It’s been just over 30 years since the first AIDS case was reported in the U.S., and despite the advances in medicine, there is no cure (that we know of). Even more disturbing is the fact that the epidemic continues to attack the Black community. Although Black people only make up less than a quarter of the country’s population, the number of AIDS cases among people of color is staggering. According to a 2009 report released by the Center for Disease Control, Black people account for 44 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S.
In an attempt to curb the numbers, the CDC has announced that it will provide free HIV tests in 24 drug stores around the country, over the next years.
In honor of National HIV Testing Day, Hip-Hop Wired is encouraging the public to get tested. Here are seven black musicians who died of complications from AIDS.
Photo: Delta Boogie
Lonnie Pitchford was a Blues musician from Lexington, Miss. A protégé of blues guitarist, Robert Lockwood Jr., Pitchford released his debut album All Round Man in 1994. Skilled in electic and acoustic guitar, the piano, double bass, and harmonica, Leixgton died from AIDS in 1994, one month after his 43rd birthday. His headstone was paid for by musician, John Fogerty.
Singer/songwriter David Cole was one-half of the music group C & C Music Factory, which he founded with his music partner Robert Clivillés. Cole died in 1995, after a long bout with spinal meningitis, brought on by AIDS. Mariah Carey released the song “One Sweet Day” in his honor.
As a member of the famous Debarge family, Robert Louis “Bobby” DeBarge, Jr. was the lead singer of the 70’s group Switch. After nearly a decade together, Debarge abruptly left the group in 1983, and continued his work overseeing his siblings’ albums. A former boyfriend of LaToya Jackson, Debarge contracted HIV from intravenous drug use. He fell ill in 1995 and was admitted to a hospice where he stayed until his death in August of that year.
Photo: Soul Head
Sylvester James was a disco singer/songwriter. James joined the ill-fated performance group, the Cockettes in the ’70s, but was widely known for his solo work, like the 1978 hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Reel).” The single was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 1994. As an openly gay man, James once remarked that contracting the virus was not a punishment from God for his lifestyle. died from complications from AIDS in 1988, at the age of 41.
Photo: Madame Noire
Fela Anikulapo Kuti is perhaps one of the most widely known Nigerian musicians (next to his son, Femi). He is lauded for pioneering the “Afrobeat” music, which combines aspects of Yoruba, jazz, and funk. Kuti formed the band Koola Lobitos in the late 1950s, while studying at London’s Trinity College of Music. A noted political advocate, Kuti was vocal in his fight against European imperialism. Although his brother revealed that Kuti’s death from Kaposi’s sarcoma was brought on by complications from AIDS, his ex-wife, Kevwe has denied the claims.
Photo: When Falls The Coliseum
Erick Lynn “Eazy-E” Wright is noted for ushering in gansta rap, by way of the group N.W.A. Comprised of Wright, Dr. Dre., Ice Cube, DJ Yella and MC Ren, the group released four albums together. In March of 1995 he announced that he had been diagnosed with AIDS, contracted by sexual activity with several different women, six of which gave birth to his seven children. He died from complications brought on by AIDS one month later.
Wayne Cooper was the lead singer of the funk band Cameo. The 13-member group was originally known as the New York City Players, before changing their name to escape a lawsuit. The group hit it big with their firs Top-40 hit “Word Up.” Although it was widely reported that he died in a plan crash, Cooper died from AIDS in 1984.