Donda West, mother of the multiple Grammy-winning rap star Kanye West and former chairwoman of Chicago State University's English department, died Saturday night in Los Angeles, a spokesman for the rapper told the Associated Press. She was 58.
The cause of death was not immediately announced.
West, 30, was reportedly in London at the time of his mother's death and was returning to Los Angeles.
Donda West was known for the strong bond she shared with her son. She was often seen at his side at parties and award shows. She was also a firm defender of her son's sometimes controversial comments. In May, she published the book "Raising Kanye: Life Lessons From the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar."
She served as chief executive of West Brands, the parent company of her son's business enterprises, and as chairwoman of the Kanye West Foundation, an educational nonprofit that works to decrease dropout rates and improve literacy. Kanye West told the Associated Press in August that he and his mother worked together to devise the foundation's first program, Loop Dreams, which helps public school students get involved in music.
Donda West worked in higher education for 31 years before leaving academia in 2004 to help manage her son's career, according to a biography on the Kanye West Foundation's website.
She began working at Chicago State University in 1980 and eventually chaired the school's English department, according to the site. She started her teaching career in the early 1970s as an instructor at Brown College in Atlanta.
She was raised in Oklahoma City and earned her bachelor's degree in English from Virginia Union University in 1971 and her doctoral degree from Auburn University in 1980. She was also a Fulbright scholar who took her son along during her studies in Nanjing, China.
Kanye West was born in Atlanta. He moved with his mother to Chicago after his parents divorced when he was 3. His father, Ray West, a former member of the Black Panthers, was a photojournalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and is now reported to be a Christian marriage counselor.
Donda West was the inspiration for the song "Hey Mama" on Kanye West's 2005 album "Late Registration," in which he sings: "Hey Mama, I wanna scream so loud for you, cuz I'm so proud of you. . . . I appreciate what you allowed for me. I just want you to be proud of me."
Kanye West's writing partner, Rhymefest, lamented Donda West's death Sunday in an appearance on Chicago radio station WCGI.
"She was everyone's mom," Rhymefest said. "A spirit never dies, a spirit lasts forever."