Kevin Winter, Getty Images T.I. and Lil Wayne are teaming up once again, only this…
- Posted on Nov 19th 2010 4:30PM by James Sullivan
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
The song, a No. 1 hit in 1975, made Riperton a star. The fourth single after three underachievers from her second solo album, 'Perfect Angel,' 'Lovin' You' rescued a career that might have been destined for obscurity. Within four years, the astonishing five-octave singer was a victim of breast cancer at age 31.
The youngest of eight children born to a Chicago family, Riperton took classical training as a child. But her interest in soul and popular music led her to her hometown's legendary Chess Records, where she joined a all-female vocal group called the Gems and sang backup for Etta James, the Dells, Bo Diddley and others. The Gems had modest success with a single called 'That's What They Put Erasers on Pencils For.'
By 1967, Riperton was a featured vocalist with a group called Rotary Connection, a psychedelic experiment recording for Chess's Cadet subsidiary, singing a strange brew of orchestral pop and Cream and Hendrix covers. Though the group cut several albums, their biggest splash came when the Montgomery Ward department store chain mistook a provocative ad in Billboard (it showed a bloody Santa in Vietnam) for the group's next album cover. The store canceled all orders.
Arranger Charles Stepney, who would go on to work with Terry Callier and Earth, Wind and Fire before his own premature death at age 45, began grooming Riperton as a solo act. But her 1970 debut, 'Come to My Garden,' was released to little fanfare; soon she stepped away from the industry. Three years later, the singer was living in Florida, raising her two children with producer-songwriter Richard Rudolph -- their daughter, Maya, is the actor and former 'Saturday Night Live' cast member -- when she was rediscovered by an Epic Records employee.
Relocated to Hollywood, Riperton joined Stevie Wonder's backing group and began recording her second album. With a title track written by Wonder, 'Perfect Angel' was her big break. (Mariah Carey, a huge fan, would name her 2009 album 'Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel.')
Riperton appeared on the cover of the album in a pair of overalls covering her bare shoulders, holding a melting ice cream cone. When Wonder, who co-produced the album with Rudolph, needed one more song, he asked the couple for their "most embarrassing" song. They brought in 'Lovin' You,' a sweet nothing written for their babies. The famous sound effect of a chirping mockingbird was credited on the album "to God." As the song wound down, Riperton trills, "Maya, Maya, Maya."
Despite the song's smash success, the singer's next album did not bode well. On a promotional shoot, she was briefly attacked by a lion she'd been posing with. Meanwhile, some radio stations banned her song 'Inside My Love' for suggestive lyrics.
In 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with fast-spreading cancer and was given six months to live. She underwent a radical mastectomy and managed to record two more albums, outlasting her prognosis by nearly four years. In 1978 President Carter presented her with the American Cancer Society's Courage Award. A week after her last televised appearance, in which she sang a new song called 'Memory Lane,' Riperton died in her husband's arms, listening to music recorded by her friend Stevie Wonder.