Code Switch
5:36 am
Sat July 12, 2014

35 Years After Minnie Riperton's Death, New Fans Still Find Her

Originally published on Sat July 12, 2014 12:12 pm

"There are just some songs you just don't touch because they're done so well, so like, don't even try," says 24-year-old Moses Sumney. "But I'm going to try."

On Saturday night under the stars in downtown Los Angeles, Sumney will join the Decoders, along with more than two dozen musicians and vocalists, to pay tribute to soul legend Minnie Riperton. And the song Sumney's going to try is a reimagined version of Riperton's mid-'70s hit, "Loving You."

"That song is in some ways bigger than Minnie Riperton, and I think that's unfortunate because it obscures the complexity and the depth of her catalog," says New York University professor Jason King, who hosts NPR's R&B/soul stream "I'll Take You There."

King, who is also a musician, says he got into Riperton's work after hearing a remake of "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun," originally performed by Rotary Connection, which Riperton sang with in the '60s. "I wanted to hear the original and I got into Rotary Connection from that, and [was] absolutely amazed by the kind of musical complexity and sophistication and sometimes the kind of weirdness of the work," King says.

Riperton recorded six albums with Rotary Connection and a half-dozen solo records before 1979. She passed away from breast cancer at 31.

"The average person doesn't know everything about her, like they would a Stevie Wonder or a Michael Jackson," Moses Sumney says, "but they should, probably."

Hip-hop fans might recognize samples of Riperton's music in songs from artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and Mos Def. Her voice is everywhere — on your oldies station, your favorite hip-hop song, in the background of Stevie Wonder hits — and you might not have even known it was her.

But in Los Angeles on Saturday, the late Minnie Riperton will be getting some much-due recognition.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Tamara Keith. Long before pop-diva Mariah Carey did this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMOTIONS")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) But I like the way I feel inside.

KEITH: Minnie Riperton did this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVING YOU")

MINNIE RIPERTON: (Singing) Do do do do do do.

KEITH: Riperton, most famous for her mid-'70s hit "Loving You" and her five octave vocal range, passed away 35 years ago today. A free tribute concert is taking place under the stars in Los Angeles tonight to celebrate her musical legacy. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji he has more.

MOSES SUMNEY: (Singing) Loving you is easy 'cause you're beautiful.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI: 24-year-old Moses Sumney will be singing a re-imagined "Loving You" for a crowd of a few thousand tonight in Los Angeles.

SUMNEY: I actually think it's one of those songs that no one should sing. There are some songs, like, you just don't touch because they were done so well. So, like, don't even try - but I'm going to try.

MERAJI: Sumney will join The Decoders and more than two dozen musicians and vocalists to pay tribute to Riperton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVING YOU")

RIPERTON: (Singing) vocalizing.

MERAJI: Although he's nervous about performing the technically difficult song, he thinks it's important to reintroduce Riperton's work to new and old audiences.

SUMNEY: The average person doesn't know everything about her in the way you know tons of things about, like, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson or something - but they should.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVING YOU")

RIPERTON: (Singing) Vocalizing.

MERAJI: "Loving You" is just the gateway into Riperton's legacy. Jason King is a professor at NYU and hosts NPR's R&B and soul stream.

JASON KING: That song is, in some ways, bigger than Minnie Riperton. And I think that's unfortunate because it obscures the complexity and the depth of her catalog.

MERAJI: King, who's also a musician, says, he got into her work after hearing a remake of "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun." The original version was done by Rotary Connection - A band Riperton sang with in the sixties.

KING: And I wanted to hear the original. And I got into Rotary Connection from that. And I was absolutely amazed by the kind of musical complexity and sophistication and sometimes just eccentricity and weirdness of the work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE BLACK GOLD OF THE SUN")

ROTARY CONNECTION: (Singing) I am the black gold of the sun.

MERAJI: Back at rehearsals in Los Angeles, four vocalists practice for tonight's rendition of "I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM THE BLACK GOLD OF THE SUN")

UNIDENTIFIED VOCALISTS: (Singing) Mother of the deep and the dark. Father of the one.

MERAJI: Riperton recorded six albums with Rotary Connection and half a dozen solo records before 1979. She passed away from breast cancer at age 31.

NIA ANDREWS: And the fact that she only lived to be 31 she did what she did is just like, wow what have I done? I mean, I have a lot of growing to do. She's amazing.

MERAJI: 34-year-old singer-songwriter Nia Andrews says she grew up on Minnie Riperton because her dad was a music teacher. But she also listened to hip-hop and recognized Riperton samples all over the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, THIS LOVE I HAVE")

A TRIBE CALLED QUEST: (Singing) Well, it's kind of simple just remain your own or you'll be crazy sad and alone.

ANDREWS: "Baby This Love I Have" - A Tribe Called Quest and Mos Def, they both sampled that. When the song starts it's hard not for me to jam to it, you know? I just have a little groove. It's just - you feel it in your bones. It feels so good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY, THIS LOVE I HAVE")

RIPERTON: (Singing) Baby I'm trying to tell you that I need you. Baby I'm trying to tell you that I care.

MERAJI: Her voice is everywhere, on your oldies station, your favorite hip-hop song, in the background of Stevie Wonder hits and you might not have known it was her. But in Los Angeles tonight, the late Minnie Riperton will be getting some much due recognition. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.