Minnie Julia Riperton Rudolph (November 8, 1947 – July 12, 1979) was an American singer-songwriter best known for her 1975 single “Lovin’ You” and her four octave D3 to F#7 coloratura soprano range. She is also widely known for her use of the whistle register and has been referred to by the media as the “queen of the whistle register.”
Born in 1947, Riperton grew up in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side. As a child, she studied music, drama and dance at Chicago’s Lincoln Center. In her teen years, she sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group the Gems. Her early affiliation with the Chicago-based Chess Records afforded her the opportunity to sing backing vocals for various established artists such as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Ramsey Lewis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. While at Chess, Riperton also sang lead for the experimental rock/soul group Rotary Connection, from 1967 to 1971.
On April 5, 1975, Riperton reached the apex of her career with her No. 1 single “Lovin’ You”. The single was the last release from her 1974 gold album titled Perfect Angel. In January 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in April, she underwent a radical mastectomy. By the time of diagnosis, the cancer had metastasized and she was given about six months to live. Despite the grim prognosis, she continued recording and touring. She was one of the first celebrities to go public with a breast cancer diagnosis, but she did not disclose that she was terminally ill. In 1977, she became a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. In 1978, she received the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award, which was presented to her at the White House by President Jimmy Carter. Riperton died of breast cancer on July 12, 1979, at the age of 31.