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Remembering the Icons We Lost in 2023

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA / December 29, 2023

In a year of achievements and setbacks, 2023 said goodbye to several significant personalities who left a lasting impression on the entertainment, sports, civil rights and art industries. Their achievements have influenced countless generations. Here, we list just some of those losses.

  • Richard Roundtree: Iconic Star of “Shaft’ (1942–2023)
    Hollywood said goodbye to Richard Roundtree, the iconic Shaft star. While forever tied to the role that made him famous in 1971, Roundtree remained active for more than four decades, leaving an enduring mark on cinema.
  • Tina Turner: Legendary Singer and Performer (1939–2023)
    The music world mourned the loss of Tina Turner, the legendary singer renowned for her sultry voice and a string of platinum hits. Turner’s impact on the music industry and her boundless passion for life captivated millions worldwide.
  • Andre Braugher: Acclaimed Actor (1962–2023)
    The acting community bid farewell to Andre Braugher, an acclaimed actor known for his roles in “Homicide” and “Brooklyn-Nine-Nine.” Braugher’s extraordinary talent earned acclaim, particular as Det. Frank Pembleton on “Homicide.” Nominated for an Emmy 11 times, Braugher won the award four times.
  • Harry Belafonte: Singer, Actor, and Civil Rights Activist (1927–2023)
    The world said goodbye to Harry Belafonte, a singer, actor, and staunch civil rights activist. Belafonte’s lifetime of activism transformed the arts while advocating for civil rights, leaving an enduring legacy.
  • Richard Hunt: Visionary Sculptor and Art Pioneer (1935–2023)
    The art world bid farewell to Richard Hunt, a trailblazing sculptor and the first Black artist to receive a solo retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. With more than 160 public sculptures across the U.S., Hunt’s seven-decade career left an indelible mark on contemporary art, influencing generations.
  • George McGinnis: Indiana Basketball Legend (1951–2023)
    Indiana mourned the loss of basketball legend George McGinnis, whose impact on the sport spanned from his All-American days at Indiana University to his championship runs with the Pacers. McGinnis will be remembered as a symbol of Hoosier basketball excellence.
  • Jean Knight: Soulful Songstress and Grammy-Nominated Artist (1943–2023)
    The soulful voice behind “Mr. Big Stuff,” Jean Knight, passed away, leaving a void in the world of R&B. Knight’s legacy extends beyond her musical achievements.
  • George “Funky” Brown: Kool & The Gang Drummer and Songwriter (1949–2023)
    The rhythmic heartbeat of Kool & The Gang, George “Funky” Brown, left an indelible mark with his contributions to iconic songs like “Celebration” and “Ladies Night.” Brown’s musical genius and resilience were evident even in the face of a battle with stage-4 cancer.
  • D.J. Hayden: Former NFL Cornerback and Athlete (1989–2023)
    Tragedy struck the sports world with the untimely death of former NFL cornerback D.J. Hayden. The car crash that claimed his life has left the sports community in shock. Hayden’s athleticism and contributions to the game will be remembered.
  • C-Knight (Arnez Blount): Rapper and “Cha Slide” Creator (1971-2023)
    The hip-hop community lost a creative force with the passing of C-Knight, known for birthing the international dance craze with the “Cha Slide.” His legacy lives on through the rhythmic beats that brought joy to countless dance floors, making him a lasting presence in music.
  • Walter Davis: NBA All-Star and UNC Basketball Legend (1954–2023)
    UNC basketball mourned the loss of one of its finest players, Walter Davis, a two-time All-ACC honoree and NBA All-Star. Davis, whose basketball prowess extended from the 1976 USA Olympic team to an illustrious NBA career, remains a symbol of skill and sportsmanship.
  • Bertie Bowman: Capitol Hill Veteran with a Legacy of Service (1931–2023)
    Capitol Hill bid farewell to Bertie Bowman, whose more than 60 years of service spanned roles from custodial to politically significant. Colleagues and the Capitol community will remember his legacy as a dedicated public servant.
  • Rudolph Isley: Founding Father of The Isley Brothers (1938–2023)
    The music world said goodbye to Rudolph Isley, a founding member of The Isley Brothers. His musical genius and timeless contributions to the industry, including hits like “Shout” and “Twist and Shout,” cemented the Isley Brothers’ place in music history.
  • Charles Porter Jr.: Houston’s First Black Reporter and Resonant Voice (1942–2023)
    Houston mourned the loss of Charles Porter Jr., a trailblazer who became the city’s first Black reporter and anchor. His deep, resonant voice and coverage of significant events, including the swearing-in of late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, left an indelible mark on Houston’s media landscape.
  • Hughes Van Ellis: Tulsa Race Massacre Survivor and WWII Veteran (1921–2023)
    The nation bid farewell to Hughes Van Ellis, one of the last surviving witnesses of the Tulsa Race Massacre. A proud U.S. Army veteran who fought alongside the British in WWII, Ellis symbolized resilience and a living connection to a crucial chapter in American history.
  • Zoleka Mandela: Granddaughter of Nelson Mandela (1980–2023)
    South Africa mourned the loss of Zoleka Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter. Her battle with cancer came to an end, leaving behind a legacy intertwined with the struggle for justice and freedom.
  • Irish Grinstead: R&B Singer of 702 (1979–2023)
    R&B lost a soulful voice with the passing of Irish Grinstead, part of the award-winning trio 702. Fans all over the world will remember her contribution to the late 1990s R&B scene and her enduring influence on the genre.
  • Clarence Avant: “The Black Godfather” of Music (1931–2023)
    The music industry lost a true legend with the passing of Clarence Avant, known as “The Black Godfather.” Those he inspired will always recognize Avant’s contribution to the entertainment industry.
  • Sheila Oliver: New Jersey Lieutenant Governor (1952–2023)
    New Jersey mourned the loss of Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, the first Black woman to serve in a statewide elected position. Oliver’s dedication to public service and pioneering role in New Jersey’s political landscape will be remembered.
  • John Beasley: Actor and Activist (1943–2023)
    Best known for his roles on Everwood and The Soul Man, died at 79. The actor died after being hospitalized in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, after his health took an “unexpected turn for the worst” following testing on his liver, according to reports.
  • Jim Brown: Football Legend, Activist, and Actor (1936–2023)
    The sports and entertainment world lost a multifaceted icon with the passing of Jim Brown, a football legend, activist, and actor. Brown’s influence extended beyond the field, making him a prominent figure in popular culture.
  • Vida Blue: MLB Pitcher and World Series Champion (1949–2023)
    Baseball mourned the loss of Vida Blue, a former MLB pitcher who led the Oakland Athletics to three consecutive World Series victories in the 1970s.
  • Tori Bowie: Olympic Gold Medalist in Track and Field (1990–2023)
    The world of athletics lost Tori Bowie, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field. The track and field community celebrates Bowie’s remarkable achievements and impact on the sport.
  • Willis Reed: NBA Hall of Famer and Knicks Legend (1942–2023)
    In basketball, fans mourned the loss of Willis Reed, an NBA Hall of Famer, and iconic Knicks captain. His contributions to the sport, including leading the Knicks to two NBA championships, made him a basketball legend.
  • Lola Chantrelle “Gangsta Boo” Mitchell: Rapper (1979–2023)
    Memphis and the hip-hop community mourned the loss of Gangsta Boo, one-third of the award-winning R&B trio 702.

Many others were also lost in 2023, and though they are too numerous to print, they are also fondly recalled, and their contributions are not forgotten.




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