The year 2023 has seen several notable black celebrities pass, leaving a void in the entertainment industry. From actors and musicians to athletes and activists, their contributions to their respective fields have left an real mark on popular culture.
In this article, we honor the lives and achievements of some of the black celebrities that died in 2023.
Tina Turner (November 26, 1939 – May 24, 2023)
Hailed as the Queen of Rock and Rock, Tina Turner commanded attention with her intense stage persona and electric performances. Born in Brownsville, Tennessee, Turner initially achieved fame performing with her husband, Ike.
However, after an acrimonious split, Turner reinvented herself as a solo artist. With a bolder image, she enjoyed a string of hits throughout the 80s and 90s. Her renewed success led her to acting, with notable roles in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Last Action Hero.
Turner sold over 200 million album copies and won eight Grammys. Surprisingly, her only number one on the Billboard Hot 100 was the 1984 release, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” She moved to Switzerland in the 1990s, living with her long-term boyfriend (and later husband). Turner died in Zurich, after a long-term illness.
Tori Bowie (August 27, 1990 – May 2, 2023)
Tori Bowie was an American track and field athlete best known for her incredible speed on the track. Her dedication and hard work paid off when she won bronze in the 100m sprint at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, China.
Bowie continued to leave her mark on the international stage, winning gold in the 4x100m relay and silver in the 100m sprint at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Authorities discovered her dead after performing a wellness check.
Randall Robinson (July 6, 1941 – March 24, 2023)
Randall Robinson was an American lawyer, author, and civil rights activist who dedicated his life to advocating for racial justice and equality.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Robinson was noted for his eloquence as a writer and speaker, and his tireless efforts opposing Apartheid and advocating for Haitian refugees. As part of his work, he founded TransAfrica to help influence US foreign policy toward Africa and the Caribbean. He passed away from aspiration pneumonia.
Felton Spencer (January 5, 1968 – March 12, 2023)
Felton Spencer was an American basketball player who played in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for over a decade.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Spencer played for the college basketball team Louisville Cardinals, earning him selection for the first-team All-Metro Conference.
As a professional, he played center for several teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, and the New York Knicks. Spencer died from natural causes after a brief hospital stay.
Otis Taylor (August 11, 1942 – March 9, 2023)
Otis Taylor was an American football player. He played wide receiver at the Kansas City Chiefs in the National Football League (NFL). Born in Houston, Texas, Taylor attended Prairie View A&M University, where he played college football and earned All-American honors in 1964.
He was drafted by two teams on the same day: the Chiefs picked him in the 1965 AFL draft, while the Philadelphia Eagles chose him in the NFL draft. He ended up signing for the Chiefs and became one of his era’s most dominant wide receivers.
Taylor played for 11 seasons, helping the Chiefs win two AFL championships and one Super Bowl title. He was known for his speed, agility, and physicality, and he holds several franchise records for the Chiefs, including the most career receiving yards and touchdowns.
After Taylor died at age 80, his family has filed lawsuits against the NFL, believing that his playing injuries contributed to his medical conditions.
Wayne Shorter (August 25, 1933 – March 2, 2023)
Wayne Shorter was an American saxophonist, composer, and bandleader widely regarded as one of the finest improvisers in jazz. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Shorter began his professional career in the late 1950s as a member of the Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and later performed with Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet.
Shorter was known for his innovative saxophone style and willingness to experiment. He was a prolific composer, and many of his works, including “Footprints” and “Juju,” have become jazz standards.
During his incredible career, Shorter released over 20 albums and received extensive recognition for his musical achievements. These accolades included 13 Grammys, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Shorter passed away in a Los Angeles Hospital of an undisclosed cause.
Jim Brown (February 17, 1936 – May 18, 2023)
Georgia-born Jim Brown was an American football fullback who spent his entire career over at the Cleveland Browns.
Brown averaged about 100 yards per game, the only player to achieve that extraordinary feat. Reflecting his successes, Brown was a three-time AP NFL Most Valuable Player, NFL Rookie of the Year in 1957, and an eight-times First-team All-Pro. Despite his incredible record, Brown surprisingly won only one NFL championship, in 1964.
Besides being one of the finest fullbacks in NFL history, Brown was also considered one of the greatest-ever lacrosse players. That legacy is honored by the Premier Lacrosse League MVP Award being named after him.
During the civil rights era, Brown actively spoke out against racism in the United States. He also founded the Black Economic Union to support Black-owned businesses. He died at the age of 87, with his wife by his side.
Huey “Piano” Smith (January 26, 1934 – February 13, 2023)
Huey “Piano” Smith was an American pianist, singer, and songwriter who played an influential role in the development of rock and roll.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Smith began playing the piano early, writing his first song at the age of eight. He quickly developed a unique style that combined elements of R&B, boogie-woogie, and jazz.
Smith’s early career was defined by his work as a session musician, as well as a producer. He worked with some of the biggest names in the R&B and rock and roll genres, including Little Richard and Fats Domino.
In 1957, he formed his band, Huey “Piano” Smith and His Clowns, which quickly gained a following with hits like “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” and “Don’t You Just Know It.” Smith died peacefully in his sleep.
Thomas W. Dortch Jr. (April 12, 1950 – February 15, 2023)
Thomas W. Dortch Jr was an American civil rights activist and businessman. Dortch grew up during the height of the civil rights movement and was inspired to become involved in the struggle for equality from an early age.
In addition to his activism, Dortch was a successful businessman and was the CEO of the consulting firm TWD Inc., which specialized in minority business development and government relations.
He used his position of influence to advocate for increased opportunities for minorities in the business world. Dortch, who received a Presidential Citation for his volunteering, passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Roslyn Pope (October 29, 1938 – January 18, 2023)
Roslyn Pope was an American civil rights advocate and professor. She was most well known for being the primary author of the civil rights manifesto An Appeal for Human Rights, which Pope wrote while serving as the student government president at Spelman College.
She dedicated the rest of her life to empowering minorities and advocating for civil rights for all. Pope’s health began to decline in 2021, and she passed peacefully surrounded by her family and friends.
Charlie Thomas (April 7, 1937 – January 31, 2023)
Charlie Thomas was an American singer and founding member of the second version of the legendary R&B vocal group, The Drifters.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Thomas began his music career in the 1950s, singing in various doo-wop groups before joining The Drifters.
With Thomas as tenor, The Drifters took the charts by storm with several enduring hits like “There Goes My Baby” and “Under the Boardwalk.” Thomas himself turned up as lead vocalist for “When My Little Girl Is Smiling” and “Sweets for My Sweet.”
Thomas, who left the group in 1967, lost his battle with liver cancer and died at 85.
Trugoy the Dove (September 21, 1968 – February 12, 2023)
Trugoy the Dove, also known as Dave Jolicoeur, was an American rapper and founding member of the influential hip-hop group De La Soul.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Trugoy helped pioneer the alternative rap movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s alongside his high school friends Posdnuos and Maseo.
Trugoy was known for his freewheeling approach to rap, with a conversational style that gave his lyrics a personal touch. He was also recognized for his distinctive fashion sense, often wearing colorful and eccentric clothing that became the group’s signature.
Trugoy’s family did not give a cause of death, but he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2017.
Barrett Strong (February 5, 1941 – January 28, 2023)
Barrett Strong was an American singer, songwriter, and record producer who played a crucial role in the early years of Motown Records. Born in West Point, Mississippi, Strong moved to Detroit, Michigan, as a child and began his music career in the early 1960s.
Strong’s passionate delivery and soulful voice quickly caught the attention of Motown founder Berry Gordy, who signed him to the label in 1959.
His debut single, “Money (That’s What I Want),” was Motown’s first big hit, reaching the top 10 on the Billboard R&B charts and later being covered by The Beatles. The cause of Strong’s death is not known.
Charles White (January 22, 1958 – January 11, 2023)
Charles White was an American football running back who played in the NFL for nine seasons. He rose to fame while playing for the University of Southern California (USC), where he won the Heisman Trophy, among other accolades, in 1979.
White’s contributions to the USC Trojans helped lead them to a national championship in 1978 and three Rose Bowl victories.
The Cleveland Browns drafted White in 1980, and he played for them for four seasons. He then went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams, where he had his best seasons and was named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1987.
White passed away after a battle with cancer.
Anita Pointer (January 23, 1948 – December 31, 2022)
Anita Pointer was an American singer and songwriter, best known for being part of the Pointer Sisters. The trailblazing trio achieved massive commercial success throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Oakland, California, Anita sang in church with her sisters Ruth, June, and Bonnie. The group was initially a duo until Anita joined in 1969. With the group, Anita earned three Grammys and had 13 top 20 hits. Their hit “Neutron Dance” prominently featured in the movie “Beverly Hills Cop.”
Pointer died in her home after a battle with cancer. While technically he died at the very end of 2022, we though he should also be remembered in this list.
Lance Reddick (June 7, 1962 – March 17, 2023)
Lance Reddick was an American actor best known for his captivating character performances in shows like The Wire, Fringe, and Bosch.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Reddick started out a stage actor before transitioning to television and film.
Reddick built a reputation for his broad range of roles. While he often portrayed authority figures following his success with The Wire, Reddick nevertheless showed his versatility in films like John Wick and Sylvie’s Love. His dynamic voice also made him familiar to many gamers, as he appeared in popular titles such as Destiny 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn.
He passed away unexpectedly from heart disease.
Arthur Duncan (September 25, 1925 – January 4, 2023)
A renowned tap dancer, Duncan was a mainstay on television for decades, notably joining The Lawrence Welk Show as its first Black regular cast member in 1964. Before that, he was the first Black entertainer to appear on a variety television program when he performed on The Betty White Show in 1954.
He became a beloved fixture on The Lawrence Welk Show, earning legions of fans for his dynamic performances and infectious energy.
In addition to his work on television, Duncan appeared on Broadway, performing alongside other iconic tap dancers in Jelly’s Last Jam. He also toured extensively, nationally and internationally, sharing his talent and passion for dance with audiences worldwide.
Reflecting his enduring popularity, Duncan had a cameo in the 1989 film “Tap” and appeared alongside tap dancing enthusiast Dick Van Dyke in the TV series “Diagnosis Murder.” He died of complications from stroke and pneumonia.
Harry Belafonte (Marcy 1, 1927 – April 25, 2023)
Harry Belafonte was an acclaimed American singer, actor, and civil rights activist whose contributions to music and social justice left an indelible mark on society. He was renowned for his diverse music style, ranging from jazz and folk to calypso.
Interestingly, Belafonte got into music to finance his acting studies. He worked as a club singer before breaking into the mainstream with his third studio album Calypso. Released in 1956, Calypso was the first LP to sell a million copies and sat at the top of the Billboard charts for an incredible 31 weeks.
His signature song, “The Banana Boat Song,” became an international hit in the 1950s and enjoyed renewed success after featuring in the film Beetlejuice.
Besides his music, Belafonte was a prominent humanitarian and civil rights activist, working alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as other activists to promote racial equality and justice. Belafonte passed from congestive heart failure.
Fred White (January 13, 1955 – January 1, 2023)
Fred White was best known for being the drummer for the legendary group Earth, Wind & Fire alongside his brother, Verdine, and half-brother, Maurice.
His dynamic and passionate drumming injected a funky energy into many of the group’s big hits, like “Let’s Groove” and “September.” His family has given no cause of death.
CJ Harris (January 28, 1991 – January 15, 2023)
Born in Jasper, Alabama, CJ Harris had a passion for music from a young age. He was a contestant on the 13th season of American Idol in 2014, wowing audiences and the judges with his warm personality and strong performances.
With influences ranging from Darius Rucker to Usher, Harris quickly became a fan favorite for his emotional performances. Harris died after suffering a heart attack.
Gordy Harmon (1944 – January 5, 2023)
Gordy Harmon was an American musician best known for being a founding member of the R&B band The Whispers.
Harmon performed with the group from 1963 until a larynx injury forced him to quit in 1973. While he enjoyed several hits with The Whisperers, such as “Your Love Is So Doggone Good,” it wasn’t until the late 1970s and 1980s that the band truly hit the mainstream thanks to “And the Beat Goes On.”
He passed peacefully in his sleep due to natural causes at his home in Los Angeles.
Gangsta Boo (August 7, 1979 – January 1, 2023)
Memphis-born Gangsta Boo pioneered Southern-infused hip hop with a no-holds-barred style reminiscent of more modern icons like Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion.
Her raunchy lyrics and uncompromising flow stood out in an otherwise male-dominated industry. She got her big break after joining Three 6 Mafia, and had memorable contributions to hit songs like “Tear da Club Up ’97” and “Sippin’ on Some Syrup.”
After leaving the group, Boo launched a successful solo career, releasing several albums, mixtapes, and EPs.
She was a prolific collaborator, having worked with artists such as Eminem, Yelawolf, and Juicy J. The cause of death was not disclosed but media reports suggested an overdose may have been responsible.
Otis Redding III (December 17, 1963 – April 18, 2023)
Otis Redding III, also known as “Odie,” was a singer-songwriter and the son of legendary soul singer Otis Redding. Born into a musical family, Redding III rose to prominence when he, his brother, and a cousin formed The Reddings. Redding III played guitar for the funk band, whose hits included “Remote Control” and a cover of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”
After the band ended in 1988, Redding III toured with soul singer Eddie Floyd. In later life, he kept his father’s legacy alive with frequent performances of classics like “Try A Little Tenderness” and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” Redding III died from cancer at the age of 59.
Sheldon Reynolds (September 13, 1959 – May 23, 2023)
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Sheldon Reynolds was a member of The Commodores, Sun, and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Reynolds was an accomplished guitarist from a young age and toured with Millie Jackson. With Earth, Wind & Fire, he was inducted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame and earned a Grammy nomination.
Later on, he went solo and collaborated with Smokey Robinson and Maurice White, among other artists. He also worked as a talk show host and magazine editor. Reynolds passed away at the age of 63.
Ahmad Jamal (July 2, 1930 – April 16, 2023)
Ahmad Jamal was an American jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer who was one of his generation’s most influential jazz pianists.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jamal began playing the piano at an early age. He was heavily influenced by cool jazz, which had a more laid-back sound compared to other kinds of jazz.
He started touring in the late 1940s with George Hudson’s Orchestra and The Four Strings. However, it wasn’t until he formed The Three Strings that Jamal started recording music. Their 1958 album At the Pershing: But Not for Me was a huge commercial success, charting for over 100 weeks straight.
Jamal was known for his minimalist and timeless style, with an infectious sound that made him popular beyond the jazz world. His signature tunes include “Poinciana,” “But Not for Me,” and “Ahmad’s Blues.”
Away from the stage, Jamal mentored younger jazz musicians, including Hiromi Uehara. Jamal died from complications related to prostate cancer.
Jessie Lemonier (January 31, 1997 – January 26, 2023)
Jessie Lemonier played as an outside linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers and the Detroit Lions in the NFL.
The Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2020. Lemonier played six games but was waived in 2021. He signed for the Lions, playing several times, and unsuccessfully tried out for the Arizona Cardinals. Lemonier switched to the XFL in 2022 and was contracted to the Birmingham Stallions at the time of his passing.
Willis Reed (June 25, 1942 – March 21, 2023)
Willis Reed was a basketball player who played his entire career with the New York Knicks. Born in Lincoln Paris, Louisiana, Reed started playing basketball in high school.
During his 10-year career, Reed led the Knicks to two NBA championships and was twice-named NBA Finals MVP. Nicknamed “The Captain,” Reed had a deserved reputation for his leadership and willingness to play through injuries.
He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982 and stayed in the game as a head coach. Reed passed away from congestive heart failure.
Brandon Smiley (February 9, 1990 – January 29, 2023)
Brandon Smiley was the oldest son of radio host and comedian Rickey Smiley.
Brandon was an aspiring comedian and actor and was survived by his siblings and parents. Smiley’s family believes that he died from a drug overdose.
Grace Bumbry (January 4, 1937 – May 7, 2023)
Mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry belonged to a generation of pioneering Black opera singers. Her acclaimed voice, described as powerful and rich, brought her international recognition and a Grammy for Best Opera Recording in 1972.
Born in St Louis, Missouri, Bumbry overcame discrimination to land lead roles in productions like Carmen, Tosca, and Samson et Dalila. She later devoted her time to teaching and preserving traditional spirituals. Bumbry briefly returned to the stage in the early 2010s and died in a Vienna hospital at the age of 86.
Kevin Lemons (September 12, 1978 – January 7, 2023)
Kevin Lemons was an American gospel music artist and choir director from Atlanta. He was the founder and leader of the Higher Calling Cathedral Choir, one of the most popular and respected gospel choirs in the United States.
During his career, he built a reputation for his powerful vocals and energetic performances. Higher Calling is best known for The Declaration, which climbed to number 10 on Billboard’s Gospel album chart. Lemons, who also appeared in the film “Come Sunday,” died after collapsing at his home from a heart attack.
Larry “Gator” Rivers (May 6, 1949 – April 29, 2023)
Larry “Gator” Rivers rose to fame as a dribbler for the world-famous basketball team, the Harlem Globetrotters.
While at Beach High School, Rivers played for the Beach Bulldogs, who were the first basketball team to win a Georgia state high school championship following desegregation.
In later life, Rivers worked as a coach, was elected to the Chatham County Commission, and launched several business ventures, including his own academy. Rivers died from cancer at the age of 73.
Vida Blue (July 28, 1949 – May 6, 2023)
Left-handed pitcher Vida Blue achieved huge success during his baseball career. Born in Mansfield, Louisiana, Blue was noted for being able to reach speeds of up to 100 mph. His career’s biggest highlights came with the Oakland Athletics, who dominated the 1970s with three World Series wins.
A six-time All-Star, Blue retired in 1984 after stints with the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals. He later worked as a baseball analyst and was actively involved with several charitable organizations. Blue died due to complications arising from cancer.
Rasheeda Williams (April 11, 1982 – April 20, 2023)
Rasheeda Williams, also known as Koko Da Doll, was an Atlanta-based trans woman who rose to prominence after appearing in the award-winning documentary Kokomo.
The production explored trans sex workers in New York City and Georgia. Williams died of a gunshot wound.
Johanna Mazibuko (May 11, 1894 – March 3, 2023)
Johanna Mazibuko was the world’s oldest living human. She was 128 years old when she passed away from natural causes.
Linda Lewis (September 27, 1950 – May 3, 2023)
Linda Lewis was a singer-songwriter known for her powerful five-octave vocal range and ability to sing in the whistle register. Her work spanned over four decades, featuring collaborations as a backing vocalist for the likes of Rod Stewart and David Bowie.
A self-taught keyword player and guitarist, Lewis incorporated elements of soul, funk, and folk into a dynamic sound. Her biggest hits came in the 1970s, thanks to “Rock-a-Doodle-Doo” and a cover of “The Shoop Shoop Song.” In 2005, American rapper Common used her track “Old Smokey” for his number-one hit “Go!”
While she released her last album in 1999, Lewis continued to actively perform and release music into the 2020s. She died in Waltham Abbey, Essex, at the age of 72.
AKA (January 28, 1988 – February 10, 2023)
AKA, born Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, was a South African rapper and record producer who first gained popularity in 2011 with the release of his debut album “Altar Ego,” which was a critical and commercial success. AKA’s style blended hip-hop, Afrobeat, and electronic, earning him a dedicated following across Africa.
With hits like “All Eyes on Me,” “Dreamwork,” and “Fela in Versace,” AKA became the most successful hip-hop artist in South African music history. AKA was assassinated.
Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway (November 25, 1971 – January 8, 2023)
Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway, also known as Diamond of the conservative duo “Diamond and Silk,” was a political commentator and social media personality popular within the conservative movement in the United States.
Known for their outspoken and controversial views, Diamond and Silk rose to fame through their YouTube videos and appearances on Fox News.
Diamond was mainly known for her fiery and passionate commentary on immigration, race relations, and the 2020 US Presidential election. Reports indicate that Hardaway died from a heart condition.
Black Celebrities That Died In 2023, Final Thoughts
Like the black celebrities that died in 2022, these individuals made a significant impact and left a lasting legacy in their chosen careers.
Their achievements and memories will continue to inspire future generations of black entertainers.
As we look back on the lives of these black celebrities who died in 2023, we honor their work and indelible mark on the world. Their influence and contributions will always be remembered and celebrated.