Minnie Riperton

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Minnie Julia Riperton (November 8, 1947 - July 12, 1979) was a soul singer from Chicago, Illinois.



As a child, Minnie studied music, drama, and dance, and seriously considered a career in opera. However, her affiliation with the famous Chess Records record label soon allowed her to sing backup for Etta James, Fontella Bass, and Stevie Wonder. Minnie sang lead vocals for several small, unsuccessful bands before teaming up with her husband, composer Richard Rudolph, to start her solo career. Stevie Wonder agreed to produce her 1974 album, Perfect Angel, featuring Lovin' You, a ballad to her two-year old daughter Maya.

Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in 1976. She became an active spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society and was awarded the Society Courage Award from President Jimmy Carter. She died in 1979 at the age of only 31 and was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

In addition to her musical legacy, Minnie Riperton is survived by her daughter, Maya Rudolph, a current cast member of Saturday Night Live.

Early Childhood

Minnie Julia Riperton was born on November 8,1947 to Daniel and Thelma Riperton. The youngest of eight children in a very musical family, Minnie embraced the arts very early in life. Although she started in ballet and modern dance, Minnie's parents recognized her coloratura abilities early in life, and she soon shifted to music and voice.

Minnie Riperton received operatic vocal training at the Lincoln Center by Marion Jeffery. There she would practice breath control, holding vowels for extended times and phrase enunication, with particular care for diction. Jeffery also would train all of her range, which is rather unusual in operatic training as many classical purists deem the seventh octave unmusical. So important were these lessons to Minnie that it is said that she would suddenly drop playing with friends to make a lesson.

While studying, Minnie sang operettas or a show tune, in preparation for a life in opera. Jeffery was so convinced in his pupil's coloratura abilities, he strongly pushed her to study the classics further at Chicago's Junior Lyric Opera. However, this was the '60s and Minnie was becoming very interested in soul, rhythm and blues, and rock. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Loop College, but dropped out after a mere three weeks.

Early Career

Minnie's first professional appearance occurred when she was 15 as part of The Gems. Raynard Miner, a blind pianist, heard Minnie during her membership in Hyde Park's A Capella Choir. The Gems had relatively limited commerical success with Chess Records, but the group proved to be a good outlet to expose Minnie's talents to the music industry at large. Eventually the group became a session trio (to back other albums) called 'Studio Three'.

Andrea Davis

While a part of 'Studio Three', Minnie met her mentor, producer Billy Davis. He would write her first local hit "Lonely Girl" and "You Gave Me Soul". In honor of Davis, she used the "showbiz name", Andrea Davis, for the release of those two singles. Afterwards, she would use her real name.

Rotary Connection

Some months after her Andrea Davis singles hit the radio, Minnie would join the Rotary Connection, a funky rock-soul group creation of Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. The band consisted of Riperton, Chess, Judy Hauff, Sidney Barnes and Charles Stepney. While she was in Rotary Connection, she met Richard Rudolph, her future husband and songwriting partner. The group released their debut in 1967, eventually releasing four more albums, 1968's Aladdin, the Christmas album Peace, Songs, and finally 1970's Dinner Music.

Lovin' You

In 1973, a college rep for Epic Records found Minnie, then a semi-retired homemaker and mother of two in Gainesville, Florida. After he heard a demo of the song Seeing You This Way, which showcased her effortless coloratura, the rep took the tape to Don Ellis, VP of A&R for Epic. Minnie signed with Epic Records and the family moved to Los Angeles, California. After meeting with Stevie Wonder, and recording the background for his song It Ain't No Use with Deniece Williams and Lani Groves, Wonder would produce Minnie's second LP entitled Perfect Angel. Including the rock-soul anthem Reasons, the second single Take A Little Trip, and the third single Seeing You This Way, sales of the album started out slow. With the fourth single Lovin' You, a ballad written for Minnie's daughter Maya, the album caught on. The song went to the top of the charts in both the US and UK, and just missed the top mark at #3 on the R&B charts in the US. The album Perfect Angel went platinum, and Minnie was finally revered as the "lady with the high voice". The album also featured the song Every Time He Comes Around, featuring Deniece Williams as the operatic soprano in the background.

Later Career

After the smash that was Perfect Angel, Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph started on Minnie's third album Adventures in Paradise. Keyboardist Joe Sample played throughout the album and helped co-write Adventures in Paradise with Minnie and Richard. The album was a modest success, but the magic of Perfect Angel didn't have this time. Despite the R&B hit Inside My Love (covered by Trina Broussard, and Chanté Moore), and it topping the US R&B charts at #5, the album didn't match the success of Perfect Angel. Minnie would sink back into mainstream obscurity, but enjoyed a good career in R&B.

The End

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976, the cancer spread rapidly. Despite a mastectomy, it already hit her lymph nodes and rapidly. Sadly the cancer was terminal. Minnie would tour in 1977 and 1978, but eventually the cancer took its toll. Near the end, Minnie entered Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and at approxmiately 10AM on July 12, 1979, Minnie passed away in her husband's arms. She was just 31 years old.

Vocal ability

About fifteen percent of soprano singers have the ability to access the lower reaches of the whistle register, but Minnie was capable of not only accessing the seventh octave, she had the ability (sheer muscular control) to execute trills, runs, and other vocal acrobatics in the seventh octave. Her highest recorded note is F#7 in You Take My Breath Away, but not only did she sing many songs going into the seventh octave, it is well rumored that she could hit a C8 (two full octaves above soprano C or C6). The only soul singer to rival her range is Mariah Carey, although singers like Rachelle Ferrell, Shanice Wilson, Chanté Moore, or Christina Aguilera have demonstrated some of the techniques at made Minnie so popular. She scored her greatest commercial success with the memorable one-hit wonder Lovin' You, a soulful pop ballad that showcased her amazing five-octave (the liner notes to her legacy album Petals details her voice as having 5.5 octaves) vocal range, as well as her ability to hit an F6 note in the whistle register. What set Minnie Riperton apart from many other singers capable of the whistle register is her ability to sound almost mechanical or instrumental, as well as her ability to clearly enunciate clearly well above Soprano High C. In You Take My Breath Away, she sounds almost like feedback on a microphone. In Here We Go, Minnie chirps the phrase 'Here We Go' with perfect diction, despite the notes very lofty altitude. Having an inate ability to imitate many instruments in fact helped lead to her discovery while she was a secretary at Chess Records.

Vocal Profile

  • Voice type: Piccolo Coloratura Soprano
  • Highest note: F#7 (You Take My Breath Away) (although live A7, even rumors of C8)
  • Lowest note: D3 (In Stick Together)
  • Vocal Range: 4.5 octaves (D3-F#7)
  • Longest Note: 25 seconds
  • B6 (http://www.freehostz.com/notes_and_octaves/minnieseeingyou2B6.mp3) - Minnie hits a B6 in the song 'Seeing You This Way'. In this clip, Minnie showcases her effortless coloratura, octave hopping without any vocal dynamic change.
  • F6 - Minnie hits an F6 in her popular song 'Lovin' You'.
  • F#6 - Another high note from Minnie in her song 'Reasons'.


  • The plot of an early episode of South Park centers around a male singer's inability to hit the F6 in Lovin' You.
  • In 1991, Shanice Wilson covered Lovin' You, updating it for a 90's sound. Unfortunately, the cover visibility was obscured by her pop smash off the same album, I love Your Smile.
  • In 1992, showcasing effortless ability, Rachelle Ferrell sings (and sustains) an E7 (http://www.freehostz.com/notes_and_octaves/rachelleiotamE7.mp3) in It Only Took A Minute, demonstrating a technique of Minnie Riperton, to sing a note so high, it loses any real human color and thus sounds instrumental.
  • In 1999, Mariah Carey mimicked Minnie in her song Bliss, the third track on her album Rainbow. Mariah can be heard singing the phrase 'On and On' in such a manner her voice sounds almost like a steaming tea kettle to illustrate her feelings.
  • In 2001, one of Minnie's earlier songs, Les Fleur, was covered by 4hero.
  • In 2003, Kenny Lattimore and wife Chanté Moore covered Here We Go.
  • In 2004, Adam Lopez instrumentalized in the background of his song Stay With Me, imitating a piccolo in a manner similar to Minnie Riperton.

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