This past Saturday, July 23, news broke that British singer/songwriter Amy Winehouse had passed away of unknown causes in her London apartment. She was just 27 years old. Throughout her short career, the troubled performer had numerous issues with drugs and alcohol, but was still able to make an indelible mark on the music world. Her 2006 album, Back to Black, earned Winehouse six Grammy nominations and five wins. Her talent was undeniable. Still, Winehouse’s musical impact, which borrowed elements of Black artists, will remain her greatest legacy. In light of Winehouse’s untimely passing, BlackEnterprise.com compiles a collection of other great artists who died before their time. —Anslem Samuel
AALIYAH HAUGHTON, 22: Just 22 years old at the time of her death, Aaliyah was just hitting her stride as a singer and actress. Redefining the look and sound of R&B in the early 90s, she was a platinum selling performer and leading lady that was admired and loved by fans the world over. Tragedy struck on the evening of August 25, 2001 when Aaliyah’s plane crashed in the Bahamas as she and her entourage attempted to return to the States following a video shoot.
CHRISTOPHER “THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G.” WALLACE, 24: Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Wallace would grow to become one of hip-hop’s most respected and successful rappers. The marquee artist of Sean “Puffy” Combs’ label, Bad Boy Records, he would go on to release dozens of hit records, memorable guest verses and sell millions of albums. Tragically, Wallace was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997. The 24-year-old left behind two children and a lasting musical legacy.
TAMMI TERRELL, 24: Already a solo singer on Motown, Terrell saw her notoriety grow once she was paired with label mate Marvin Gaye. The pair created notable collaborations like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” that were featured on their various duet albums. It was during this time that Terrell was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Despite eight surgeries, Terrell’s health continued to deteriorate until her passing on March 16, 1970, just over a month shy of her 25th birthday.
TUPAC “2PAC” SHAKUR, 25: A gifted lyricist and outspoken figurehead, Shakur ruffled more than a few feathers in his time but it was his brutally honest approach to his life and craft that drew fans to him. Also, a budding actor with an impressive resume, he was the face of West Coast rap music in the mid 90s and scored numerous platinum plaques along the way. Tragically the young star was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas and he died from his injuries several days later on September 13, 1996 at the age of 25.
OTIS REDDING, 26: A struggling soul singer in the early 60s, Redding made his mark on the musical landscape with his surprise hit “These Arms of Mine” in 1962. The biggest record of his short career and most notable, however, was the timeless classic “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Unfortunately, Redding would not get to see the song’s impact (4 million copies sold worldwide) as it was released as a single a month after his death in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. He was just 26 years old.
JIMI HENDRIX, 27: A talented musician and singer/songwriter, Hendrix revolutionized the use of the electric guitar with his distorted amp sound and use of wah wah pedals, breathing new life into rock music. Despite hailing from Seattle, Washington, he received a lion share of fame in Europe before gaining accolades for his trailblazing work in the US. After a night of partying, Hendrix was found dead in the London apartment of his girlfriend on September 18, 1970. He was just 27.
LISA “LEFT EYE” LOPES, 30: As one-third of the platinum-selling girl group TLC, Lopes made a name for herself as the trio’s outspoken member. As one of the most successful girl groups of all time, TLC amassed a catalog of hits that spoke to millions of fans worldwide. Eventually splitting from the group to be a soloist, Lopes continued to make strides in her career; but her life was cut short at the age of 30 when she was involved in a fatal car accident on April 25, 2002 while in Honduras.
MINNIE RIPERTON, 31: Riperton was a true musical talent. Most notable was her unique vocal range of five-and-a-half octaves, which she put on full display with her 1975 single “Lovin’ You.” The classically trained singer went on to release several notable singles. However, in August of 1976 she announced that she had breast cancer and required a mastectomy. Despite being given only six months to live, Riperton continued to record and tour—becoming an American Cancer Society spokeswoman along the way—until she succumb to the disease on July 12, 1979 at the age of 31.
DONNY HATHAWAY, 33: A talented singer and composer, Hathaway made a name for himself in the late 60s as a songwriter, penning hit records for other artists. But by the end of the decade he was signed as a recording artist in his own right and made waves as a singer, most notably for his duet with Roberta Flack “Where is the Love” (1973) and “The Closer I Get to You” (1978). Despite his success, Hathaway suffered with severe bouts of depression that culminated in the 33-year-old’s apparent suicide on the night of January 13, 1979.
SAM COOKE, 33: Often referred to as the King of Soul, Cooke helped popularize the genre and paved the way for many legendary vocalists. With over two dozen top 40 hits in his catalog, Cooke was also one of the first African American artists-turned-entrepreneur in music, founding his own record label and publishing company. Despite his trailblazing accomplishments, Cooke died under controversial circumstances as he was fatally shot by a motel manager who alleged that he attacked her. He was 33 at the time.
DOROTHY DANDRIDGE, 42: A performer from a young age alongside her sister as part of the child group, The Wonder Children (later The Dandridge Sisters), Dandridge sang at small venues on the chitlin’ circuit. As she got older, she added acting to her list of talents and found success there, becoming the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Dandridge continued to sing and act until her death of a drug overdose on September 8, 1965. She was 42 years old.
MARVIN GAYE, 44: A Motown legend and gifted songwriter, Gaye racked up an impressive musical catalogue of timeless hits records that ranged from political commentary to love ballads to poetic soul that touched millions of fans. Having several bouts with drugs and depression throughout the years, Gaye’s personal demons got the better of him when he and his father got into an altercation on April 1, 1984 that led to the legendary singer’s death from a fatal gunshot wound. Gaye died just one day shy of his 45th birthday.
BILLIE HOLIDAY, 44: Born Eleanora Fagan, Holiday was a noted jazz singer who shifted the musical landscape of her genre in the 1940s and garnered critical acclaim as a result. However, her long-stemming drug and drinking problems caught up to Holiday and her health began to deteriorate. By May 31, 1959, she was checked into the hospital due to complications with her liver and heart disease. She never checked out and passed away July 17, 1959 at the age of 44.
NAT KING COLE, 45: In addition to being an accomplished jazz pianist with a smooth baritone, Cole made history as the first African American to host his own variety show, The Nat King Cole Show (1956). Still, it was his music, accented by a warm personality and melodic voice, which resonated most with fans. An avid smoker, Cole passed from lung cancer on February 15, 1965, just a month short of his 46th birthday.