Chicago Defender Year in Review: In Memoriam

With breaking news comes the loss of some recognizable names both locally and nationally who have graced our headlines over time. In every area of interest and industry, these individuals have contributed a great deal to not only the Chicago African American community but to the world.

February 2017

Dwayne Holmes

Dewayne Holmes

A Chicagoan, Dewayne was a familiar name and face around the music community, he was known across the country among Urban radio programmers and top-level record label executives working for such record labels as Capitol Records and J Records. He made his transition on Thursday, Feb. 16. In speaking with his wife, Cheryl, she says although it was a rough health period for Dewayne, his passion for the music business never faltered.

Tammy Tisdale

Tammy, a Detroit native, lived in Chicago for more than two decades and became a fast-rising music executive. Her start in the early 1990s as the Midwest Regional Manager for Tommy Boy Record’s Urban Music division allowed her to build solid friendships and relationships throughout the industry.

William Barney

Barney’s One Stop and Records owner, Mr. Willie J. Barney, passed away at 89. Located in the Lawndale community, Barney’s One Stop was one of the leading Black-owned and operated distribution stops for indie record shops. It also distributed thousands of House music records in the 1980s throughout the 1990s. Barney opened the first health and vegan restaurant in his community, teaching people the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

March 2017 

Chuck Berry

The legendary rock ‘n’ roller Chuck Berry passed at 90.  He was known for classics such as “Johnny B. Goode”, “Rock and Roll Music” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” among other favorites. A true pioneer of Rock and Roll, he developed a unique blueprint for his guitar riffs that would evolve the world of music today. Berry was signed to Chess Records in 1955, where he went on to create major hits.

Mrs.Carolyn Rush (middle)

Carolyn Rush

Mrs. Carolyn Rush, the wife of Illinois U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, surrounded by family died at 68 from congestive heart failure. In addition to her work as a community organizer, precinct captain and political strategist in many campaigns, she was also instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, working to end discrimination in housing and employment. Mrs. Rush is credited for contributing to her husband’s long-term career in public service as his political analysts for several decades.

Robert “Bobby” Sengstacke

Bobby Sengstacke

An award-winning photojournalist, Robert A. Sengstacke, best known as” Bobby,” was considered one of the most prolific American photographers in the 20th into the 21st century. Mr. Sengstacke passed away March 7, at 73, after a long illness. He was the foundation of strength whose roots were grounded in a family legacy that laid seeds — nurturing lives and informing millions of Black people through the Chicago Defender. As the grand-nephew of the publication’s founder, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, who started the paper in 1905, he was the second child of three sons born to John and Myrtle Sengstacke on May 29, 1943.

May 2017

Samuel G. Roberson, Jr.

Congo Square Theatre Company Artistic Director Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. passed away at 34.  He was the ultimate fighter and lived his theatrical life to the fullest, creating and leading an array of successful initiatives and productions for the company. Sam made his mark as a producer for productions such as the Chicago premiere of Pearl Cleage’s “What I Learned in Paris” and the World Premiere of Lekethia Dalcoe’s “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red,” directed by Harry Lennix.

Morris “Butch” Stewart, Jr.

At 64, Stewart died due to complications from surgery. The man behind familiar theme songs to the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” was a musician and producer. Born in Chicago, Stewart grew up in Harvey, Ill., and later attended DePaul University. He began to build a budding career working as background vocalists for Ramsey Lewis and later Earth, Wind and Fire. In 1978, Stewart established JoyArtMusic, creating jingles for some of the top creative agencies, becoming a one-stop destination for television and radio shows.

June 2017

Cook County Board Commissioner, Robert Steele (2nd District)

Commissioner Robert Steele

He died at 55. The Cook County Board Commissioner would have turned 56 on June 29. Robert Steele, son of former Cook County Commissioner and Board President Bobbie Steele, graduated with a degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. Steele worked as a Community Outreach Manager in Chicago’s Park District and as Executive Director of the Lawndale Business & Local Development Corporation.

July 2017

Nelsan Ellis

Family, friends and fans mourn the loss of actor Nelsan Ellis; the Harvey, Ill., native died on July 8 at 39. Ellis was born in Harvey, Illinois. He attended Thorn Ridge High School in Dolton, and later attended Oxford University and Columbia College in Chicago before graduating from the famed Juilliard School. Nelsan is best known for his role as fan favorite Lafayette Reynolds on HBO’s “True Blood.”  He also appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including “The Soloist,” “The Butler,” “Get on Up” and “Elementary.”

August 2017

Dick Gregory

Dick Gregory

Social activist, comedian, author and holistic health groundbreaker, Dick Gregory made his transition at 84. The Civil Rights activist was known for his “no holds barred” approach to enlightening audiences around the world on race relations, religion and health. His climb in the 1960’s as a stand-up comic soon rose as he replaced Irwin Corey at the infamous Playboy club in Chicago.

His uncanny sense of humor spoke volumes of truth and his  advocacy for a healthier lifestyle had thousands of people rushing to order his healthy supplement, The Formula Form X in the 1980’s which is now sold as Dick Gregory’s Caribbean Diet for Optimal Health.

Robert Yancy

Natalie Cole’s son passed at the age of 39. His body was found in his San Fernando Valley, Calif., apartment. Undisputed reports of Yancy’s untimely death indicate the legendary R&B singer’s son having a heart attack.

Matt McGill hosts a special townhall where Pat Hill asks important questions. PHOTO: Mary L. Datcher

September 2017

Pat Hill

The former executive director of Chicago’s African American Police League lost her battle with cancer at Northwestern Hospital. Hill was outspoken on how African American officers are represented and having a voice among their White fellow officers. She was 66 years old.

Simeon Wright, the cousin of Emmett Till, died at 74 due to complications from bone cancer. He was a witness to his cousin being kidnapped and later murdered that night by White men accusing the 14-year-old of whistling at a White woman. Till was visiting and staying with relatives in Mississippi on summer break from Chicago. 

October 2017

Fats Domino

The New Orleans singer-songwriter, who earned his nickname “Fats” while starting out in the 1940s, came to prominence in the ensuing decades with producer Dave Bartholomew. The Creole singer rose to the top of the Billboard charts with “Ain’t That A Shame”, and a string of classic hits. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame in 1986 after consistently hitting the Top 40 charts in his career and establishing New Orleans’ rock ‘n’ roll spirit.

Other prominent names in entertainment who made transitions included comedian/actor Charlie Murphy (older brother to Eddie Murphy); Jazz singer/actress Della Reese, who captured our hearts from CBS television series “Touched By An Angel,” and theater/television actor Earle Hyman, who played everyone’s favorite granddad on “The Cosby Show.”

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