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Wonder Women: Minnie Riperton and Syreeta

by Ami Kealoha
on 12 December 2006

Arguably one of the most respected singers and songwriters of all time, Stevie Wonder's collaborators were unique and talented artists in their own right, but never garnered the widespread acclaim they deserve. Two notable examples are Minnie Riperton (1947-1979) and Syreeta (1946-2004). For both singers, the music Stevie composed and produced with them was the best of their careers. Both had pure, girlish sounding, almost angelic, voices. And tragically, both died young of cancer. Minnie at just 31.

Minnie Riperton, who had already had a varied career in groups and as a solo artist when she met Stevie Wonder, first worked with him as a vocalist on one of his masterpieces, "Fulfillingness First Finale" (1974). In that same year he produced her solo album Perfect Angel which propelled Riperton, momentarily, to fame with the international crossover hit “Lovin’ You.” But that song is more the exception than the rule on a record filled with rich Wonder-penned, jazz-tinged soul songs like “Take a Little Trip” and the title track. Her next album, Adventures in Paradise (1975), a Wonder production as well, made less of a splash on the radio, but is equally as good, if not better. The two best cuts on the album, “Baby, This Love I Have” and “Inside My Love,” are intimate and dynamic songs that groove deeply, even at a whisper. Both have been sampled repeatedly.

Syreeta is probably best known for the 1979 easy-listening-classic duet with Billy Preston, “With You I’m Born Again.” But her first two albums, Syreeta (1972), recorded while she and Wonder were briefly married, and Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta (1974), an album which playfully and inspiringly tells the story of their relationship from marriage to divorce to friendship, are by far her best work and rank with some of the best soul albums of the era.

All of these would make great gifts for even the most discerning connoisseur of soul music, or any music for that matter. And even many Stevie Wonder fanatics are likely to be missing these pieces from their collection. All four titles are only available as individual CDs from Japan, at close to $30 each. But you can buy the two original Syreeta albums on one limited edition, numbered disc for $20 from Dusty Groove and the two full Minnie Riperton albums on one, import-only CD for only $12, also from Dusty Groove.

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