The Transcendent “Les Fleurs” Is Minnie Riperton’s Hidden Gem

Minnie Riperton in 1976
Minnie Riperton in 1976
Full of floral imagery and soft psychedelic freedom, Minnie Riperton’s 1970 release “Les Fleurs” is truly a song like no other.
Stream: “Les Fleurs” – Minnie Riperton

You may know it from Jordan Peele’s film Us, or maybe you’ve never heard of it at all. Time to change that.

Many of you are most likely familiar with “Lovin’ You” by Minnie Riperton. If you aren’t, you definitely should be – it is a paragon of vocal ability. The distinctive whistle tones made the song popular upon its release in 1974, and it is a soul/pop mainstay to this day. While it is undoubtedly a masterpiece, there is another song by Minnie Riperton that deserves just as much recognition. “Les Fleurs” takes all the vocal beauty from “Lovin’ You” and infuses gospel music, R&B, and psychedelia to create something nothing short of amazing.

Minnie Riperton's sophomore album, 'Come to My Garden,' released in 1970
Minnie Riperton’s first solo album, ‘Come to My Garden,’ released in 1970

Before we dive deeper into “Les Fleurs,” let’s take a closer look at the voice behind it. Minnie Riperton was an incredible talent with a five-octave range and incredible control over her voice. As a teenager, she was part of a Chicago-based girl group called the Gems, which provided her connections within Chess Records. She went on to sing back up for many legendary artists such as Etta James and Muddy Waters before joining psychedelic soul band Rotary Connections, where she was the lead singer of the group.

Her first solo album, Come to My Garden (of which the leading track is “Les Fleurs”) was released in 1970, kicking off her short-lived solo career that ended with her untimely death from breast cancer in 1979. The album was written and produced mainly by fellow Rotary Connections band member Charles Stepney and Riperton’s husband Richard Rudolph, and it didn’t achieve the recognition it deserved until long after its release.

Minnie Riperton was a musician, a mother to comedian Maya Rudolph, and a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. In her 31 years on this planet, she was incredibly accomplished.

Minnie Riperton
Minnie Riperton

There are many reasons why “Les Fleurs” is a standout song; from the gentle orchestral melody to the invigorating chorus. The song is imbued with power and life; underscored by a rare and beautiful transcendency that is impossible to ignore. The song begins quietly, like the sonic embodiment of a bubbling brook:

Will somebody wear me to the fair?
(To the morning, sing a lovely flower)
Will a lady pin me in her hair?
(Mmh, mmh-mmh, mmh)
Will a child find me by a stream?
(In the lovely, in the sunny shower)
Ooh, kiss my petals, weave me through a dream

It is clear that this song was written during the summer of love, full of floral imagery and soft psychedelic freedom. There is a peacefulness and a freeness within the lyrics, a childlike innocence that immediately charms the listener. If you close your eyes, kaleidoscopic colors and sunshine dance across the inside of your lids. Remember when I referred to this song as transcendent? This imagined light show is exactly what I meant. Lifted by layered vocals and beautiful orchestral backing, it is hard not to want to crawl inside this verse and stay there forever.

Minnie Riperton
Minnie Riperton

The song begins to gain strength during the pre-chorus, transitioning smoothly from the verse: “From all of these simple things and much more/ a flower was born.” Like a flower blossoming, the song blossoms and unfurls, building toward the powerful chorus:

Ring all the bells, sing and tell the people
Everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness
And rejoice for the darkness is gone
Throw off your fears let your heart beat freely
At the sign that a new time is born

Joyous, lush, and rousing, this chorus hits the listener like a ton of bricks (but in a good way). The themes of renewal and rebirth – a new beginning – are prevalent in these lyrics. While there is definitely an overt religious aspect, the lyrics can be interpreted as metaphoric or, if you are so inclined, it can surely be equated to the story of Jesus.

In my personal opinion, I think the lyrics refer more to a change or a blossoming within the self as opposed to some external deity. The ability to interpret the lyrics as you please is part of the intrinsic beauty of this song – there is no wrong way to enjoy it.

Minnie Riperton in 1976
Minnie Riperton in 1976

“Les Fleurs” is truly a song like no other. The lilting softness building towards the rousing get-out-of-your-seat chorus is a recipe for feeling good, at least in this writer’s opinion.

Who knows what other masterpieces Minnie Riperton could have created had her life not been cut short, but we can all be grateful for the musical gifts that she left behind. Give “Les Fleurs” a listen and see how it makes you feel. Maybe you will feel transcendent, too.

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Stream: “Les Fleurs” – Minnie Riperton

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