Year In Review 2016: In Memoriam


They left us in 2016, but their legacy lives on.

Before we could transition into 2017, we’ve already lost some prolific people who have influenced the Chicago Black community in some way or form. 

There were many that are not listed including founding member of Tribe Called Quest, Phife Dawg (Malik Taylor) who died at 45, earlier this year from complications from diabetes. He was truly one of the architects of Hip Hop—influencing many emcees today.

The lost of comedian Ricky Harris as we came out of the Christmas weekend along with Hollywood actresses, Carrie Fisher and film star Debbie Reynolds. 

By Senior Staff Writer, Mary L. Datcher and Defender Contributing Writer, Erick Johnson


Feb. 6, 1950 – Dec. 31, 2015

An eight-time Grammy Award-winning singer, Natalie Cole died Dec. 31, 2015, but thousands of fans mourned her death in 2016. She was 65. The daughter of Nat King Colie, Natalie established an illustrious career in her own right. She grew up in the affluent Hancock Park district of Los Angeles. She rose to stardom in the mid 1970s with the hits “Inseparable,” “This Will Be,” and “Our Love.”

Many believed Cole would follow in her father’s footsteps, but she surprised them when she began singing R&B and Rock songs. As she performed in her early years, Cole got a big break in Chicago, where she was discovered by producers Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, a popular minister on the South Side. They produced Cole’s debut album Inseparable, which included songs that reminded many listeners of Aretha Frankiln. Cole married Yancy in 1976. During her marriage, Cole lived with her husband on the South Side, where she was often seen at nightclubs on Stony Island and restaurants in Black neighborhoods. The two had a son, Robert “Robbie” Yancy, who survives Cole. The couple divorced in 1980.

After her debut, Cole was billed in the media as the “new Aretha Franklin.” There were rumors that a rivalry was brewing between the two singers, but time has proven critics wrong.

After a period of declining sales, poor performances and a drug addiction, Cole made a comeback in 1987 with the album Everlasting. In the 1990s, she made a unique digitally recorded duet with her late father with his song “Unforgettable.” The recording became Cole’s biggest hit, selling over 30 million copies worldwide and winning numerous Grammy Awards. The achievement came 20 years after Cole initially refused to cover her father’s songs as she sought to establish her own identity.


Feb. 11, 1942 – Jan. 8, 2016

Photo Credit: Bernadette Pollard
Photo Credit: Bernadette Pollard

The legendary Soul and Gospel singer died Jan. 8 from a heart attack. He was 73. Born on Feb. 11, 1942, in Waxhaw, Mississippi, Clay was known throughout the world as a passionate and soulful singer. He moved to Chicago in the 1950s before joining the gospel group the Golden Jubilaires. He became a member of Charles Bridge’s Famous Blue Jay Singers in 1960.

After signing with the Chicago indie-based records Onederful Records, Clay made his career debut in 1965 with his first secular single, “Flame in Your Heart.” He scored his first national R&B hit, “That’s How It Is (When You’re in Love),” followed by a string of song releases. In 1972, he appeared on the iconic television dance show “Soul Train,” where he was interviewed by another Chicago legend, Don Cornelios.

Clay recorded for Cotillion Records in Chicago with fellow soul singer Syl Johnson. Together, they recorded the song “Hard Working Woman”  in 1970.

After leaving Atlantic Records, Clay signed with Hi Records, which was Gospel singer Al Green’s label. He recorded several songs with Green’s producer, Willie Mitchell, in Memphis.

In Chicago, Clay would sing at the popular nightclubs the Bonanza, the High Chaparral on 78th and Stony Island and Peyton’s Place.

Theresa ‘Teesee’ Fambro Hooks

May 5, 1935 – Jan. 31, 2016

Theresa Fambro-Hooks, or “Teesee” as Chicagoans grew to know her, was one of the last Mohicans of Chicago’s Black Press. For over 51 years, she was Chicago Defender’s premiere columnist — covering the socialite scene like no other.

Her style fashion flair was synonymous with the famous and elite that she interviewed. If you made her column, “TeeSee’s Town,” then you were the talk of the community.

Graduating from Parker High School, now Roberson, she went on to attend Roosevelt University, U of I and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, pursuing her love for fashion. Between her dedication as a photojournalist, columnist and community work, Hooks had a successful public relations firm.

Rarely slowing down, she decided to retire in April 2015. Her presence at numerous community and cultural events was noticed, and her absence is sorely missed.


Dec. 19, 1941 – Feb. 4, 2016

The creative multi-Grammy Award-winning force behind Earth, Wind & Fire, Maurice White died Feb. 4. He was 74. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, on Dec. 19, 1941, White founded Earth, Wind & Fire. He guided the group to critical and commercial success with hits such as “Shining Star” and September.”

After studying at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, White found work in 1963 as a session drummer for Chess Records. In 1967 he began playing with the Ramsey Lewis Trio. In 1969, he formed his own band in Chicago called The Salty Peppers. After moving to Los Angeles, White renamed the group Earth, Wind & Fire. He recruited his younger brother, bassist Verdine. Singer Phillip Bailey, keyboardist Larry Dunn and Al McKay also became bandmates.

Innovative and musically progressive, the band mixed R&B, jazz, soul and pop music. White also incorporated African sounds with a kalimba, an African thumb piano.

After selling 500,000 copies of the album Head to the Sky in 1973, Earth, Wind & Fire went on to produce a string of platinum-selling albums throughout the 1970s and early ’80s.

White composed many of the songs that became runaway hits. They include “Shining Star,” “September,” and “Let’s Groove.” White won six Grammy awards with Earth, Wind & Fire. The group is know for its elaborate concerts. Some featured pyramids and disappearance acts.

Doug Banks

June 9, 1958 – April 11, 2016

A husband, a father and friend to many, radio personality and broadcast legend Doug Banks died at 57. His final public appearance at the Black Woman’s Expo in Chicago was a treat to listeners and long-time friends who had a chance to reunite with the Detroit native.

His national syndicated show, The Ride with Doug and DeDe Show, held strong in the afternoon drive on Chicago’s V103, where loyal listeners chimed in daily listening to his cheerful voice. Banks’ love for radio started at a young age, where his first temporary radio gig was at WDRQ. He would go on to work at KLAV-AM KDIA, KDAY and WBMX, eventually landing at WGCI-FM.

For nine years, Banks and Company would lead the morning ratings and transitioned Banks into syndication in 1997. His love for food was not a secret, and his battle with diabetes would become an open lesson with his listeners.

Whether you were an artist, community leader or everyday “Joe” or “Sally,” Banks was known to treat everyone with the same good-natured attitude. Only two days shy from sharing the same birthday as his friend Prince, Banks passed nearly two weeks prior to his death.


June 7, 1958 – April 21 2016

As the world was struck by the shock of hearing of Prince’s death, we hadn’t processed this news as being “real.”  In fact, everything seemed so surreal because it felt like yesterday that we were re-living the death reports of our beloved Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Prince Rogers Nelson was the ultimate musician — playing multiple instruments and going against the norm. His first album in 1980, Dirty Mind, and Controversy, released in 1981, began to bubble underground as his “naughty” bad-boy image was quickly gaining musical cult-like following.

But as his live performances grew into sold-out shows, Prince’s fame catapulted after each album release, including Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Parade, Sign ‘O’ the Times, Diamond and Pearls, LoveSexy, the Batman soundtrack and Love Symbol with the New Power Generation, his ongoing battle with Warner Bros. Records in 1993 brought feelings of having limited creative control.

As Chicagoans, we took him in as one of our own. The parade of talent and extraordinary stories of Paisley Park was infamous to his elusive but caring personality. He was the quintessential superstar with Midwest values, always calling Minneapolis home.

Other artists who have risen from Prince’s camp include Vanity 6, Sheila E., Wendy & Lisa, Apollonia, 3RDEYEGIRL as well as musical collaborations with Chicago natives Mavis Staples and Chaka Khan.

Each of us had a favorite Prince song that spoke to our growing pains and our best life moments. Another great talent taken too soon, but his music will live on.


Jan. 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016

AT 22 years old Muhammed Ali takes the title .
AT 22 years old Muhammed Ali takes the title .

He was the greatest, proud and unapologetically Black. Muhammad Ali died June 3 after a dazzling boxing career that included three championship belts, 37 knockouts and a 56-5 record.

Originally named Cassius Marcellus Clay, Ali was born in one of the poorest Zip codes in Louisville, Kentucky. On Feb. 25, 1964, at 22 years old, he won his first heavyweight boxing championship, beating Sonny Liston on Miami Beach.

Later that year, Ali moved to Chicago after he was banned from boxing and stripped of his championship titles for refusing to join the Army to fight in the Vietnam War.  Exiled in Chicago, Ali lived in various neighborhoods before he joined the Nation of Islam. After changing his name to Muhammad Ali, he moved into a 28-bedroom mansion in Kenwood to be close to his mentor, Nation of Islam founder Minister Elijah Muhammad.

In Chicago, Ali frequented barbershops and restaurants on the South Side. Fans often flocked to him as he walked along 63rd street under the “L” train. Along with Sugar Ray Robinson, Ali frequented the historic Coulon’s Gym on the South Side.

After the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, Ali returned to boxing, wining two additional heavyweight titles in 1974 and 1978.

Former President Bill Clinton was among dozens of heads of state, royalty and celebrities who attended Ali’s funeral in Louisville, where thousands packed the KFC Yum! Center. Thousands more lined the streets of Louisville and cheered as Ali’s funeral procession drove through the city before the champion was laid to rest at the historic Cave Hill Cemetery.


Died Sept. 23

William Garth Sr., the publisher and chairman of the Chicago Citizen Newspaper Group, died Sept. 23 from complications associated with diabetes. He was 78.

Garth started working at the Citizen Newspaper in 1969 as an advertising sales representative. He eventually purchased the Chatham Citizen, South End Citizen and Chicago Weekend in 1980 from former Congressman Gus Savage. The South Suburban and the Hyde Park editions were later added. His publishing did not end there, as Garth later founded Garth Co. Publications, which published PUSH Magazine, a bimonthly national publication.

Garth became the first Black person to be elected president of the Illinois Press Association (IPA), the state’s largest newspaper association and the official trade organization for Illinois weekly and daily newspapers.

Garth was chairman of the Quentis Bernard Garth Foundation, which he founded in memory of his youngest son in 1995. The QBG Foundation provides scholarships to the disenfranchised inner-city youths in the Chicago area. To date, the foundation has helped over 49 students and has disbursed over $1 million in scholarship awards.

He was a dedicated activist and leader in the business community, who maintained memberships and positions with several business organizations. He held various professional leadership positions with numerous organizations, including being the former president of Midwest Region III of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), board member of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and a lifetime member of the NAACP.

Garth was the recipient of numerous local and national awards and honors, including carrying the torch through Chicago during the 2002 Olympics.


Aug. 1, 1937 – Nov. 20, 2016

mariedixonrippicThe Chicago matriarch of Blues music,  Dixon died on November 20. She was 79. Dixon was the widow of Blues Pioneer Willie Dixon, who died on Jan. 29, 1992. For decades, she supported her husband as he established a distinctive and revolutionary music career. Sugar Blue, the great harmonica player, called Mrs. Dixon the “First Lady of the Blues.”

Dixon and her husband established the non-profit Blues Heaven Foundation in 1984. Its mission over the last 30 years included preserving the legacy of Blues music in addition to securing royalties and copyrights owed to artists in the past.

In 1993, Dixon purchased the same building that included Chess Studios. She later moved the foundation there in 1997. Located at 2120 South Michigan Avenue. it’s a historic landmark and museum and attracts visitors from around the world.

Dixon was also known for tireless work in building the foundation into an educational and outreach program that touched the lives of many young students in Chicago area schools who wanted to learn more about Blues music. 

Herbert Kent

Oct. 9, 1928 – Oct. 22, 2016

Radio icon and DJ, Herb 'The Cool Gent' Kent
Radio icon and DJ, Herb ‘The Cool Gent’ Kent

At 88 years old, radio legend Herb Kent signed off on his final show Oct. 8. Unbeknownst to his listeners, they would hear him live on-air for the last time. His routine of doing his Saturday radio show on V103/WVAZ-FM was as natural as brushing his teeth. He didn’t have to think about it — it just flowed.

We, as the Chicago radio listening audience, tuned in just as routinely as he showed up, never letting us down — giving us a bit of nostalgia while educating us about the soundtrack that has carved out our lives.

Kent was born Oct. 5, 1928, a South Side kid from the projects who had a passion for entertaining and discovering great talent. In 1952, he moved over to WGES Radio, where he hosted a country and western show. Gradually, as his audience started to grow, so did his reputation, eventually accepting a position at WBEE as head announcer.

During his 60 plus years in radio broadcast, Kent has worked for over 11 radio stations — each bringing his unique sense of humor, depth of knowledge, grace and appreciation for the listeners and fans he served. WVON, known in the 1960s as the “Voice of the Negro,” was owned by Chess brothers — Phil, Poland and Leonard. This era was not only groundbreaking in music, but it was life-changing in the Civil Rights movement, and he used his influence on the air to touch a generation of Black people.

The Chicago Defender and Real Times Media honored him for his significant contribution to the African-American community at the 2016 Men of Excellence Awards Dinner with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hyatt Regency in February.

Kent, affectionately embraced as the Mayor of Bronzeville, The Wahoo Man and the various voices of the Electric Funny People, was the catalyst for many improv skits we hear on radio today.

Herb Kent was not only the longest-running radio broadcast disc jockey, according to the World Records Academy in 2009, but he was our voice — opening the door for so many after him.

George Michael

June 25, 1963 – Dec. 25, 2016

As we close out 2016, we are saddened by the news of Pop singer George Michael, who died in his sleep at his London home on Christmas Day. At 53, his death indicated that the singer had dealt with medical battles because of heart complications. 

Over a 30-year span, his fame rose as one part of the duo Wham! in the 1980s with mega-hits, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Careless Whisper” — grabbing the hearts of teenage girls around the world.

Michael would explode with the solo-debut of Faith (1987) as the first white artist to sweep the Soul Train Music Awards in 1988, MTV Music Video Awards and adding two Grammys to his mantel. His soulful voice and style crossed over to urban radio airwaves, selling over 100 million albums worldwide, including Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1. His work has included duets with R&B singers Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston.

Over time, his public feud with Sony Music would push him into obscurity, refusing to record another project for the mega-label machine. His work raised awareness for LGBT and HIV/AIDS charities, and would bring attention to the global epidemic and become a testament to his character.

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