MINNIE RIPERTON-PERFECT ANGEL.
MINNIE RIPERTON-PERFECT ANGEL.
When writing a previous article on The Orb, I mentioned that they had used a Minnie Riperton sample on one of their tracks. Some time later, I was thinking that maybe it was time I wrote an article on Minnie Riperton as, although some of her music is heard occasionally on the radio, many people may be unaware of her, or the story of her life. I feel that Minnie Riperton’s story deserves telling, and her music deserves the attention of the wider public. Hopefully, by the time you have read this article, you will know more about Minnie Riperton and her wonderful music.
Minnie Riperton was born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the youngest child in a family of eight. All of the Riperton family were musically talented, and from an early age, Minnie Riperton took an active interest in the arts. As a child, she attended ballet and modern dance classes, however, it soon became apparent to her parents that Minnie was talented both as a vocalist and musically. Riperton’s parents encouraged her to pursue training in both singing and music.
Minnie Riperton attended the Lincoln Center in Chicago. There she received operatic training from Marion Jeffery. She was taught how to practice breathing and phrasing, and was told to pay particular attention to her diction. One thing that is strange about her training, is Minnie Riperton was encouraged to use her vocal range, which, at her peak was a remarkable five and a half octaves. This is contrary to orthodox operatic training and philosophy. During her tenure studying under Marion Jeffery, Riperton learnt how to sing a range of musical styles, from operettas to show tunes. This was meant to prepare Riperton for a career as an opera singer. Marion Jeffery’s belief in the young Riperton’s ability, meant that she encouraged her pupil to go and study the operatic classics at Chicago’s Junior Lyric Opera. However, by then, Minnie Riperton interest in opera was waning, and she was becoming more interested in different types and styles of music, especially soul, rock and rhythm and blues.
After graduating from Hyde Park High School, Riperton enrolled at the Loop College and was fortunate enough to join the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. Alas, her college career did not last long, she decided to drop out of college and pursue a career in music. Then in 1967, Riperton met her future husband Richard Rudolph who was a songwriter. They would marry in 1972.
Minnie Riperton’s professional musical career started when she became a member of The Gems. She was spotted by Raynard Miner when Riperton was singing with the A Capella Choir. He became her musical mentor. The Gems released a number of singles, but commercially, they were not a success. Two of their best known songs were I Can’t Help Myself in 1964 and He Makes Me Feel So Good. Later The Gems became known as Studio Three and sang backing vocals on Fontella Bass’ classic song Rescue Me. During the period 1966-1967, The Gems recorded under various different names, notably as The Girls Three, releasing a track called Baby I Want You in 1966. In 1967 as The Starlets, they released the now Northern Soul classic My Baby’s Real. in 1968, The Starlets released the follow-up to My Baby’s Real, entitled Watered Down. That was their last recording together, and Riperton’s final recording as part of a girl group.
Minnie Riperton met another person who was to prove influential in her career, that was Billy Davis. Davis wrote two songs for Riperton, Lonely Girl and You Gave Me Soul. In honour of Billy Davis, she recorded the songs as Andrea Davis. This was a stepping stone in Riperton’s career.
The next stepping stone in her career was when she joined Rotary Connection in 1967. Like Sly and the Family Stone were, Rotary Connection were a multi-racial and experimental group which Riperton fronted with Sidney Barnes. Although they were a popular live group, playing many outdoor festivals, as support act for some of the bigger names in rock music, commercial success remained elusive for Rotary Connection. They released their self-titled debut album Rotary Connection in 1967, and five other albums between 1967-1971, the last album as New Rotary Connection. However, Riperton left Rotary Connection in 1969 to pursue a solo career, frustrated at Rotary Connection’s lack of commercial success.
Minnie Ripperton released her first solo album Come To My Garden in 1970. On the album she was accompanied by Charles Stepney, who also was the producer of the album. The album failed to sell well, however, since its release, it has been recognized as one of the finest albums ever produced.
By 1973, Minnie Riperton was semi-retired and was now a housewife, married with two children. She had made demo tape of a song called Seeing You This Way, and a young Epic Records rep heard the tape. He took the tape to Don Ellis, Vice-President of A&R, at Epic Records. Ellis like what he heard. Subsequently, Riperton signed to Epic Records. Riperton then decided to move her family from Chicago to Las Angeles. It was there that she recorded the album Perfect Angel, that I am featuring in this article. When the album was released in 1974, album sales started off slowly. Three singles had been released from the album, and it was her husband Charles Rudolph who convinced the record company to release Loving You as a single. Loving You reached number two in the UK charts and number three in the US charts. The album Perfect Angel went on to sell over a million copies, earning Riperton a gold disc.
Riperton released three further albums after Perfect Angel, which all failed to sell as well as Perfect Angel. Tragedy struck for Riperton when she contracted cancer in 1976. At the time, Riperton was given six months to live, and despite this, she continued to record and tour. Sadly, in 1979, Minnie Riperton died, aged thirty-one. Minnie Riperton’s legacy is that leaves behind some wonderful music, music that we are fortunate to have. The sad thing is, that many people, are still, as yet, unaware of Minnie Riperton and his wonderful music. My hope is that everyone who is reading this article, will take the opportunity to listen Minnie Riperton’s album Perfect Angel, and maybe then, the rest of her music.
Perfect Angel begins with the track Reasons. The track opens with an electric guitar solo, and then Riperton goes on to demonstrate her vocal ability. On this track, she makes use of her amazing vocal range. Her voice soars, then as quickly drops, never losing control, always its seems, in full control. Throughout the track, she is accompanied by legendary session guitarist, Sneaky Pete and also, a bass that throbs. His guitar playing is the perfect accompaniment for Riperton’s soaring vocals. Reasons is a good way to start Perfect Angel, as it demonstrates Riperton’s vocal ability perfectly.
On It’s So Nice (To See Old Friends) Riperton’s small backing band come into their own. They provide the perfect accompaniment for Riperton’s sweetly sung vocals. Here, she sings within herself. Her phrasing of the song is perfect, and adds to the beauty of the song. Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel guitar sits beautifully behind the vocal, adding the perfect embellishment to the song. This a beautiful song, with lovely lyrics, that Riperton sings so well.
Take A Little Trip is a song that many people will be familiar with. The track is one of two tracks that Stevie Wonder either wrote, or co-wrote. It features some lovely, thoughtful lyrics, that have the effect of soothing and relaxing, your weary soul. The song sees Riperton’s previous operatic training coming in useful, as she delivers the song in such a way that the song has space to breath. This track is well arranged and features a good performance from a tight and talented band.
This album is a showcase for Minnie Riperton’s vocal abilities, and wide vocal range. There is a huge contrast between the next track Seeing You This Way, and the previous track Take A Little Trip. Whereas on the previous track Riperton sang the song softly, and very much within herself, on this track Riperton cuts loose, using her five and half octave range to good advantage. Riperton has the perfect voice to sing Seeing You This Way. Her voice rises and falls, going from high to low, with ease, always in control. The song has a faster tempo, and the band play around the vocal, never overpowering the vocal, always complimenting Riperton’s voice. Take A Little Trip is a good song, one that only a talented vocalist, like Riperton can sing well.
The Edge of A Dream is one of seven songs on the album that Riperton co-wrote with her husband Richard Rudolph. They were a talented partnership, and have written the best songs on this album. In my opinion, one if the best is The Edge of A Dream. It features some glorious and thoughtful lyrics. The song has an innocence about it, and also has a spiritual feel to it. On this track Riperton is accompanied by a piano, and backing singers, that, when they combine with the vocal, make this a fantastic track. Incidentally, one of the backing singers on this track was Denise Williams, who sang the track Free.
The title track, Perfect Angel was written by Stevie Wonder. He provided Riperton with a great song. This is a song about love, that Riperton brings alive. There is a beauty in the song, that is to be found in many songs written by Wonder. Riperton sings the song gently. At times, she using her breathing and diction, to phrase the song, so that she brings out the songs innate beauty. On this track, Riperton is accompanied by backing vocalists whose voices almost mimic, yet compliment her voice. They add to song, seeming to just know exactly when to sing, and how to sing. Perfect Angel is a lovely song, and Riperton performs the song so well.
Every Time He Comes Around features the band more than in previous tracks. Here, a fuzz guitar features heavily on the track. It does not play over the vocal, it plays around the vocal. On this track, the band are more or less free rein. They are allowed to showcase their talents. Their talents are considerable. Riperton has chosen her band well. They know exactly when to play, and when not to. This is apparent on this track, where Sneaky Pete’s fuzz guitar lifts this track from a good track, to a great track.
Probably the best know track on this album is Loving You. This is the track that most will remember Minnie Riperton for. It is a song that, to some extent, launched her career, and brought her to the record buying public’s attention. I could easily expend numerous superlatives to describe this song. All i will say is that this is an exquisite song. From the birdsong at the start, throughout the song, Riperton sings the sumptuous lyrics quite beautifully. This song is just under four minutes of musical beauty. The sentiments in the lyrics, can’t fail to tug on the heartstrings, and bring out the romantic, in even the coldest heart. Quite easily, this is the best song on the album, if not the best song in Riperton’s short career.
Our Live closes Perfect Angel. It starts with a gentle harmonica solo. Thereafter, Riperton articulates the song perfectly. Her phrasing is clear and perfect. The song flows, gently building, and, as quickly as Riperton ups the tempo, the tempo drops. On Our Live, she demonstrates, once again, her unique vocal range. Her voice travels up and down, the scales, reaching notes that some vocalists can only dream about. This song is almost a duet between Riperton’s vocals and the harmonica. It is an interesting arrangement, one that the production team of Riperton, Rudolph and Stewart Levine make work. Our Live is a good way to close this great album.
Having told you about Minnie Riperton, and her wonderful album Perfect Angel. Having listened to the album several times while writing this article, I am impressed by the quality of the songs on this album. Out of the nine songs on this album, every one is of the highest quality. Quite simply, there is not a poor song on the album. Even though Come To My Garden is said by many critics to be her best ever album, I strongly believe that Perfect Angel is every bit as good, if not better. This album benefited hugely, from having the wonderful track Loving You on it. If Loving You had not been released as a single, Minnie Riperton’s career may have taken a very different turn. What I find hard to believe is that it was only released as an afterthought, as the fourth single from the album. It was lucky Charles Rudolph was able to convince Epic to release the song as a single. What saddens me, is that post-Perfect Angel, Riperton’s career never reached the same heights. It appears that, since her tragic and early death, people have revisited Riperton’s music, and are only now, starting to appreciate her considerable talents.
If you are someone who is, as yet, unaware of Riperton’s music, I can strongly recommend that you you buy Perfect Angel. Luckily for you, the album is now available on the Stateside label with Riperton’s 1975 album Adventures In Paradise on the same disc. That is as good a place to start, if you wish to explore Minnie Riperton’s music. If, having bought Perfect Angel/Adventures In Paradise you like what you hear, I recommend you then buy Come To My Garden and then Stay In Love and Minnie, both of which are available as one disc on the Stateside label. Should you do that, you will be privy to the music of one of soul music’s greatest female vocalists. Standout Tracks: Reasons, Take A Little Trip, Perfect Angel and Loving You.
MINNIE RIPERTON-PERFECT ANGEL.