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Minnie Riperton Took Last Breath in Her Husband's Arms at 31 — Inside Their Interracial Marriage

Esther NJeri
Apr 26, 2022
11:01 A.M.
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Minnie Riperton had everything going well for her — a successful music career, a loving husband, and two beautiful kids. Unfortunately, her happiness was short-lived, and in 1976, she lost her life aged 31.


Minnie Riperton's voice was gold. Many admired her five-octave voice, including singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, who proclaimed her "the perfect angel." Unfortunately, she passed on in 1976, shocking the world.

She left behind a family that she said had been supportive of her even in sickness, helping her sustain her career after undergoing an operation. Despite dying young, Riperton got to experience a love story with her husband that is only fit for the movies. Follow along on their journey as a married couple.

Singer Minnie Riperton performs on stage in New York, 1977 | Source: Getty Images



Riperton and Richard's love story is the definition of true love. Richard was white, and Riperton was black, and while biracial marriages were often frowned upon, their love for each other knew no bounds. Richard would claim that their love saw no color: "Minnie and I didn't think of ourselves as Black and White," he added:

"Minnie and I were very young when we got together, but we had been exposed to life, and we had both traveled and been exposed to a lot of things, and when we met each other, we fell in love."

Singer Minnie Riperton, her husband Richard Rudolph, and children Maya Rudolph and Marc Rudolph greet a fan at the Hollywood Christmas Parade in circa 1978 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images


Riperton and Richard tied the knot in August 1970. To call their time together blissful would not be doing it justice. Richard supported his wife through thick and thin and through her ever-rising career. They were in love and made a formidable team. Richard would muse:

"I'd always determined that if I ever had a chance to love somebody that it was going to be someone special, and Minnie felt the same way. So, all of our lives together, we made a conscious effort to put our energies into what we had..."

Singer Minnie Riperton with her husband Richard Rudolf and their kids Marc and Maya in December 1978 in Los Angeles California. | Source: Getty Images


They often thought of what they had as unique and strived to create their own happiness every day. Richard would share: "We never waited for something to happen. We always knew what we had, and we always knew we were lucky and appreciated what we had..."

Though born in Pittsburgh, Richard turned his back on his successful family business, instead choosing to invest his songwriting and music talent in Riperton's then-budding career. The lovebirds soon became parents, welcoming their first child, son Marc, in 1968 and daughter, Maya, in July 1972.


Richard and Riperton may not have cared about their skin color. Unfortunately, they lived during the racially-turbulent '60s. And while they had never experienced racial discrimination when they lived in Florida, Chicago was a different case altogether.


R&B singer Minnie Riperton poses for a portrait on October 20, 1977 in Los Angeles, California. | Source: Getty Images

Richard recalls how difficult it had been for them to find housing, as no one was willing to rent them their property. Despite Riperton's fame and recognition for her music, the couple still could not be part of the Los Angeles Country Club, which barred Blacks and Jews.


That is why Riperton and Richard worked in their small way to help Dr. Martin Luther King fulfill his dream of a society free of racism. The couple dreamed of their children living in a world where color did not count and did not bar them from equal opportunities.


Despite all that was happening around them, the couple remained in love. However, their marital bliss would face a heartbreaking blow when, in January 1976, shortly after the release of her third studio album, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon after, she announced on national television that she had just had a mastectomy.


Minnie Riperton performs on a TV show, USA, 1975 | Source: Getty Images

Following the announcement, Riperton became an advocate for creating awareness about breast cancer. According to her, it aimed at helping women who lacked the necessary support. The singer joined the American Cancer Society, where President Jimmy Carter later awarded her the American Cancer Society's Courage Award.


Richard, who had known about his wife's illness for a long time, offered nothing but support for her even as the disease heightened Riperton's quest to make more meaningful music. When asked why he continued to involve himself with his wife as she spoke to women about dealing with cancer treatment, Richard would say:

"Minnie was my woman, my mate, my partner in life, and what affected her affected me."

Singer Minnie Riperton performs on November 1974 | Source: Getty Images


"Minnie, to me, was the most beautiful woman on the planet Earth and it was important for her to know how I felt about her." He shared. "I'm talking about Minnie - I mean all of Minnie - so that little thing (the mastectomy) didn't set us back... It just represented to me a lifeline that was more time we had together."

Her illness did nothing to change her good-hearted and positive attitude on anything. She recalled people asking why, as a Black woman, she did not sing Blues, to which she replied: "Because I'm a Black woman, everyone thinks I should sing the Blues, but I have nothing to be blue about," adding:

"Blues have to do with feeling sad. I'm not into feeling sad. I'm a happy person. I want to touch people with my singing, but I want to do it in a happy way."


Singer Minnie Riperton poses for a portrait in 1977 in Los Angeles California | Source: Getty Images

She was adamant about continuing her career, even after facing a life-threatening illness. She wanted people to buy her new album because they liked it and not out of pity and sympathy. Her manager, Ken Fritz, would say of the "Inside My Love" singer:


"She never wanted to burden anyone, and she didn't spend a lot of time feeling sorry for herself. She was always very up. Her spirits were so high."

Thus, she did not share with the world or even close family when the doctors discovered a tumor in her right arm. She continued being her joyful self, maintaining a positive attitude. Her mother, Mrs. Thelma Riperton, would say: "It came as a shock to me. She called twice a week and was always cheerful."

Singer Minnie Riperton performs on an episode of "Soul Train" which was aired on October 25 1975 | Source: Getty Images


Unfortunately, on July 12, 1979, at precisely 10 a.m., Riperton died cuddled in her husband's loving and comforting arms as their friend Stevie Wonder begged her to get better in a tape-recorded song. Several celebrities attended her funeral, with Wonder serving as a pallbearer.

Following the death of his wife, Richard continued to raise money to fund breast cancer research, encouraging men also to be part of the journey. Allowing his mind to wander off down memory lane, he shared: "The most valuable thing in my life was taken from me, but what we had together can never be taken from me," adding:

"If only people could realize what they have and what they are just letting slip by, maybe it would make a difference in their lives."




As expected, Richard's life took a dramatic turn after his wife's demise as he had to raise their young children singlehandedly. However, it was no trouble for Richard, and he did a fantastic job.

Eleven years after Riperton passed on, Richard married Kimiko Kasai on October 20, 1990, and they welcomed a son together. Kasai is a legend in the world of Japanese Jazz and one of the first ladies of the country's Jazz scene.

With hits such as "I Thought It Was You," "Mmm Mmm Good," "Love Celebration," and "Use Me," Kasai has had the honor of performing with some of the world's "big" names such as Mal Waldron, Ted Macero, Stan Getz, Gil Evans, and Paulinho Da Costa, among many others.


Marc and Maya, who were only 11 and seven when their mother died, have also done quite well. While not much is out there about Marc, what's known is that he is a music engineer.

On the other hand, Maya followed in her parents' footsteps as an entertainer. She is an actress and a television host with her acting credits, including "Bridesmaids," "Sisters," and "Idiocracy," to name a few.

She is also in a long-term relationship with one of the world's best filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson. The two are parents to four children, who Maya protects from public scrutiny at all costs.

Despite many years passing and Riperton's children paving the way for themselves, the pain of losing their mother still lingers on. However, Riperton's music and countless memories help keep her alive in their hearts.