Congressman Donald M. Payne 1934-2012

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HAT TIP: By David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger

U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, the elder statesman of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, died after a months-long battle with colon cancer today, according to three sources close to the Payne family. The longtime politician was 77.

Payne announced last month he was under treatment for colon cancer but said that he expected to make a full recovery. Last week, though, his health took a turn for the worse.

He was hospitalized at Georgetown University Hospital, but on Friday was flown back to New Jersey on a medical transport. After arriving at Teterboro airport, he was taken to St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. Payne, a Democrat who represented New Jersey’s 10th congressional district for 23 years, was placed in hospice care and died early this morning.

The state’s first — and currently its only — black congressman, Payne headed one of Newark’s most powerful political dynasties. His son Donald Payne Jr. is the Newark City Council president, as well as an Essex County Freeholder. His brother and lifelong political partner, William, is a former state assemblyman.

“He’s had a tremendous impact on the state, country and the world,” William Payne said.

Payne was up for re-election this year and facing a primary in June. Despite his condition, he vowed to run again only last month and refused to take a leave of absence.

A former teacher, insurance executive, city councilman, and county freeholder, Payne’s lifelong dream was to become a congressman. In 1988 he finally achieved that goal and was returned to Congress 11 times — by some of the widest margins in New Jersey congressional history.

While in the House of Representatives, Payne was known as a tireless advocate for his constituents, a champion of education and a de facto ambassador to Africa. He helped secure $100 million to help prevent and treat Malaria and HIV/AIDS, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

“New Jersey has lost one of its greatest leaders in the fight for equality and fairness for all Americans, and one of the greatest advocates for families of the Garden State,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, whose 8th district shared parts of Montclair, South Orange and West Orange with Payne.

“Donald Payne was a true trailblazer – a champion for education and civil rights who sought to combat injustice all over the world. I will greatly miss my friend and brother,” Pascrell said in a statement released this morning.

Payne was recognized in Congress for having the most supportive record on issues regarding the Northern Ireland peace process. He helped win passage of a resolution declaring the killing in Darfur genocide and he authored the Sudan Peace Act, facilitating famine relief efforts.

State Sen. Richard Codey called Payne’s legacy a strong one, and one that merits emulation at all levels of government, particularly with regard to oppressed peoples.

“He was bigger than life but never conducted himself that way,” Codey said by phone this morning. “If you were violating somebody’s rights, you better get out of the way.”

Although Payne was well-known for his interest in African affairs, Payne, for instance, also long supported peace initiatives to end sectarian violence in Ireland, Codey said.

“People always associated him with Africa and advocating for Darfur and he did, but color didn’t matter to him, just your civil rights,” he said.

Elizabeth Edwards passes

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Hat Tip: Reuters

(Reuters) – Elizabeth Edwards, a best-selling author and a driving force behind her husband John Edwards’ political career before it was destroyed by his infidelity, died on Tuesday at age 61.

“Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth’s presence but she remains the heart of this family. We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life,” the statement said.

Edwards was first diagnosed with breast cancer and treated in 2004. In 2007, the cancer returned and spread.

She wrote two best-selling books, “Resilience” and “Saving Graces,” about her battle with cancer and the scandal surrounding her husband, a wealthy trial lawyer who served as a U.S. senator from North Carolina and twice ran for president.

President Barack Obama in a statement called her “a tenacious advocate for fixing our health care system and fighting poverty,” and said the county “has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind.”

John Edwards’ personal and political fortunes changed after the National Enquirer, a tabloid newspaper, began reporting on his affair with a campaign aide named Rielle Hunter as he sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Elizabeth Edwards and her husband announced in January 2010 that they had separated after 32 years of marriage.

On December 6, 2010, she said in a Facebook posting: “I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces, my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.”

Teddy Pendergrass 1950-2010

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HAT TIP: By PATRICK WALTERS, The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA — Teddy Pendergrass, who became R&B’s reigning sex symbol in the 1970s and ’80s with his forceful, masculine voice and passionate love ballads and later became an inspirational figure after suffering a devastating car accident that left him paralyzed, died Wednesday at age 59.

The singer’s son, Teddy Pendergrass II, said his father died at a hospital in suburban Philadelphia. The singer underwent colon cancer surgery eight months ago and had “a difficult recovery,” his son said.

“To all his fans who loved his music, thank you,” his son said. “He will live on through his music.”

Pendergrass suffered a spinal cord injury and was paralyzed from the waist down in the 1982 car accident. He spent six months in a hospital but returned to recording the next year with the album “Love Language.”

Pendergrass later founded the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, an organization whose mission is to encourage and help people with spinal cord injuries.

Pendergrass, who was born in Philadelphia on March 26, 1950, gained popularity first as a member of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

In 1971, the group signed a record deal with the legendary writer/producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The group released its first single, “I Miss You,” in 1972 and then released “If You Don’t Know Me by Now,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Pendergrass quit the group in 1975 and embarked on a solo career in 1976. It was his solo hits that brought him his greatest fame. With songs such as “Love T.K.O.,” “Close the Door” and “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” he came to define a new era of black male singers with his powerful, aggressive vocals that spoke to virility, not vulnerability.

Pendergrass is survived by his son, two daughters, his wife, his mother and nine grandchildren.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy 1932-2009

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Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote movingly of the treasure America has lost.

By Boyce Watkins, The Grio

Many of us once joked that Bill Clinton was the “first black president” (which he wasn’t). We had it wrong. If such a title were to be given to any white man, that should have to be the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

As a member of the Senate since 1962, Senator Kennedy had a long career fighting for those forced to live in the underbelly of a capitalist society. Over the last 47 years, he has done it better than nearly any politician in American history. African-Americans were among the many beneficiaries of his passionate life’s work, and for that, we will always be appreciative.

In a multitude of areas including housing, income, civil liberties, and equality, Ted Kennedy has been on the front lines. His brother John introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, considered to be one of the most impactful pieces of legislation ever produced by our government. After John’s death, Ted and his brother Robert were instrumental in seeing that the bill was passed.

Senator Ted Kennedy then went on to help pass one law after another to support the rights of the elderly, the sick, the poor and the incarcerated. He introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act, The Civil Rights Act of 1991, The Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act, among others. He also helped to amend the Fair Housing Act, and has fought relentlessly for those who’ve never known the comfort of attending an Ivy League University.

I can’t believe that this consumate politician full of passionate eloquence and masterful legislative skill is gone.  I am undone.

Issac Hayes 1942-2008

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I am just really undone. First, Bernie Mac and now Issac Hayes.

Legendary soul music performer Isaac Hayes died this afternoon after he was found unconscious in his Shelby County home. He was 65.

A family member found the entertainer next to a running treadmill at about 1 p.m. Sunday, said Steve Shular, spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

Hayes, born Aug. 20, 1942, was rushed to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:10 p.m.

Hayes’ wife, their 2-year-old son and another family member had gone to the grocery store around noon, Shular said. When they returned, they found Hayes unresponsive.

Rescue workers responded to a 911 call, and they performed CPR at Hayes’ home at 9280 Riveredge in the eastern part of Shelby County, near Forest Hill Irene and Walnut Grove.

The Sheriff’s Office is conducting a routine investigation, said Shular, but “nothing leads us to believe this is foul play.”

Family members told authorities Hayes had been under the care of a physician for “medical conditions,” but no other information was available on what those conditions were.

A musical prodigy from childhood – Hayes began singing in church at age 5, and by his teen years had mastered several instruments. Hayes hustled on the local club scene in the early ’60s, leading a series of combos before gravitating to the fledgling Stax Records label in South Memphis as a session player.

There, along with his writing partner David Porter, Hayes would go on to compose some of the seminal songs in the soul music canon, penning hits for Carla Thomas (“B-A-B-Y”), Johnnie Taylor (“I Had A Dream”) and most notably, the duo Sam & Dave (“Soul Man”; “Hold On I’m Comin”).

An outsized character even among the colorful crew at Stax, Hayes was noted for his then novel shaved head and outlandish dress sense, elements that would become cornerstones of his distinctive persona later on.

As his songwriting and production achievements continued to grow, Hayes made a rather inauspicious debut as a solo artist for Stax, with 1967’s jazz-flavored Presenting Isaac Hayes. But it was his follow-up LP in 1969, Hot Buttered Soul, that would take him from behind-the-scenes player to front-and-center star. An adventurous and experimental LP, Hot Buttered Soul shattered traditional R&B conventions. Comprised of four lengthy songs — moody, languid and epic reinterpretations of pop hits like “Walk On By” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” — the tracks were transformed by Hayes’ complex arrangements and the sheer power of his rumbling baritone. Surprisingly, the album became both a critical and commercial success and catapulted Hayes into a fulltime performing career.

While Hot Buttered Soul would represent his commercial breakthrough — a streak he would keep alive with two more chart-topping efforts, 1970’s …To Be Continued and The Isaac Hayes Movement — it was his work on the soundtrack to Gordon Parks’ pioneering 1971 “blaxploitation” film “Shaft” that would forever cement Hayes’ place in history. The film’s title track – an irresistible mingling of wah-wah guitar, orchestral flourishes and Hayes’ proto-rapping – became a pop sensation topping the Billboard charts. The tune would go on to earn Hayes an Academy Award for “Best Original Song.”

By the early ‘70s Hayes had become both cottage industry and the lynchpin of Stax’s shift toward a kind of new black consciousness. He would continue to evolve his music with albums like the Grammy-winning “Black Moses” and another soundtrack for the film “Truck Turner” (in which he also starred in the title role) and was the headliner for the massive 1972 Wattstax concert in Los Angeles.

Despite his numerous successes, the rapid demise of Stax and personal management woes forced Hayes to declare bankruptcy in 1976. Hayes took an extended five-year break from music in the early-’80s — his career as an actor blossomed. He appeared on a number of television shows (“The Rockford Files,” “Miami Vice”) and films (“Escape From New York,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”) and became familiar to a whole new generation with his role as Chef in the popular animated series “South Park.”

As an artist and stylistic innovator Hayes exerted a major influence throughout the decades, his work anticipating and contributing heavily to the evolution of disco, rap, house music and modern R&B. That legacy was honored when Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.