Beneath that #1 hit from 1975, and her tragic death in 1979, Minnie Riperton is who I’d love to call The Prodigy of Soul. Studying Opera from childhood, and possessing a four octave range with a searing whistle register, it was almost pre-destined that she’d be a singer. We celebrate what would have been her 68th Birthday this Sunday.
Her recorded professional start came in the most obvious place for Black Female Teenagers of the 1960s. She first joined Chess Records Girl Group The Gems in 1963. Although they garnered their fair share of local hits, they didn’t set the national charts a-fire, and soon became one of those many Twenty Feet Of Stardom like groups that supported artists as diverse as Etta James, Jackie Ross, Fontella Bass, and Little Milton on Chess Recording sessions. Minnie would do a few solo releases under the name Andrea Davis in 1966 before joining experimental rock-soul group Rotary Connection for the remainder of the 1960’s.
Her amazing versatility was, obviously, something not to be wasted in group settings. A full fledged soul debut LP, Come Into My Garden, was recorded in November of 1969. Minnie herself aspired to “do the Burt Bacharach/Dionne Warwick thing” but the results are nothing short of a masterpiece. Proving that R&B artists had what it took to do FM orientated Album Suites that blossomed for white artists in the late 60’s, it proved a template in soul music for future masterpieces by Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye to name a few. Sadly, at the time, it came and went; charting at #160 on the Billboard Top 200 LP charts.
I’ve gone with the most mainstream track, which had it been lifted as a single, may have given the LP the extra sales boost it deserved. Let it be an intro to this amazing capstone of the 1960’s this afternoon as we extend a “love you” to the late, great Minnie Riperton.