In memoriam: Deaths in 2017

This year, we said goodbye to men and women who had an impact on the local, state and national levels. They ranged from entertainers to activists to athletes, and all were achievers in their respective fields.

 

CHUCK BERRY

The entertainer whose guitar riffs and electrifying stage presence helped define rock and roll died March 18 at age 90. Berry first hit the scene with his hit “Maybellene in 1955.” His other popular songs included “Johnny B. Goode,” “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Roll Over Beethoven.” He won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also invented a signature style that was imitated by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others.

 

YVETTE CALLOWAY

The well-known Houston civic leader died on Nov. 7 at age 96. Mrs. Calloway registered record numbers of Black voters and was the first African-American president of the local League of Women Voters. She was co-founder of Operation Voter Education & Registration, a precinct judge, founding board member of the MacGregor Area Community Development Corporation and president of South MacGregor Civic Club. A park was renamed in her honor.

She was the mother of former Councilmember Al Calloway.

 

BERNIE CASEY

The actor and former NFL receiver died on Sept. 19 at the age of 78. Casey’s film roles included “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” “Guns of the Magnificent Seven,” “Never Say Never Again,” “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” Casey was a college football and track star at Bowling Green and finished sixth in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1960 U.S. Olympic trials. He played with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams and retired at age 29.

 

WALTER DAVIS III

The pioneering Houston accountant who was active in the community died on Nov. 20 at age 66. He was a founding partner of Davis, Graves and Livingston, PC and later established the Walter D. Davis, CPA Accounting Firm.  He was a charter member of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), a recipient of NABA Houston Chapter Lifetime Achievement Award, chairman of the Houston Association of Minority CPA Firms and first African-American on the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.

 

FATS DOMINO

The pianist and singer-songwriter died on Oct. 25 at age 89. Domino was known for “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t That a Shame” and “Walkin’ To New Orleans.” Five of his records released before 1955 sold over a million copies and were certified gold. He was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rolling Stone Magazine listed him at No. 25 on the list of Greatest Recording Artists of All Time.

 

NELSAN ELLIS

The actor best known for his role as Lafayette on HBO’s “True Blood” died July 8 at age 39 after complications of heart failure. His family said alcohol withdrawal led to his death.

Ellis played a vampire blood dealer on “True Blood.” He also appeared in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Secretariat,” “The Help,” “The Stanford Prison Experiment” and as singer Bobby Byrd in the James Brown biopic “Get On Up.” He had a recurring role on the CBS series “Elementary.”

 

CUBA GOODING SR.

The singer and father of Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. died on April 20 at age 72.  Gooding found success as a member of the R&B group the Main Ingredient. Their hit single “Everybody Plays the Fool” peaked at No. 2 on the charts in 1972, and was No. 3 on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 list. The group’s other hits included “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely” and “Happiness Is Just Around the Bend.” Gooding also recorded as a solo artist.

 

DICK GREGORY

The comedian and civil rights activist died on Aug. 19 at age 84. He entered the national comedy scene in 1961 when Chicago’s Playboy Club booked him as a replacement. By 1962 he had become a nationally known headline performer, selling out nightclubs, making numerous national television appearances and recording popular comedy albums. Gregory took part in the Civil Rights Movement. He founded a company that distributed weight-loss products, including Dick Gregory’s Slim Safe Bahamian Diet.

 

ROBERT GUILLAUME

The actor known for his role as a butler in the TV series “Soap” and its spin-off “Benson” died Oct. 24 at age 89. Guillaume was the first Black actor to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Dozens of TV roles followed “Benson,” including turns on “A Different World” and “Sports Night.” He voiced the mandrill Rafiki in “The Lion King.” He was also an accomplished Broadway performer.

 

EARLE HYMAN

The actor known as Grandpa Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” died on Nov. 17 at age 91. Hyman had many credits outside of the family-friendly sitcom during his 60-year career. He enjoyed an international theater career that spanned decades. He performed in Shakespeare plays in the title roles of Othello and Hamlet. In 1980, he was nominated for a Tony for his performance in “The Lady from Dubuque.” He was the voice of Panthera on the 1980s cartoon “Thundercats.”

 

AL JARREAU

The acclaimed jazz singer died on Feb. 12 at age 76. Jarreau was called “the Acrobat of Scat.” His hits included “We Got By,” “We’re in This Love Together” and “Moonlighting” from the 1980s TV series. Jarreau released his first album in 1965 and recorded two dozen more albums. He was a seven-time Grammy winner and the first vocalist to receive Grammy Awards in three separate categories (jazz, pop and R&B). He performed on Broadway in the musical “Grease.”

 

 

BOB LEE

The Houston social worker, community organizer, writer, storyteller and folk artist died March 21 at age 74. He was known to some as the “Mayor of Fifth Ward.” He was the brother of the late County Commissioner El Franco Lee and helped create Harris County programs such as the Street Olympics. Lee worked with the Harris County Hospital District and spent years comforting HIV patients at the Thomas Street Health Center. He was co-author of the “Texas Trailblazers” series.

 

BISHOP EDDIE LONG

The pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta died on Jan. 15 at age 63 and had celebrated his 29th pastoral anniversary. Under Long’s leadership, New Birth grew from 300 members to more than 25,000. The church operated TV and international ministries, with satellite churches in Miami, Denver, and Charlotte, N.C. Long, an opponent of gay members, was embroiled in a scandal when four young church members accused him of coercing them into sexual activities.

 

OLIVIA MESSIAH

The former Baytown educator and the first Black woman elected to the Goose Creek Independent Consolidated School District died on Feb. 14 at age 84. She was the mother of Defender CEO and Publisher Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah-Jiles and mother-in-law of business leader Jodie Jiles. Mrs. Messiah was a beloved mother, grandmother, sister, chef, mechanic, funeral director and mortician, musician, Girl Scout troop leader, music and art teacher, and mentor to many of her students.

 

CHARLIE MURPHY,

The comedian, actor and older brother of Eddie Murphy died of leukemia on April 12 at age 57. He was known for his appearances on “Chappelle’s Show,” and appeared in the recurring segment “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.” He co-wrote the films “Norbit” and “Vampire in Brooklyn.” He voiced roles in such animated TV series as “The Boondocks” and appeared in the sitcom “Are We There Yet?” Murphy’s feature films included “Our Family Wedding,” “King’s Ransom” and “CB4.”

 

DELLA REESE

The singer, actress and ordained minister died on Nov. 19 at age 86. She was known to TV viewers as Tess on “Touched By an Angel,” which ran from 1994 to 2003. Other roles where in such shows as “Chico and the Man,” “Charlie and Company” and “The Royal Family.” In 1969 she became the first Black woman to host a TV talk/variety show. She appeared in such films as “A Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” “Harlem Nights” and “Beauty Shop.”

 

MANUEL RODRIGUEZ JR.

The HISD board member for more than a decade died July 19 at age 65. He was first elected to the board in 2003. Over the last 14 years, Rodriguez held every position on the board including assistant secretary, second vice president, first vice president and president. Rodriguez served on HISD’s task force to review the state comptroller’s audit of the district in 1997. Prior to his time with HISD, Rodriguez worked for the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department.

 

MARK WHITE

The Democrat who served as the governor of Texas from 1983 to 1987 died Aug. 5 at age of 77. During his time in office, White’s most notable achievements came in education reform. In 1984, he signed landmark legislation that included a “no-pass, no play” law that said students must pass their classes to be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities. He later worked diligently with the Innocence Project on behalf of wrongfully convicted inmates.

 

ROGER WILKINS

The historian, journalist and activist died March 26 at age 85. Wilkins held a key civil rights post in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration and helped the Washington Post win a Pulitzer for its Watergate coverage. In 1965 Johnson tapped Wilkins to head the Community Relations Service, which was created by the Civil Rights Act to mediate racial disputes and foster Black progress. From the 1960s to the1980s he worked for the Ford Foundation, the Post and the New York Times.

 

CLARENCE WILLIAMS

The Prairie View A&M University Sports Hall of Famer and former NFL star died on May 8 at age 70. A native of Brazoria, Williams was a state champion at G.W. Carver in Sweeny. He played for the PVAMU Panthers from 1965-69. He was selected in the 11th round of the 1969 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys and spent one year on the taxi squad. He was traded to the Green Bay Packers in 1970 and played eight seasons.