Welcome to On Tape, CHIRP's weekly exploration of Chicago music in films, videos, and beyond. Each week, our editors will reach back into the archives for the interviews, music videos, live concert appearances, and found footage of the city's most important musical icons. This week: Minnie Riperton.
Minnie Riperton first tells the lion story on The Mike Douglas Show in 1975. Just weeks removed from the one-week reign of "Lovin' You" atop the pop charts, she's the room's rising star, and it shows in her delivery; Douglas and company treat her like the cleverest kid at an adult party, hardly letting her finish the story of how she'd nearly been mauled during a promo shoot for Adventures In Paradisebefore asking another question, reuqesting elaboration.Her dusky blue dress looks cool amid the set's garish yellows, matching the demeanor of the person it covers. She is unflappable and elegant; even Dom Deluise can't get her to break.
Four years later, things are different. Douglas is there, and Riperton, and another great blue dress. The cancer is there, too; this interview takes place in the summer of 1979, just days before Riperton succumbs to her years-long fight at the age of 31. On this day, the mood is elegiac; Riperton is tired and soft-spoken, her right arm immobilized by her spreading illness. Douglas once again brings up the lion story, prodding Riperton to retell it the way someone might approach a dying grandparent.
Riperton herself sets that tone; she opens the day with the nostalgic ballad "Memory Lane" as candid pictures of her and husband Robert Randolph linger on the screen. Most of her energy goes into her performance, but she musters her charm for Douglas's questions. Just before sharing one final song, she recalls the story of her arrival in Los Angeles, of the bank manager who forced her to sing before agreeing to let her deposit her advance check. There's probably anger here, or resentment, or shock at the thousand little indignities that sometimes overwhelm a life. If there is, we can't see it.
"Sing another song for us, Minnie," Douglas asks, his voice, for a moment, growing small.