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Rest In Power: Notable Black People Who Died In 2023
By NewsOne Staff,
Vinie Burrows performing on stage at The Phillis Wheatley Poetry Festival. | Source: Jackson State University / Getty
UPDATED: 12:00 p.m. ET., Jan. 6, 2024
W hile death is an inevitable part of life, that fact doesn’t make it any easier when it is reported that someone has died.
Just days before the new year, a handful of notable Black people died following a life of inimitable and valuable contributions to society that won’t soon be forgotten.
Among them is Vinie Burrows, “a Harlem-born stage actress who made her mark on Broadway in the 1950s, but who grew frustrated by how few choice roles were available for Black women and turned her focus to one-woman shows exploring the legacies of racism and sexism,” as the New York Times recalled in a recent obituary .
Burrows died on Christmas day in a New York City hospital at the age of 99. No cause of death as immediately reported.
More from the Times:
But despite her success, Ms. Burrows said in a 1994 interview with the Rochester, N.Y., newspaper The Democrat and Chronicle, she was beginning to feel dissatisfied chasing roles that tended toward what she called the “dese, dem and dose” variety. She was also dissatisfied with the scant pay.
“My babysitter — my little boy was 2 years old — I think made more money than I did,” she said of her experience in “The Blacks” in a 2020 interview with American Theatre magazine, “and I said, ‘I will never work so hard for anybody unless I am working for myself.’”
Instead, Ms. Burrows took matters into her own hands as a solo artist. She received rave reviews for her 1968 Off Broadway show, “Walk Together Children,” which she described as “the Black scene in prose, poetry and song.” It drew from the writings of enslaved people, poets and contemporary activists to trace the African American experience.
Days after Burrows’ death, Les McCann, the pioneering and legendary jazz pianist, died at 88 following a brief hospitalization for pneumonia. His death on Dec. 29 was confirmed by the New York Times .
Source: Tom Copi / Getty
Although McCann was a jazz musician, many of his original compositions on any number of his dozens of studio albums were given second lives by rappers whose music contained samples reworked by hundreds of hip-hop producers.
More from the New York Times:
Mr. McCann’s earthy, uplifting approach to music was a product of his upbringing in a churchgoing family. As he came to emphasize his singing more and play electric keyboards, his albums, released from 1960 to 2018, influenced funk and R&B artists and became a rich vein for hip-hop artists to mine.
The day after McCann’s death, one of the last living Memphis Sanitation Workers who protested for better working conditions and pay alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968 died.
Elmore Nickelberry died on Dec. 30 following a brief hospitalization. He was 92.
No official cause of death was immediately reported.
Nickelberry participated in the Memphis sanitation labor strike that resulted in a march led by King the day before the civil rights icon was assassinated.
Along with the remaining 14 living striking workers of 1968 he was given $50,000 from the City of Memphis under the Strickland administration.
This money was given to supplement cost of living increases as many of those workers were still on the payroll without pension and the ability to retire comfortably.
Memphis mayor Jim Strickland paid tribute to Nickelberry, following the news with a public statement.
“I’m sorry to hear about the passing of Elmore Nickelberry, a remarkable man whom I had gotten to know over the last eight years,” Strickland said. He served the public for over 60 years. His contributions to the sanitation strike and the pursuit of fair working conditions will be forever a part of Memphis history and a significant part of the America Civil Rights Movement.”
“As we reflect on his life, let us express our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and all those who stood alongside him in the pursuit of justice,” Strickland said. “May his legacy inspire future generations to continue the important work of advocating for the rights and dignity of workers everywhere.”