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Happy Black History Month! This is the 16th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known Black Americans who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).

The focus of today’s blog is Minnie Riperton, an American singer who was known for her five-octave vocal range before Mariah Carey became popular for the same thing.

This is her story.

Singing Career Started In Choir

According to, Minnie Riperton was born in 1947 in Chicago. The youngest of eight children, Riperton began to explore her interest in performing at a young age. She took dance lessons and learned how to dance ballet. Soon after, she joined the Hyde Park A Capella Choir. She developed her talents so that by age 16, she signed her first contract for a singing girl group called “The Gems.”

“The Rotary Connection” and Love

After four years of “The Gems”, Riperton changed her singing format and joined the psychedelic rock group “The Rotary Connection” in 1967. She became the lead singer of the band a year later. During this time, Riperton met her future husband Richard Rudolph, a music producer and songwriter. In 1969, they married and had their first child, Marc Rudolph, who is now a music engineer. After coming out with her first solo album “Come to My Garden”, Riperton continued singing with “The Rotary Connection” until their last album came out in 1971, “Hey Love.”

Work with Stevie Wonder

After finishing up with “The Rotary Connection,” Riperton moved to Florida and had their second child, the well-known comedian Maya Rudolph. Eventually, Ripteron moved to Los Angeles, where she joined Stevie Wonder’s backing group “Wonderlove”. After traveling with them for some time, Riperton began working on her second solo album in collaboration with Stevie Wonder. This album contained her biggest hit to date, “Lovin’ You”, written as a lullaby for her then 2-year-old daughter Maya.

“Perfect Angel”

In 1974, Riperton’s second solo album “Perfect Angel” was certified gold by RIAA. A year later, she went on to produce a third solo album “Adventures in Paradise”. This didn’t garner as much success as her second album but it still inspired her to produce a fourth album. During this time, in 1976, Riperton discovered she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Former President Jimmy Carter honored her with the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award in 1977. A year later, she produced her last solo album “Minnie” before passing of cancer in 1979 at the age of 31. Read more about Minnie Riperton here.

Read another article from the “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know” blog series here.