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Remembering Our Legacy by Cassiette West-Williams

While the world mourned Queen Elizabeth II’s death, African Americans experienced at least six deaths during that same time period in September 2022.

The graceful and beautiful ballerina Stephanie Dabney died on September 28, 2022. Her death was confirmed by her former employer, The Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH). She was the principal dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem, having joined the troupe at a mere 16 years old. Extensive interviews and footage of her talent have been archived by The Kennedy Center. Dabney was the prima ballerina, featured in the work, “The Firebird.” She was born in the Midwest (Youngstown, Ohio) and began dancing at four years old. Dabney also had the HIV virus since the 1990s and survived with it for more than 20 years. She was a dance professor of ballet at Spelman College.

Playright Charles Fuller died on October 3, 2022, from natural causes in Canada. Fuller was born and raised Roman Catholic and graduated from Catholic schools. He attended Villanova for two years, before serving our country in the U.S. Army. Many of his award-winning works are based off of his experiences in the service.  He won a Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1982 for “A Soldier’s Play” and then continued to write “A Soldier’s Story in 1984. He won an Edgar and Tony Awards for his work. Fuller was also the founder of the African American Arts Theater company. He leaves an impressive catalog of screen plays, short stories and theater productions.

Artis Leroy Ivey, better known as Coolio, 59, was a modern renaissance man. This man wrote and performed rap songs, acted on television, volunteered as a firefighter, was a featured “guest” artist on cooking shows, wrote a cookbook, and appeared in his own reality television shows with his sons. Coolio was found dead on the bathroom floor of a friend’s house. In 1996, he won a Grammy award for best new rap artist.  Coolio was the father of 10 children and a grandfather to five children. He had been married to Josefa Salinas, with whom had four children to this union. His cremation memorial service was being planned, according to his current lover, Mimi, who said that the performer did not want a funeral service. Several news reports have said that Coolio suffered from asthma, but no official cause of death has been listed. He was declared dead in Los Angles on September 28th.

The beloved Dr. Paul T. Kwami, 70, was a music professor and the director of the historic Fisk Jubliee Singers. He died on September 10th in Nashville, TN. The Fisk graduate was highly respected for returning to his alma mater to lead the famous singers to new heights. Under his direction, The Fisk Jubilee singers were inducted into the Gospel Hall of Fame in 2000, received the National Medal of the Arts from the White House in 2008, and earned their first Grammy Award in 2020, for best rooted gospel album.  Dr. Kwami earned two bachelor’s degrees from Fisk, a master’s degree, and a doctoral degree from Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music. He is survived by his wife, Susanna, who confirmed his death with the New York Times. He has five daughters, two sons, and scores of Fisk Jubilee singer alumni members.  Services were held at his church in Nashville on October 1, 2022.

Chicago’s own Ramsey Lewis, 87, died on September 12th from natural causes, confirmed his son, Bobby Ramsey.  The jazz genius is credited for influencing Earth Wind and Fire with his creative genius and many other jazz artists. He had EWF’s founder, Maurice White, as one of his musicians, before White formed his own group. They remained colleagues and produced Sun Goddess, introducing jazz to a new generation of listeners.  Lewis began playing the piano at four years old, at the Chicago Music College. He also grew-up in Zion Baptist Church, where his father was the choir director. Lewis also accompanied the choir on Sunday mornings.  His star shone brightly, in the Cabrini Green Housing project. He graduated from Wells high school and had established himself as an up-and-coming artist. By Lewis’ career ending, he had produced more than 80 albums and won three Grammy awards. Lewis is credited with originating the Smooth Jazz format for radio stations, starting with Chicago’s WNUA radio. In addition to being a pianist and composer, his world-renowned radio shows are still being played across the country. He is survived by his second wife of 30 years, Janet Tamillow, seven children, 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His first wife, Geraldine, and two sons preceded him in death. (Special thanks to the Chicago Public library with this research.)

Illinois native son Bernard Shaw died on September 7, 2022, in a hospital in Washington, DC. The Chicago bred newscaster was known for his anchoring and reporting for CNN.

Shaw was the first anchor for the cable station and remained in charge for almost 20 years. Shaw was 82 years old and had been married for 48 years to Linda Allston. They had two children. His family confirmed that he had died from pneumonia and COVID-19. Shaw graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC campus) and spent time serving our country as a U. S. Marine. He worked his way up the journalism field as a news reporter for ABC and CBS news. Most viewers remember Shaw reporting from Baghdad, Iraq, during the Gulf war. There were not many Black men in those types of positions internationally in the 1980s and 1990s.