Nina Simone - Her involvement in civil rights was spurred by an incident at her first classical piano recital at age 12. During the recital, her parents sat in seats in the front of the building to see her play, but were told to move to the back to make way for white guests. She wasn’t having that though. The young girl refused to perform until her parents were moved back to the front. Ahhh, to be young, gifted and black.
Grace Jones - Did you know that model Grace Jones was supposed to be an X-Men character? Not literally, but the character of Dazzler, a mutant able to convert sound vibrations into light and energy beams (what fun is that?) was initially supposed to be a disco singer. This character was to be made in the image of crazy (but cool) Grace Jones, with the bald fade and all by illustrator John Romita, Jr. However, those in charge wanted to promote model Bo Derek instead, and modeled the character after her. How dope would a singing superhero who looked like Grace be? “DO YOU THINK I’M SEXYYYYYY???”
Phylicia Rashad - After years of being Clair Huxtable, a role that garnered her Emmy nominations but no wins, Rashad took her talents to Broadway, where she finally won a much deserved award. In 2004, she was the first black woman to win a Tony Award for a dramatic lead on Broadway as loyal mother Lena Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Diahann Carroll - Before there were shows like Moesha, Girlfriends, and the likes (with black female leads), there was Julia. Diahann Carroll was the first black woman to be the star of an American television show in 1968 without having to play a maid or any other stereotypical role. Julia was a pretty big deal too, winning her a Golden Globe for best female TV star in 1969.
Maya Angelou - As a friend and coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when Dr. King was killed on her birthday (April 4, 1968), she said she found herself unable to celebrate her birthday from then on. As a hero to her, she was very impacted by his death. Therefore, on her birthday, for many years, she instead decided to send flowers to Coretta Scott King every year until her death in 2006.
Condoleezza Rice - If you didn’t know, Condoleezza Rice is pretty awesome. Not only is she a talented and accomplished pianist who backed everyone from Aretha Franklin to Yo-Yo Ma, but on top of that, Rice is an exceptionally intelligent woman as well. She entered college at the age of 15, getting her Bachelor’s cum laude from the University of Denver at the age of 19. And after that success, she went on to be an assistant professor at Stanford by age 26. Yikes! I guess I should step my game up…
Octavia Butler - Science fiction writer Octavia Butler, author of the brilliant book Kindred, the Patternist series (which brought usWild Seed), and many other notable works was diagnosed as being dyslexic as a child. Despite all that, she tried her hand at writing as a young girl, and eventually solidified her love for science fiction as a pre-teen. What a blessing for her to be able to create such amazing works after all that, and despite her alleged disorder, she won numerous awards for her work.
Barbara Jordan - Known as the first black woman to serve on the Texas Senate, and later for being the first black woman from the “Deep South” to serve on the House of Representatives, Barbara Jordan was also a national champion debater. At Texas Southern University, which was all black at the time, in 1954, with Barbara Jordan at the helm, debate team defeated folks at Yale and even tied Harvard University in the battle of words–the latter was said to be one of her proudest moments in college. She later graduated magna cum laude from TSU.
Chaka Khan - Were you a fan of Reading Rainbow back in the day? I bet you 50 cents (that’s all I’ve got) that you probably didn’t know Chaka Khan was one of the lucky performers to sing the popular theme song to the show: “Butterfly in the skyyyyyyyy, I can go twice as hiiiiiiiiiiigh!” Though she wasn’t the first to sing the track, it’s pretty safe to say that she did it the funkiest! Love her, love the show, and I loved her rendition of the song. Chaka love the kids.