Minnie Riperton was born in Chicago on 8 November 1947 to Daniel and Thelma Riperton. The youngest of eight children, she started modern dance lessons at the age of three, followed by ballet lessons at five. Her voice lessons began at the age of nine.
Her goal at a very young age was to become a famous singer, and she studied opera under Marion Jeffries, spending months and months learning how to breathe, and listening to and holding vowels.
Eventually, she began singing operas and operettas along with a show tune every so often. As a freshman, she performed in the acapella choir of Hyde Park High School.
She left school early to sing backup vocals at local studios – for $10 a song – but despite her natural talent (a pure five to six-octave soprano) for opera, Riperton was more attracted to rock & roll and the promise of touring. Most famously, she provided the backing vocals for Fontella Bass on their huge hit, Rescue Me.
She would inevitably discontinue her classical training to follow her dream of being a famous vocalist. She signed a recording contract with Chess and in 1967 she joined The Rotary Connection – a “rock/jazz/vocal ensemble”.
Riperton was with The Rotary Connection when she met her future husband, Richard Rudolph.
In 1969, she recorded the album Come To My Garden (which was released in 1971) which she followed with Perfect Angel (1974) and Adventures in Paradise (1975). The following year Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a modified mastectomy.
Within weeks of her surgery, she appeared for the taping of the Ebony Music Awards. When she received her “Ebby,” she later revealed, she was overcome by the knowledge of how lucky she was to have made it through the ordeal she and her family had gone through.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter presented her with the American Cancer Society’s “Courage Award.” A year later, Riperton would become that organisation’s National Education chairwoman.
In addition to being a mother, wife, activist, fundraiser, lecturer, wife, and mother, she signed with Capitol Records, a contract that gave her the creative freedom and production quality that she desired.
During the summer of 1978 – creating what would be her last album, simply entitled Minnie – another cancerous tumour was found under her right arm. She resumed medical treatments and by February 1979 she was ready to go back and finish the album.
She passed away in her husband’s arms on 12 July 1979, at the age of 31.