Perfect Angel Minnie Riperton: How A Lullaby Became A Legacy
By N Mark Castro
She was black and drop dead gorgeous.
She married a white man in an era when racial tensions in America was at its height. She bore two children that grew up well, adjusted well, but left behind at the age of 31.
And although she had recorded several albums, collaborated with other musicians, it was her one hit song that went global that continues to find new fans 35 years later.
Hip-hop fans might recognize samples of Riperton’s music in songs from artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and Mos Def. Her voice is everywhere — on your oldies station, your favorite hip-hop song, in the background of Stevie Wonder hits — and you might not have even known it was her.
What set Minnie Riperton apart from most solo female acts is that she’s naturally a coloratura soprano. Her ability to sing in the whistle register (the highest vocal register for a human voice) was a rare talent for most human beings, musically trained or otherwise. Some say her vocal range spanned five to five-and-a-half octaves, but what made her a cut above the rest was her ability to enunciate clearly and beautifully among other whistle-register singers, as evidenced below.
From the unedited version above, it was said that Minnie Ruperton’s daughter Maya Rudolph was in the studio with her mother on the day the song was recorded and Riperton can be heard singing her daughter’s name at the end of the song, but only in the unedited or album version of the song. In concert, near her death, she changed this to “Maya, Maya, Ringo, Maya.” Ringo was her nickname for her son, Marc.
The song fades out early in the single edit, because the disc jockeys felt that the repeated “Maya” was being overdone and too misunderstood, thinking that it was a Mayan chant.
“Lovin’ You,” according to the notes, was created as a distraction for her daughter (Maya Rudolph) when she was a baby so that Minnie and her husband Richard could hang out.
And that song became a global song that most everyone in the 70s knew … and had amazingly existed to this day.
MINNIE RIPERTON’S BIGGEST FAN: STEVIE WONDER
Minnie Riperton reached the peak of her career at the young age of 28, continued to perform despite being diagnosed with breast cancer, and was one of the first celebrities to openly acknowledge and raise awareness for her illness.
3 years after her phenomenal release of Lovin’ You, on July 12 at 10 am, while lying in her husband’s arms, Riperton died while listening to a recording Stevie Wonder had made for her.
Stevie Wonder had never spoken of any musical talent in the same way again since he last spoke about Minnie, his Perfect Angel.
- Leona Lewis recorded a version with producer Marley J Wills, at the age of 15.
- Jack Vidgen did a cover of in 2011, for his debut album “Yes I Am”.
- Reggae and Ska pioneer Alton Ellis covered the song for his LP Mr Ska Bean’a.
- Reggae singer Janet Kay covered the song.
- Julia Fordham has a cover version on her 1991 single I Thought It Was You (yrcd 69), which also appears on the bonus disc of the 2013 expanded version of Swept (originally 1991). Another version appears as a hidden track on the UK version (Sanctuary Records SANCD140) of her 2002 album Concrete Love.
- A live cover of “Lovin’ You” was included in Japanese female singer Misia’s second album Love Is the Message.
- Ken Hirai covered the song on his Ken’s Bar album.
- Rahsaan Roland Kirk recorded a jazz version on the album The Return Of The 5000 Lb. Man.
- It was featured on Justin Lo’s debut Cantonese album Justin in 2005.
- In 2007 the Japanese rock band Electric Eel Shock covered the song on their album Transworld Ultra Rock.
- Dianne Reeves covered the song in her album When You Know (2008).
- Che’Nelle had a cover version on her 2011 album Luv Songs.
- Olivia Newton-John covered the song in 2004 for her album Indigo: Women of Song
Maya Rudolph may be a familiar face to some, being a successful actress and comedian in films and in her standout performances in SNL.
Despite the early departure of Minnie Riperton, however, Maya tries to provide as much information as her children could have about their grandmother, including naming one of her daughters after Minnie. Losing one’s mother or parents is never easy. The void will always be there, especially if it’s something as tragic and as abrupt as Minnie’s departure.
Thankfully, Minnie left behind a song that reminds us why loving is easy … because everyone is beautiful.