Rayna Cuffee was born Raynetta Yvonne Clay in Oakland, California on March 8, 1933 to her loving parents, William and Lillian Clay. Rayna attended McClymonds High School and won recognition early as a singer performing for various service clubs as well as for winning local beauty pageants. After high school, Rayna attended San Francisco State College where she majored in music and voice. Dorothy Dandridge heard Rayna sing and encouraged her to pursue a career in it. Rayna found opportunities in the Bay Area and appeared on The Del Courtney Show, but many of her friends encouraged her to move to Los Angeles to find fame.
During this time, Rayna worked as one of the Herman McCoy Singers on The Nat King Cole Show and recorded her first song, “The Gypsy in My Soul,” composed by Clay Boland. In 1956, Rayna married George Poston, a certified public accountant, and they welcomed their son, Gregory. Rayna later divorced George and moved to New York City to continue the pursuit of her dreams. There she met and married her manager, local businessman, James E. Cuffee. Although Rayna found success as a singer, including a stint with the Drifters, Rayna decided to give up her career to expand her family and support her husband. Rayna and “Jim” welcomed their daughter, Janine, in 1966, but Rayna kept her vocal ‘chops’ in tune by singing at special events and family holidays, and later at church. Jim’s business acumen afforded the couple a luxurious lifestyle seldom seen by people of color in their time. They owned various real estate holdings including a hotel in Brooklyn and in the new gambling town, Atlantic City, where they also owned the only Black radio station. Rayna and Jim traveled extensively pursuing various business
opportunities including making many trips to Africa as the guest of the head of state of Liberia and traversing the country supporting the United States Conference of Mayors. Jim did not like to fly, so their favored mode of transportation was a well-loved Mercedes that they drove thousands, if not a million miles. If they had to travel overseas, they would make their time in the air as short as possible by flying on the Concorde Supersonic Jet, which they flew over 19 times! Rayna had amazing stories and loved to tell them, such as how she assisted her sister, Gwendolyn Greene, who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and invited her to sit in front at the March on Washington. Rayna remained politically active her whole life, from working in the Civil Rights Movement to serving for decades on the Executive Committee of the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP, to never missing a chance to volunteer at the polls as a champion of our right to vote. After 47 years of marriage and many unparalleled adventures, Jim was called home to the Lord in 2004 and Rayna dedicated her voice to Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, becoming active in the music ministry, singing in 5 choirs and, on occasion, in a New York jazz club. In 2008, Rayna’s daughter, Janine, succumbed to cancer leaving her with an 8-year-old granddaughter, Janean, and a 12-year-old grandson, Jem. Rayna threw her attention into making a home for Jem and Janean in New York and stayed ever-focused on ensuring their success - and succeed they have - Jem graduated from Syracuse University on a full scholarship and now works within Cloud for Dell Technologies, and Janean graduated from New York University and recently began teaching American history to elementary schoolers.
A lover of all sports, but none more so than basketball, Rayna registered Janean in an AAU basketball program when she first arrived in New York and became a permanent fixture in the stands as Janean’s most vocal fan. Janean won scholarships and accolades and became one of the highest scorers in NYU’s history. Rayna's final achievement came this summer when Janean graduated with honors from NYU. Despite living with cancer for years without complaint, Rayna would not stop until she finished the job God gave her to do. Jem and Janean are her legacy and most precious gift to those that she lost and her descendants yet to come.