African-American Entertainers An insight into some of Their Lives and Their Influence on African-American Culture By Allison King and Amy Hayes
Sidney Poitier Actor 2/20/1927 - ??? His Excellency Sir Sidney Poitier was the first African-American actor to achieve leading man status in Hollywood films. He made his film debut in 1950 in No Way Out. He was the first black actor to be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, for The Defiant Ones, in 1958, and the first to win the Best Actor nod, for Lilies on the Field, in 1963. In 1968, Poitier became the first black No. 1 box-office star with his role in 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1974. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2002.
Halle Berry Actress, Model 8/14/1968 - ??? Halle Berry was the first African American to represent the United States in the Miss World pageant in 1986. After a stint on Knot's Landing (1991–92), she moved on to films. In 1997, she starred in B*A*P*S. She has appeared in a variety of roles including a drug abuser in Losing Isaiah, a psychiatrist who sees ghosts in Gothika, and a superhero in X-Men 1 and 2. She won wide praise, and Emmy and Golden Globe awards, for her title role in the television biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge in 1999. In 2001, she became the first African American actress to win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in Monster’s Ball.
Alexander Palmer Haley Author 08/11/1921 – 02/10/1992 Born in Ithaca, New York, Haley grew up in the Southern U.S. On May 24, 1939 he began his 20 year service with the Coast Guard. After his retirement, he became a senior editor for Reader's Digest. In 1965, Haley wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The book was published in 1972 and had a huge success, later being named by Time magazine one of the ten most important nonfiction books of the 20th century. In 1976, Haley published Roots, a fictionalized account of his family's history, starting with the story of Kunta Kinte, kidnapped in Gambia in 1767 to be sold as a slave in North America. Roots won the Pulitzer Prize and went on to become a popular television miniseries. The book and film were both successful, reaching a record-breaking 130 million viewers when it was serialized on television.
Vanessa Lynn Williams Actress, Singer, Model, former Miss America 03/18/1963 - ??? Vanessa got her start singing and dancing in school productions. She won a performing scholarship to Syracuse University. While in New York, she started doing beauty pageants. She was crowned Miss New York and shortly after, in 1983, she made history when she became the first black woman to be chosen Miss America. Her joy was short-lived though, as she was forced to renounce her title for posing in Penthouse Magazine. Undaunted, Williams began to pursue her first love, singing and landed a record deal with Mercury. She released her debut album, The Right Stuff, in 1988. The title track "Dreamin'" became Williams' first Top 10 single, and the album went gold. The ballad "Save the Best for Last," from her 1991 sophomore album, became Williams' first number one hit on the pop charts. In 1996, Williams won an Academy Award for her song, "Colors of the Wind," the theme to the Disney film Pocahontas. She scored her first big hit film with the thriller Eraser in 1996, co-starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger and followed it up with Soul Food, Dance With Me, and the remake of Shaft.
William “Bill” Cosby Comedian 07/12/1937 - ??? As a young man, Cosby took an athletics scholarship at Temple and supported himself by bartending. This is where he was prompted to try stand-up comedy by clients. He did and was discovered by Carl Reiner. He received a doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts. He made comedy albums in his early years with the most notable being “Little Old Man”. He was the first black entertainer to win an Emmy, for his role as Scotty in I Spy. In 1984, he created “The Cosby Show”. He also produced the TV series “A Different World”. At its peak “The Cosby Show” logged an estimated 70 million viewers. It went off the air in 1992 after massive competition from “The Simpsons.” “The Cosby Show” seems to have been the high point of his career. One of his films, Leonard Part 6 (1987), is even considered by many to be one of the worst in history. Throughout the years, Bill Cosby has taken a socially conscious tone and is often associated with family values.
Toni Morrison Author 02/18/1931 - ??? Through her writings and other works, Toni Morrison was instrumental in bringing recognition to the genre of African American literature. Several of her novels are included among the canon of American literature including: The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Soloman, and Tar Baby. In 1987, Morrison released Beloved, a story loosely based on the life and legal case of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave who killed her child to prevent the child from being taken back into slavery. This novel won Morrison the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. In 1993, she won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first African American woman to do so. In recent years, Morrison has published a number of children's books with her son, Slade Morrison and writtin two more novels: Paradise (1998) and Love (2003).
Oprah Winfrey Talk-Show Host, Actress 01/29/1954 - ??? Before America fell in love with Oprah Winfrey the talk show host, she captured the nation's attention with her poignant portrayal of Sofia in Steven Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple. Winfrey's performance earned her nominations for an Oscar and Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Supporting Actress. Seen nationally since September 8, 1986, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" became the number one talk show in national syndication in less than a year. In June 1987, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" received three Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction. In June 1988, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" received its second consecutive Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Talk/Service Program, and she herself received the International Radio and Television Society's "Broadcaster of the Year" Award. She was the youngest person to ever receive the honor.
Oprah Winfrey Talk-Show Host, Actress 01/29/1954 - ??? In 1991, she initiated a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child abusers, and testified on behalf of a National Child Protection Act. President Clinton signed the "Oprah Bill" into law in 1993. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time Magazine, and in 1998 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Her influence extended to the publishing industry when she began an on-air book club. Oprah Book Club selections became instant bestsellers. Through her company's film division, Harpo Films, she has produced projects based on classic and contemporary literature including the award-winning Tuesdays With Morrie, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. In 1998, Harpo Films produced the critically acclaimed Beloved, which co-starred Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. She is a partner in Oxygen Media Inc., a cable channel presenting programming designed primarily for women. In September 2002, Harpo created Dr. Phil, a syndicated daytime talk show which consistently ranks second among all U.S. talk shows. In 2003, Forbes magazine listed Oprah as one of America's top billionaires, making her the first African-American woman to do so.
Michael Joseph Jackson 08/29/1958 - ??? Singer, Songwriter Michael Jackson is known as the "King of Pop”. He began his career at the age of 11 as lead singer of the Motown produced act The Jackson 5. In 1978, Michael co-starred in The Wiz as the Scarecrow, with Diana Ross as Dorothy. He began a full-fledged solo career in 1979 and formally parted with his siblings in 1987. He has since become the most successful recording artist in black music history, and the biggest selling solo artist of all-time. His 1982 album Thriller currently holds the title of the best-selling album in history, having sold over 60 million copies worldwide. He has had thirteen number-one Billboard Hot 100 solo hits, including "Ben", "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough", "Rock With You", "Billie Jean", "Beat It", "The Way You Make Me Feel" and "Black or White”. His distinctive voice, dance moves, music videos and pop appeal have inspired and influenced many of today's singers, such as Janet Jackson, Usher, Beyoncé, and Justin Timberlake, among others. His love for children has often been viewed negatively by some. In 2003, Jackson was dogged by the mass media over allegations of child sexual abuse, resulting in a trial and acquittal in 2005.
Brandy Norwood Singer, Actress 2/11/1979 - ??? Brandy is a teen singing sensation-turned television star. At the young age of 15, she had a Top 10 hit on the Billboard charts, and received the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie Song for Waiting to Exhale's “Up in My Room”. In 1996, Brandy was given her own show, Moesha, on UPN. Critics everywhere took notice of Brandy for her hard work and determination and in 1997, she received the Image Award. “The Boy Is Mine,” a duet with Monica, made her a household name, along with her solo hit “Have You Ever”. She also starred opposite Whitney Houston in Cinderella. Despite her young age, she has received 2 Grammy nominations, an American Music Award, an appearance on VH1's Divas Live, and a made-for-TV movie with Diana Ross, Double Platinum. In 2000, Mattel released a Brandy doll. In 2001, she married music producer Robert Smith and had a daughter in 2002.
Whoopi Goldberg Comedian, Actress 11/13/1955 - ??? While trying to make it big, Whoopi Goldberg worked at a funeral parlor and as a bricklayer. In 1983, she created The Spook Show. This show caught the attention of Mike Nichols who produced a one-woman show for her on Broadway called Whoopi Goldberg. Her Broadway performance caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who cast her in The Color Purple where she received an Oscar nomination for best actress. This provided opportunities for many more roles such as Sister Act, Ghost, and Girl, Interrupted. She has received two Oscar nominations and won one, five Daytime Emmy nominations with two wins, three People’s Choice Awards, five American Comedy Award nominations with two wins, and a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. She has hosted the Oscars four times. She is a strong supporter of abortion rights and has publicly admitted to having six herself. As one of the producers of Broadway's Thoroughly Modern Millie, she garnered a Tony Award in 2001–2002. She produced and was the center square of Hollywood Squares from 1998–2002. And, she was the star and executive producer of the sitcom Whoopi (2003–2004).
Chuck Berry Guitarist, Singer, and Songwriter 10/18/1926 - ??? Chuck Berry is widely regarded as one of the leading pioneers of rock music, having blended the blues with country music and added a rhythm-and-blues beat, and he is thought by many to be the inventor of the rock music form. His distinctive playing of the electric guitar and his witty lyrics were a major inspiration to other rock musicians. A dynamic performer, he also became known for his signature crouching and gliding “duck walk.” Berry produced a string of hits in the late 1950s, including “Maybellene,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Johnny B. Goode.” In December 1959, he experienced legal problems when he was arrested for transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. He was convicted, fined $5,000, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in 1963, but his best years were behind him. In 1979, he plead guilty to income tax evasion. His creative output subsequently dwindled and he cut his last record in 1981. Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Will Smith Actor, Musician 9/25/1968 - ??? Will Smith got his start in show business as half of the Grammy Award-winning rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Will Smith made his acting debut in television's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1990. This led to an equally successful movie career, including leading roles in the blockbusters Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), Enemy of the State (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Ali (2001) and Hitch (2005). He released his first solo album Big Willie Style in 1997. He is married to actress Jada Pinkett-Smith.
Ray Charles Robinson Singer, Pianist, Composer 09/23/1930 – 06/10/2004 Blinded at age seven, Charles was raised in Florida and at 16 began singing in a local hillbilly group. Two years later he moved to Seattle, where he formed his own trio. He rose to fame in the 1950s singing rhythm-and-blues tunes in an exuberant yet sophisticated style to the accompaniment of his piano and band. He had his first national recorded hit, “I've Got a Woman,” in 1955. Combining sacred styles with the secular and rooted in gospel music and the blues, his work infused soul into a variety of genres, and it influenced, and was influenced by, jazz and rock music. Among Charles's greatest hits were “Whad'd I Say” (1959), “Georgia on My Mind” (1960), and his soulful rendition of “America the Beautiful” (1984). An outstanding live performer, he also recorded more than 60 albums and won 12 Grammy awards. He was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Jamie Foxx Actor, Comedian, Singer 12/13/1967 - ??? Jamie Foxx got his big break in 1991, when he received a role on the TV comedy, In Living Color. Because of his huge popularity on the show, the network gave him his own series, The Jamie Foxx Show, in 1996. Foxx continued to pursue a career on the big screen as well, but it wasn’t until his acclaimed performance in 1999’s Any Given Sunday that critics began to take him seriously as a dramatic actor. His next notable film role was in Michael Mann’s Ali, followed by two powerful performances in 2004: opposite Tom Cruise in the thriller Collateral and starring in the eagerly anticipated biopic Ray. Foxx earned both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe award for his authentic portrayal of Ray Charles. He is currently trying to break into the music industry.
Sources: http://www.oprah.com/about/press/about_press_bio.jhtml http://en.wikipedia.org/ http://www.factmonster.com/spot/bhmpeople6.html http://www.factmonster.com/spot/bhmpeople4.html http://www.factmonster.com/spot/bhmpeople5.html http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/vanasselt/black_history/entertainers.htm