Posted Nov. 19, 2007 – The Black community has lost some of the brightest and most talented among us to AIDS. Here’s to their memory.
Arthur Ashe – A giant among athletes, this Richmond, Va.-born tennis star is almost as well known for fighting for social justice as he was for being tops in his sport. He died Feb. 6, 1993 from complications from AIDS after contracting HIV during heart surgery. A graduate of the University of California, Ashe won three Grand Slam titles. In 1968, Ashe won the inaugural U.S. Open and aided the U.S Davis Cup team to victory. But that same year, when he was denied a South African visa, he used the occasion to publicize the wrongs of apartheid. Named one of the 21 best players of all time, Ashe remains the only African-American player ever to win the men's singles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, or Australian Open.
Willi Smith – Perhaps the most successful Black designer in fashion history, the innovative Willi Smith was the first Black designer to create a mainstream label. Co-founder of the WilliWear company, with his sister, Tookie Smith, his clientele included wealthy and prominent people. But, his goal was to design clothing that was stylish yet affordable. Trained at the Parsons School of Design, the Philadelphia-born Smith designed clothes for Caroline Kennedy as well as Spike Lee’s film School Daze (1987). In 1987, Smith died at 39 after contracting pneumonia while on a trip to India, apparently as a result of AIDS.
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Eazy E – A rapper from the rough and tumble Los Angeles suburb of Compton, Easy E is one of the definitive founders of gangsta rap. He shocked the rap world when he died in 1995 of complications from AIDS. Born Eric Lynn Wright, Eazy E was also a producer and record industry executive. Eazy E was nearly a life-long Kelly Park Compton Crip who rose to fame as a member of N.W.A., but later made his own mark as a solo commercial success.
Max Robinson – Born in Richmond, Va., Robinson was the first African American to anchor a network newscast in the United States. Before his death in 1983 from complications of AIDS, he anchored ABC News “World News Tonight” from Chicago. Robinson began his television career in 1959 in Portsmouth, Va. He was a ratings winner as a co-anchor and correspondent in Washington, D.C., before being tapped by ABC to anchor the network evening news show, a job he held 1983. A year later, he became the first Black anchor at Chicago’s WMAQ.
Kenny Green – Singer-songwriter Kenny Green was the backbone of the early 1990s group, Intro, writing and producing most of the group’s songs. He also wrote for other artists, and penned hits such as Mary J. Blige's "Reminisce" and "Love No Limit." He last recorded in 2001 as a backup singer on Tyrese’s "For Always." That same year, the year of his death, Green revealed to Sister 2 Sister magazine that he was bisexual, and suffering from AIDS.
Alvin Ailey – A modern dancer and choreographer, Alvin Ailey founded the American Dance Theater, which was given his name after his death. He died of AIDS, at age 58 in December 1989. His company popularized modern dance throughout the world with his international tours sponsored by the U.S. State Department. As a result, Ailey's choreographical masterpiece Revelations, based on Ailey's experience growing up as an African American in the South, is one of the best known modern dance works. Ailey has been memorialized by the renaming of West 61st Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues in New York City. The venue is known as "Alvin Ailey Way."
Melvin Lindsey – D.C. radio personality Melvin Lindsey pioneered the "Quiet Storm" format at Howard University’s WHUR. His voice popularized the format, before he died in 1992 at age 36 of complications of AIDS. Prior to his death, he discussed his illness with the Washington Post, saying,
Allen Wiggins – A once-promising major league baseball player, Allen Wiggins was said to have sabotaged his career with drugs before dying at age 32 in Los Angeles of complications relateD to AIDS. An outfielder and second baseman, he played in the major leagues from 1981 through 1987, with the San Diego Padres and the Baltimore Orioles. He finished his career with a .259 batting average and 242 stolen bases. He underwent drug rehabilitation three times and was suspended indefinitely on Aug. 31, 1987.
Howard Rollins – Best known for his roles on “In the Heat of the Night” and the film “A Soldier’s Story,” the Baltimore-born Howard Rollins received an Emmy nomination for his role on Another World and an Academy Award for “Ragtime.” In the late 1960s he played the role of "Slick" in the Maryland Public Television Series "Our Street," the nation's first Black soap opera. He died in 1996 of complications from AIDS.
Kuwasi Balagoon – A Black Panther, Kuwasi Balagoon was born in Lakeland, Md., in 1946, but dove into radical politics as a 17-year-old American soldier in Germany fed up with racism. Back in the U.S., he joined the Black Panthers, then the Black Liberation Army and the New Afrikan Anarchists. But he spent much of his last 20 years in jail for rebellious and radical activities — including his part in stealing an armored car in 1981. He died of AIDS complications in 1986 in the Auburn (N.Y.) Correctional Facility.
Patrick Kelly – In the 1980s, young African-American fashion designer Patrick Kelly took Paris by storm, becoming the first American member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter (the governing body of the prestigious French ready-to-wear industry). A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, he began by selling dresses on the street of Paris in the ‘80’s. His clothes eventually found their way to Bette Davis, Isabella Rossellini and Grace Jones who helped spotlight his style. On New Year’s Day, 1990, he died of AIDS.