top of page

9 Prominent Black Entertainers in American History

By Jeanelle Jacobs

African Americans have made considerable contributions to history, especially in entertainment. Here is a list of nine entertainers that everyone should recognize as entertainment legends.

1. Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970) Dubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the “most gifted instrumentalist of all time,” Jimi Hendrix was an American rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. His mainstream career only lasted four years. However, he is regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in history causing musicians such as Eric Clapton, Prince and John Mayer to perform his music. 2. Eartha Kitt (1927-2008) Conceived from rape on a cotton plantation, Eartha Kitt was an American actress, singer, dancer, comedian, activist, author, and songwriter, who spoke five languages and sang in seven. She was best known for her unique voice in the1953 recording of the popular Christmas song “Santa Baby” and was the first black Catwoman in the “Batman” (1976) television series.

3. Redd Foxx (1922-1991) John Elroy Sanford was better known by his stage name Redd Fox and was a stand-up comedian and actor widely known for his role in Sanford and Son. Foxx jumpstarted his career as a night club comedian which eventually led to acting. Foxx died on set filming “The Royal Family” through a heart attack. 4. Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Dubbed the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer. He is easily regarded as one of the greatest entertainers in history. He debuted alongside his brothers in 1964 as a member of the Jackson 5. He began his solo career in 1971 and went on to earn 13 Grammy Awards. 5. Cree Summer (1969-) Best known for her animation voice-overs and role as Freddie on the NBC sitcom “A Different World,” Cree Summer is an American actress, singer, and comedian. Summer began her career in 1983 and her roles include Susie Carmichael in Rugrats and “All Grown Up!,” Cleo the Poodle in “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” and Princess Kida in “Atlantis: The Last Empire.”

6. Angela Bassett (1958-) Angela Bassett is an award-winning actress best known for her biographical film roles, such as Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” Kathrine Jackson in “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” Betty Shabazz in “Malcolm X” among others.  Today she stars in and produces the first responder drama series “9-1-1" as sergeant Athena Grant. 7. Ava DuVernay (1972-) American filmmaker and film distributor, Ava DuVernay, is the first woman of color to win an award at the Sundance Film Festival. She is the first black female director to be nominated for different film awards and is responsible for various tear-jerking productions, like, “When They See Us,” “13th” “Selma,” and “A Wrinkle In Time.” DuVernay has been nominated for Academy Awards in the best picture and best documentary feature category.

Picture of Ava DuVernay by Art Streiber

8. Kendrick Lamar (1987-) Proven to be one of the most influential rappers of his generation, Kendrick Lamar, is also a songwriter and record producer who collaborated with other prominent performers in the music industry such as Beyoncé, Snoop Dogg, and The Game. Holding a plethora of accolades, including Grammy Awards and civic honors in the state of California, Lamar’s 2017 album, “DAMN,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Music, making him the first non-jazz or classical artist to attain this award.

Kendrick Lamar and his six VMA awards

9. Denzel Washington (1954-)

Regarded as one the greatest actors of his generation, Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Washington started his career in 1975 and starred in films such as “Remember the Titans,” “American Gangster,” “Malcolm X,” and “Cry Freedom.”

Denzel Washington at the Oscars

The black legacy in America is groundbreaking and lends itself to the entertainment industry. As we close out black history month, remember these legends who have made considerable contributions to the black community.