Maya Rudolph is getting extra attention these days for her comedic portrayal as Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Saturday Night Live. But the actress and comedian proved her brilliance long before the 2020 presidential election. Over the last 25 years, Rudolph has been an accomplished musician (The Rentals), a 7-season cast member of SNL, and an actress on the big screen (Idiocracy, Bridesmaids).
Though her talent stands on its own, she’s not the only famous member of her family. Rudolph’s mother was soul singer Minnie Riperton. Sadly, Riperton died tragically young, leaving Rudolph and her brother to be raised primarily by their father. Find out more about Minnie Riperton’s life and what her and Rudolph’s relationship was like.
Who Was Minnie Riperton?
Maya Rudolph is the second child and only daughter of singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton and music producer Richard Rudolph.
Riperton, famous for her five-octave vocal range, started her career singing background vocals for legends like Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry. “Lovin’ You,” from her 1974 album Perfect Angel (produced by Stevie Wonder under the pseudonym El Toro Negro) reached number one on the pop charts and made the singer a certified star.
Although the lyrics refer to romantic love, Riperton reportedly came up with the melody as a lullaby for Rudolph. Listen as she repeatedly sings “Maya” at the end of the track.
In 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a radical mastectomy the same year, but by then the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes. Riperton continued recording and touring through her illness, and on July 12, 1979— two weeks before Maya’s seventh birthday—she died at age 31.
Why Maya Rudolph Didn’t Talk About Her Mother’s Death For The Longest Time
Perhaps Rudolph used comedy as a way to process her pain. For years, she avoided discussing the loss of her mom.
“For many, many years, I couldn’t even touch this conversation. Like my mom was always—it was such a painful—” Rudolph said in an in-depth New York Times profile, cutting herself off. “I don’t remember if I ever did proper grieving.”
“I know that the place that I was with it most of my life was more of a, ‘Poor me, why me?'” she added. “Up until very recently, it was still, like, a sting to talk about her.”
Maya Rudolph On Growing Up Without Her Mom
Rudolph could provide a laundry list of the ways in which losing her mother affected her upbringing. The trouble was made worse by the fact that she was a biracial child raised in a white community; without Riperton, she was felt disconnected from her Black identity.
“I was just completely lost,” said Rudolph. Something as simple as hair care became a source of confusion and insecurity (“Your hair is so ethnic. Can I touch it?” asked a fellow college student). She also didn’t relate to relatives on her mother’s side of the family—not because of race but due to cultural differences. “I was the kid that lived in California who didn’t grow up around the family,” she explained.
It also didn’t help that her loss was documented in the press. Two months after Riperton’s death, Rudolph’s seventh birthday party was photographed and featured in an issue of Jet magazine.
“It was weird to grow up that way,” said Rudolph. “Thinking, I’m the kid whose mom died, and everybody knows it—or at least you feel like everybody knows it.”
Today, Rudolph lives with her partner, director Paul Thomas Anderson, and their four children. While it’s been almost four decades since the loss of her mother, the comedian has a body of work that is obviously inspired by Riperton. Rudolph not only used her musical skills in plenty of SNL sketches; she is also one half of Princess— a Prince cover band that was lauded by the artist himself.
Now that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are set to be the certified winners of the 2020 election, expect to see Rudolph in the spotlight for at least another four years.