Thomas Tipton Jr.'s first career made him a Minnesota business legend. His second career earned him international recognition.
Tipton, of Maple Grove, died April 13 following a short illness. He was 86.
He was born to Thomas Tipton Sr. and Lucille Robinson on June 15, 1933, in Washington, D.C. His father worked for the government and his mother taught piano, directed church choirs and promoted gospel singers such as Mahalia Jackson.
He started singing at churches at the age of 4. At 15, he formed a quartet that earned a recording contract.
In early adulthood, music took a back seat in his life.
After graduating from Dunbar High School in 1951, he attended Morgan State College in Baltimore on an athletic scholarship. He graduated from Morgan State with a bachelor's degree in language arts. After college and two years in the U.S. Army, he went to work as a radio announcer in Washington, D.C.
He was active in that city's Young Democrats organization and in 1968 moved to Minnesota to work on Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign. After that, he became the deputy director of the Twin Cities Opportunities Industrialization Center.
In April 1970, he incorporated Vanguard Associates, the first black-owned advertising agency in the state.
In 1972, he served as one of four national directors of Humphrey's second presidential campaign.
"He was a big influence, no question," said former Vice President Walter Mondale. "We had a very small minority community [when he arrived in Minnesota]. He was on the front lines, pushing every day."
In 1976, Tipton and a business partner opened the first African-American owned Burger King restaurant in the state.
During that time, he also served as a member of Gov. Rudy Perpich's Appointments Commission.
In 1978, Tipton sang at Humphrey's funeral in St. Paul. After hearing that performance, the Rev. Robert Schuller, who spoke at the funeral, asked Tipton to sing on his nationally syndicated TV show "Hour of Power." That led to appearances at a Billy Graham crusade and several international tours with Youth for Christ International.
In 1989, Tipton sold the advertising business to focus solely on Tipton Music Ministries. He eventually appeared on "Hour of Power" more than 100 times.
"He had a beautiful voice," said Mondale. "I think what stands out the most for me was his devotion to his faith and his kindness and joy he showed when dealing with his friends."
According to his family, one story Tipton told was about how as a child, he was denied entry to the Easter egg hunt at the White House because he was black. As an adult, he had the opportunity to sing there for presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
"We talked a lot," said Mondale. "He had a unique way of dealing with those civil rights infringements. There was no bitterness."
In 1978, Tipton married Earnestine Collins. His best man was Mondale. Roberta Flack, who had been a classmate of his in Washington, sang at the wedding.
Tipton is survived by partner Dara Wegener; daughters Cassandra Pye, Beverly Tipton Hammond and Saintanne Tipton; brothers Arthur Robinson and Reginald Robinson, and four grandsons.
A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.
Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719