs: The Minnie Riperton Anthology
- 1974: "Reasons"
- 1974: "Seeing You This Way"
- 1975: "Lovin' You"
- 1975: "Inside My Love"
- 1975: "When It Comes Down To It"
- 1976: "Simple Things"
- 1976: "Adventures In Paradise"
- 1977: "Stick Together"
- 1977: "Can You Feel What I'm Saying"
- 1977: "Young, Willing, & Able"
- 1979: "Memory Lane"
- 1979: "Lover And Friend"
- 1980: "Here We Go"
- 1981: "Give Me Time"
Covers, references, and sampling
- On the South Park episode "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride." Uncle Jimbo and his war buddy, Ned, devise a plan to have a team mascot explode when John Stamos's older brother, Richard, hits a high F in the song "Lovin' You."
- In the 1996 film The Nutty Professor," Eddie Murphy's character, Buddy Love, incapacitates comic Reggie Warrington (Dave Chappelle) and forces him into a duet of "Lovin' You." Buddy sings the chorus, then cracks Reggie's hand, causing him to wail in a high-pitched tone, parodying Riperton's whistle register.
- Deniece Williams, Mariah Carey and Tamar Braxton have stated that Riperton was an inspiration in the development of their vocal talents.
- Kate Bush referenced Riperton in the song "Blow Away (for Bill)" from the 1980 album Never Forever, The song is a tribute to the many artists who inspired Kate Bush as a young teenager who had suffered untimely deaths; specifically in the line "Minnie, Moonie, Buddy Holly, Sandy Denny...." Much of Bush's high-range vocalizing shows the direct influence of Riperton's style.
- Jean Carne, on her 1983 Motown album Trust Me, did a funky version of Riperton's original "Completeness," using similar operatic notes to bring color to the song.
- "Lovin' You" was sampled in Stagga Lee's "Roll Wit M.V.P."
- In 1989, British ambient group The Orb sampled "Lovin' You" on their breakthrough single, "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld."
- Shanice Wilson covered "Lovin' You" in 1991 on her album Inner Child, and again on her 2006 album Every Woman's Dreams."
- In June 1990, a cover of "Lovin' You," by "Massivo (Featuring Tracy)" emerged in the British charts and stayed in the low 20's/early 30's for four weeks.
- In 1991 and 1993, rap group A Tribe Called Quest sampled Riperton's "Baby This Love I Have" for the song "Check the Rhime" on the "The Low End Theory" album. Following that, on their next album, "Midnight Marauders", they sampled "Inside My Love" for "Lyrics to Go."
- In 1993, rapper Tragedy Khadafi sampled "Inside My Love" for "Street Life [Return Of The Life Remix]" on Saga of a Hoodlum.
- In 1995, urban/r&b group Soul for Real sampled Riperton's "Baby, This Love I Have" for the song "Candy Rain" on the "Candy Rain" album.
- In 1995, rapper Tupac Shakur sampled Riperton's "Inside My Love" for the song "Me Against the World" on his album of the same name.
- In 1996, Slum Village sampled the keyboard and Riperton's voice from "Inside My Love" in the song "Look of Love (Remix)," on their album Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1).
- In 1997, Nuyorican Soul (a Masters at Work alias) covered "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun," with Jocelyn Brown as singer.
- In 1997, Wayne Newton and Beverly D'Angelo sang "Lovin' You" in the movie Vegas Vacation.
- In 1997, her song "Inside My Love" was used by Quentin Tarantino in his movie Jackie Brown, and appeared on its soundtrack.
- In 1998, Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Hi Tek featuring Vinia Mojica sampled Riperton's "Baby This Love I Have" in the song "K.O.S" on the album Black Star.
- In 1999, Mariah Carey emulated Riperton in her song "Bliss," the third track on her album Rainbow. Carey can be heard singing the phrase "on and on" in a style similar to Riperton's.
- In 2000, her song "Inside My Love" was used in a sex scene for the movie Road Trip.
- In 2001, one of Riperton's earlier songs, "Les Fleur," was covered by 4hero, using Carina Andersson as the lead vocalist. (4hero also produced a renowned remix of Nuyorican Soul's cover of "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun.")
- In 2001, Welsh based DJ Jean Jacques Smoothie scored a worldwide hit with "2 People," which directly sampled Riperton's "Inside My Love."
- In 2001, singers Leona Lewis and Marley J Wills recorded a cover of "Lovin' You" for a demo. The pair duet on the track. Three years later Leona covered it again for another demo. Leona was unknown at the time, but both songs have now leaked onto the Internet after she won talent show "X-Factor" in 2006.
- In 2003, Kenny Lattimore and Chanté Moore covered "Here We Go," a Minnie Riperton duet with Peabo Bryson from the posthumous Love Lives Forever album.
- In 2003, Japanese R&B singer Ken Hirai covered Riperton's song "Lovin' You" in his album Ken's Bar.
- In 2003, Twista released the single "Slow Jamz" featuring Kanye West and Jamie Foxx. Riperton is one of the artists referred to in the song's lyrics.
- In 2003, Filipino singer Lani Misalucha released the album Lovin' You, which includes Riperton's song "Lovin' You." Ms Misalucha's cover version of this song has become one of her concert tour highlights.
- In 2004, the Australian whistle-range singer Adam Lopez instrumentalized in the background of his song "Stay With Me," imitating a piccolo in a manner similar to Minnie Riperton.
- In the 2004 film Johnson Family Vacation, Vanessa Williams and Gabby Soleil do a mother-daughter duet of "Lovin' You" in the bath.
- In 2005, Tireh duplicated Riperton's bridge acrobatics on Riperton's climax for "Memory Lane" by sustaining notes in the whistle register to mimic the sound of a violin, in his song titled "Who Would Have Known."
- In 2005, Super Girl contestant Zhang Liangying covered "Lovin' You."
- British-American singer-songwriter Julia Fordham wrote and recorded the song "Roadside Angel" as a tribute to Minnie Riperton. It appears on her 2001 album Concrete Love," which also includes Julia's cover of "Lovin' You" as an unlisted bonus track. A live version also appears on Julia's album That's Live.''
- In 2006, Japanese singer Minako Honda covered Riperton's song "Lovin' You" in her album Kokoro wo komete...(心を込めて...) which was released after she died in 2005.
- In 2006, the late prolific hip-hop producer J Dilla sampled "Inside My Love" for Busta Rhymes' song "You Can't Hold The Torch" from his album The Big Bang (album) and previously for the Jaylib song "Smootherness", and "Look of Love Remix" from the Slum Village album "Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1)"
- In late 2006, Riperton's song "Here We Go" was sampled by producer K Swiss for two songs on the debut album Rhyme & Reason by indie alternative rap group Lyrically Equipped.
- In the 2006 Disney film The Wild, we hear "Lovin' You" when Benny the squirrel lays eyes on his beloved Bridget the giraffe.
- Also in 2006, Nas used "Rainy Day In Centerville" for his song "Where Ya'll At?"
- In 2006, rapper Ice Cube sampled "Memory Lane" for the song "Growin Up" from the Laugh Now, Cry Later album.
- In 2006, rapper Penelope Jones released a promotional single featuring Mya entitled "No Matter What They Say" which sampled "Loving You" & had Riperton's vocals synthesized in the backing track.
- In 2007, Dubstep producer Coki from Digital Mystikz sampled "Lovin' You" for the song "Ruff Lovin'" featured on the Dubstep Allstars 5 mix by UK DJ N-Type.
- In the 2007 movie Disturbia, Shia LaBeouf's character plays "Lovin' You," and later asks his co-star Sarah Roemer, "You don't like Minnie Riperton?"
- "Baby, This Love I Have" is one of the songs Common used in his single "I Want You," the other being Bob James's cover of "Feel Like Making Love."
- Visa Cheque Card used Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You" at a Pittsburgh Steelers game. This song comes on over the intercom. The song is supposed to be "Who Let the Dogs Out?" by the Baha Men. The person in charge of the music is trying to buy a copy of it with a check and the clerk is demanding to see some I.D. The clerk says, "I don't care whose stadium security you work for! I got to see some I.D.!" Viewers see several spectators and players (including Jerome Bettis) with confused looks on their faces as "Lovin' You" is playing over the loudspeakers.
- In 2008, singer Erykah Badu posed as Riperton on the cover of Perfect Angel in her video for "Honey"
- The song "Inside My Love" is featured on the radio station 'The Vibe' in the video game 'Grand Theft Auto IV'
- The song "Here We Go" was sampled for "The Invite" by B.C. of So Kal`D