These first days of 2014 unfortunately came with the news of a few prominent celebrity deaths.  Among them were James Avery who was best known as Uncle Phil on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Oscar-nominated actress Juanita Moore who starred in the brilliant 1959 remake of Imitation of Life. As expected, their deaths were the catalyst for numerous eloquent eulogies from fans and colleagues alike.  Fans especially gushed about their work and posted their favorite clips from the actors’ more popular works.

Rembert Browne a particularly moving tribute to Avery for Grantland that touched on the importance of Uncle Phil beyond just the comedic aspect.  After I read that and after I watched Imitation of Life for the 80 millionth time, I thought about how we generally are not very good at telling our living legends (and legends-in-the-making) how much their work means to us.

I’m not talking about just a “like” on Instagram or a retweet, I mean giving that person a sincere piece of your thoughts about how their work impacts you. Of course, you don’t have to get all fangirl like I did with Killer Mike. But it would be nice to share some of that good energy you have when you listen to your favorite singer everyday or when you see your favorite writer’s byline or watch your favorite actor’s movies.

As a writer who occasionally interviews celebrities, I’ve been fortunate enough to tell some of my favorite artists (including Toni Morrison!!) how much I adore their work, but there are some who I have yet to meet and may never meet, so I’ll take this moment to acknowledge three of them. I’m going to tweet the link to all of them (who have Twitter accounts) and I’ll send a link to their managers. So, boom.

1.     Stevie Wonder
I love him. Mr. Wonder is easily my favorite artist in the world. I listen to his music everyday. Whatever emotion you’re feeling, Mr. Wonder has a song for it. Whether you’re mad at your man, head over heels in love with your man, angry with the world, high as a kite or soaking up the wonders of the universe, he has something for you. When he played “I Never Thought You’d Leave in Summer” at Michael Jackson’s memorial, I cried real tears. Whew! And my dad always says that “Isn’t She Lovely” is his song for me, so there’s that too. Daddy’s girl till the end.  But my favorite song from Stevie Wonder is “As.”

2.     Anita Baker
I grew up listening to Ms. Anita Baker. Countless times I bore witness to my mom snapping her fingers and grooving in the car in the kitchen or wherever else to Ms. Baker. So, I’ve always had an appreciation for her work, but it wasn’t until I got married that I really started to understand her music in a more substantive way. And then when I got divorced?? Chile. I had her on repeat during and after all that stuff.  If I had her on wax, “Talk to Me” and “Fairytales” would probably have worn out grooves. She. Speaks. To. Me. Now it’s me snapping my fingers talkin’ ‘bout “Gone ‘head Nita!”

3.    J. California Cooper
J. California Cooper has such a beautiful pen. She’s one of those writers who adds a touch of magical realism to her work. Just something a little bit out of the ordinary will find its way into her words. One moment, the narration is about a young woman in a room and the next it’s about the thoughts of a spider nestled in a corner and you don’t even bat an eye at this spider having thoughts because it just makes sense. I always end up getting lost in the worlds she creates and that’s a testament to the strength of her writing.  It’s layered, it’s textured and it’s engaging, especially for someone like me who is interested in genealogy. Ms. Cooper’s work often revolves around generations of families.  Her novel “Some People, Some Other Place” is just downright gorgeous and I often find myself re-reading the stories in her collection “Wild Stars SeekingMidnight Suns.”

Your turn! Who are some of your favorite living public figures and why? Put that good energy into the world!

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.

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  • shay

    1. Erykah Badu. I have been listening to her since i was a kid and have always LOVED her work. Her music has everything i need. Her performances are always an awesome experience.

    2. Mary Monroe. The Author of God Don’t Like Ugly. Idk how famous she is but i have read a LOT of her books. And they give me everything i need in LIFE everytime! Look her up yall….her books will have you on the edge of your seats forreal.

    3. Parliament Funkadelic. I mean do i really need to explain why they’re on my list? Lol If a time machine is ever invented i will use it to go to one of their concerts.

    4. Earth Wind & Fire. One of the best bands EVER. Hands down. Love them. Saw them in concert. Way ahead of their time.

    I’ll be back to add more later lol

  • RJ

    Marian Wright Edleman. This woman has done more for children of color (and their parents by extension) than any other person. She is a humble woman and seeing her on black girls Rock was sublime.

    Jill Scott Always.


    Janet Jackson


    Chaka Khan

    Harry Belafonte

    Dr. Susan Taylor (former editor and chief of Essence for more than 25 years who actually singlehandedly changed how black women were viewed in the world.

    Gladys Knight

    Patty Labelle

    B.B. King

    Anita Baker (co-sign)

    Stevie Wonder (co-sign)

    Congressman John Lewis

    That is all I can think of this morning, but I am sure I can add to the list with a little more thought. LOL

    • Eri

      Co-sign on Marian Wright Edelman

  • RJ

    Maya Angelou. My god, how on earth could I forget Maya Angelou!

  • Frenchy5483

    Oh Steve! If there’s anything that connects me and my father together it will always be Stevie. It’s our soundtrack. I can be transported back, my dad humming to a Stevie song at the blink of eye, back in ’89, in our t-top ’86 Datsun, matching ray bans riding tough, lol. “These Three Words,” from the Jungle Fever soundtrack = instant waterworks. Honorable mention goes to Take 6 and Kenny G.

    Anita brings me back to such a happy time with my mom too, Fashion Fair makeup, press n’ curl bouffants, long ferrari red nails. Miss those easy times.

    Terry McMillan, opened my eyes to the nuances of black love. Oh and I agree with sis who shouted out EJD.

    Maya Angelou, that woman! That soul!

    Most late 80’s/ early 90’s r&b artists who made growing up an unforgettable experience: SWV, Guy, Al B Sure, D’Angelo, Mint Condition, Sade, Aaliyah, Keith Sweat, Changing Faces, Janet, Erykah, Mariah, Mary J, Toni Braxton, En Vogue, Joe, Jagged Edge, New Edition, Jodeci, Meshell Ndgeocello, H-Town, I’m sorry, can’t leave out R Kelly, lol. JUST to name a few, lol.

    Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott, can do NO WRONG in my eyes.

    Oprah has undoubtedly made me a better person.

    Nancy Meyers, my new Nora Ephron (still can’t be replaced), can watch her movies all weekend, every weekend.

    Amel Larrieux, that voice. Esperanza Spaulding, breath of fresh air. Chimamanda Adichie, that presence.

    Black women, period, will always hold a very special place with me and are a constant daily inspiration. Love love love my sistas!