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Linda Hopkins (1924–2017)

by Legacy Staff

Linda Hopkins, the actress and gospel singer who won a Tony Award in 1972 for her show-stopping performance in the musical “Inner City,” died Monday, April 10, 2017, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to multiple news sources. She was 92.

No cause of death was immediately available.

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She was born Melinda Helen Matthews Dec. 14, 1924, in New Orleans. When she was 11, the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson discovered her. In 1936, she joined the Southern Harp Spiritual Singers, remaining with the group for 10 years.

After moving to California during the early 1950s, she adopted a stage name, Linda Hopkins. She toured Hawaii and Japan and later recorded songs on several record labels, including Atco.

In 1960, she toured Europe in “Broadway Express,” a restaged production of “Jazz Train.”

That same year, she recorded her only hit single, “Shake a Hand,” a duet with Jackie Wilson that peaked at No. 21 on Billboard’s U.S. R&B chart. She also took acting lesson’s in New York City at the famed school run by Stella Adler.

The 1970s were especially productive for Hopkins. She performed alongside Sammy Davis Jr. on Broadway in the musical “Purlie.” In addition to her Tony Award, she received a Drama Desk Award for her acclaimed performance in “Inner City.” In 1977, she performed at President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural ball.

Hopkins received another Drama Desk Award nomination for her starring role in “Me and Bessie.” She and singer-songwriter Will Holt co-wrote the one-woman play about the life of the blues singer Bessie Smith that debuted in 1974 and continued for more than 450 performances of the show.

In addition to singing onstage, she recorded five albums: “Me and Bessie” (1976) from the one-woman show, “How Blue Can You Get” (1982), “Here’s the Kid” (1994), “Wild Women Blues” (1999), and “The Living Legend Live!” (2006).

Hopkins received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.

Celebrities shared their condolences on social media:

Actor and director Bill Duke: “Beautiful souls may have passed on, but their legacy remains. Linda Hopkins was a dear friend and will be missed.”

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein: “Lost another irreplaceable American original – LINDA HOPKINS! …”

Singer Cyndi Lauper: “She was so great.”

Actor Dule Hill: “#RIP Linda Hopkins. One of God’s great gifts. Thankful to have been blessed to share the stage w/ you❤ #BlackAndBlue”

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