Maya Rudolph’s parents — Her father took over parental responsibilities after her mother’s untimely death

Maya Rudolph

It should come as no surprise that Maya Rudolph’s family comes from the entertainment industry as well. However, the actress-comedian’s musical background might seem unexpected to someone who hasn’t dived deep into her personal life.

When Maya unambiguously recreated two of her mother’s most iconic album covers on Saturday Night Live in 2021, her homage rekindled the discussion around her late mother’s artistry.

Maya was born to singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton and composer Richard Rudolph

Richard Rudolph and Minnie Riperton

Maya Khabira Rudolph was born on July 17, 1972, in Gainesville, Florida to singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton and composer/musician Richard Rudolph. She has an older brother, Marc, who is four years her senior and is a music engineer.

Born in Chicago, Minnie Julia Riperton Rudolph was a renowned African-American singer-songwriter in the 1960s and 70s who was best known for her 1975 chart-topping single “Lovin’ You” that went number one on Billboard Hot 100 for eighteen weeks. She possessed an impressive five-octave vocal range and was memorable for her whistle tone.

The melody of her magnum opus “Lovin’ You” is based on the lullaby she used to sing to her baby daughter, Maya, who was two years old back then. While the song can be interpreted as a love song on the surface, the outro features the lyrics “My Maya, my Maya” implying the underlying dedication to her daughter. Moreover, the song was co-written by her husband, Richard Rudolph, who also produced it alongside Stevie Wonder.

“It sounds like my childhood,” said Maya about the song in a 2017 interview with uDiscover Music.

“It’s amazing to me, although not surprising, that it is such an iconic song and record only because it was the debut of this special quality that my mother had, and people just were blown away,” she said.  

In a similar career trajectory, Richard Rudolph started as a songwriter at Chess Records in 1969 before transitioning to being a record producer. Incidentally, the first record he produced was Riperton’s sophomore album, ‘Perfect Angel’.

Throughout his career, Rudolph has written more than two hundred and has worked with various artists including Tupac, Julian Lennon, and Chaka Khan. He has been married to the retired Japanese jazz singer, Kimiko Kasai, since 1990.

Minnie Riperton passed away in 1979 to breast cancer and was a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society

Minnie Riperton

Shortly after releasing her third album, ‘Adventures in Paradise’, Minnie was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 1976. She underwent a radical mastectomy in April but it turned out that cancer had metastasized and the prognosis only gave her six months to live, states the Minnie Riperton Legacy Fund webpage.

According to the 2009 documentary, Unsung: The Minnie Riperton Story’, despite it being a taboo subject during the time, she talked about her breast cancer on The Tonight Show on August 24, 1976, to spread awareness, saying;

“I was recently a victim of cancer myself and I had a mastectomy just a few months ago.”

Though she did not reveal that her cancer was terminal, she was one of the first few celebrities to publicly disclose her breast cancer diagnosis.

Despite her illness, she continued to record music and tour in 1977 and 1988. Also, she became the national spokesperson for the American Cancer Society during its 1978-79 campaign. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter presented her with the American Cancer Society’s Courage Award.

On July 12, 1979, two months after the release of her final album titled ‘Minnie’, Riperton passed away “lying in her husband’s arms, listening to a recording Stevie Wonder had made for her” when she was only 31 years old.

Talking about his wife’s passing, Rudolph said that the “hardest [he] ever had to face was going to tell Marc and Maya that their mother was gone”. He further professed that “what happened to her shouldn’t happen to anybody”.

Maya was nearly seven at the time of her mother’s untimely death and struggled with her absence and “up until very recently, it was still a sting to talk about her” she said.

“For many, many years, I couldn’t even touch this conversation. Like my mom was always—it was such a painful—I don’t remember if I ever did proper grieving. I know I did, but it came out in ways—like when I was a kid, I went to a new school and I kicked people. I was like the kicker for a year,” she told E! News.

Maya’s final commentary on the documentary echoed the thoughts of everyone as she said;

“We had her for such a small amount of time. I think in a lot of ways, I still deal with the pain of it. I didn’t want her to go, it was too soon for me. It was too soon for all of us.”

After Minnie’s death, Richard was entrusted with the care of their two young children, Marc and Maya, and worked on a cancer research fund in her name

Maya Rudolph parents
Maya Rudolph, with her Father, Mother, and her Brother 1978 in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

After the death of his wife, Richard Rudolph, at 32 years old, became a single father for his young children, Marc and Maya, who were 11 and 6 years old, respectively. Describing his situation, Rudolph told ;Unsung: The Minnie Riperton Story;

“On one hand it is something that you just have to do but on the other hand, they gave everything to me needed at that point. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

From Maya’s point of view, her father’s selfless love helped tie their family together after the tragic passing, saying, “The fate that we were allowed is a very lucky one because, without his incredible selflessness and love, I think we could have easily fallen apart.”

However, it was not without its share of troubles as Maya jokingly states that her father was a “pretty adorable Jew” who did not know to style her hair, in her profile at The New York Times. She elaborates that her “super, super-thick and super-curly hair” was difficult to style on her own without her mother’s guidance.

“So much of my childhood was dealing with my hair and being super embarrassed by it, mainly because I grew up being the only mixed kid,” said Maya. Nonetheless, her aunts (Minnie’s sisters) would help her maintain her hair when they came over to visit.

Growing up in an affluent, predominantly white, Westwood neighborhood in Los Angeles, Maya also struggled with identity issues stemming from being a biracial child, she said;

“I never felt like my black cousins. I felt loved but I didn’t feel culturally [involved]. I was the kid that lived in California who didn’t grow up around her family.”

The 1979 September issue of Jet Magazine reported that Richard put his efforts towards fulfilling Minnie’s dream of finding a cure for cancer. He carried her legacy forward by working with the newly established Minnie Riperton Cancer Research Fund of the Concern Foundation for breast and women’s cancer, which had raised $1 million in 1989 towards cancer research and is still up and running to this day.

“We are being very careful with the structure of it. We are going to direct these funds specifically to go directly into research and there’s not going to be any dollar spent on administration…this money is going to go directly for breast cancer.”

He also continued his involvement in the American Cancer Society and feels that it is “important that men take an active part in this fight against breast cancer”