7 Women of Color that deserve to have posters on your wall like the one you’ve got up there of Marilyn or Audrey. (Don’t worry, we’re guilty of it too.)
1. Dorothy Dandrige
Dorothy Dandrige was the first African-American woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress and she probably could have won had she been acting in a different time. Nonetheless, her work and roles opened the door for all of your favorite Black actresses today. She is best known for her leading role in Carmen Jones (1954). She once remarked that “America was not geared to make me a Liz Taylor, a Monroe, or a Gardner.” Well, America may not have appreciated the star that was Dorothy Dandrige, but we sure do.
2. Lena Horne
Lena Horne was an actress, dancer, singer, “pin-up”, and civil rights activist (talk about a “triple-threat.”) She was one of the most popular performers of her time and known for her roles in Stormy Weather and The Wiz. She refused to play roles that stereotyped African-American women. One of our favorite Lena moments is when she was played homage to on A Different World and reminded us of where we’ve come from while also spurring us to continue moving forward.
3. Diahann Caroll
Diahann Carroll was the first Black woman to star in her own TV series, Julia, for which she won a Golden Globe in 1968 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1969. She acted alongside Dorothy Dandrige in Carmen Jones, won a third Emmy for her role as the mother of Whitley Gilbert on A Different World, and has made recurring guest appearances on Grey’s Anatomy. Diahann Carroll is the epitome of class and grace – we can only hope to be on her level someday.
4. Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday is one of the most amazing and influential jazz singers ever. In 2000, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The video above is of Holiday singing “Strange Fruit” (1939) a song about the lynching of African-Americans in the South. It was one of the first anti-lynching songs and the controversy around it helped make it a hit. Also known as Lady Day, Billie Holiday’s voice will live on forever.
5. Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was a singer and dancer that became very popular in France in the 1920s. She spent a lot of her life fighting against racism and worked for the Red Cross during the occupation of France in WWII. Before 1973 when she performed at Carnegie Hall and was greeted with a standing ovation, her efforts at a career in the US were marked with racism and rejection. Because of her work on Civil Rights, the NAACP eventually designated May 20th “Josephine Baker Day.” Baker’s life is an inspiration and we can only hope to be as flawless as she was – even in a banana dress- one day.
6. Eartha Kitt
Eartha Kitt is best known for her rendition of “Santa Baby” (1953) and her role as Catwoman on the TV series Batman in the late 1960s. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her title role in Anna Lucasta. Her criticism of the Vietnam War in 1968 led to a decrease in her popularity, but she enjoyed a career revival upon her return to the stage in the 1978 Broadway show Timbuktu! She had a strong work ethic into her 70s- serving as an inspiration to us all.
7. Ruby Dee
Ruby Dee was an actress, playwright, screenwriter, activist, poet, and journalist, best known for her role in the film A Raisin in the Sun (1961). She is also well known for her civic work with her husband Ossie Davis. Her career spans generations from the 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story, to 1961’s A Raisin in the Sun and 1988’s Do The Right Thing. She received her first Oscar nomination in 2008 for her role in American Gangster. She continued to work into her 90s until passing away from natural causes in 2014. Ruby Dee once remarked, “The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within: strength, courage, dignity.” We couldn’t agree more.
If you don’t know who these women are look them up and allow their stories to inspire, teach, and challenge you. Your black is beautiful – affirm it by honoring your foremothers.