Top 50 Best Black Actresses of All Time

by cmart514 | created - 03 Jan 2012 | updated - 04 Jun 2013 | Public

This is the top 50 Black Actresses of All Time.

1. Whoopi Goldberg

Actress | Ghost

Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in the Chelsea section of Manhattan on November 13, 1955. Her mother, Emma (Harris), was a teacher and a nurse, and her father, Robert James Johnson, Jr., was a clergyman. Whoopi's recent ancestors were from Georgia, Florida, and Virginia. She worked in...

Notable Screen Performances:

-Sarafina -Ghost (Academy-Award Winning Performance) -Corina, Corina -Sister Act -The Color Purple

2. Angela Bassett

Actress | Strange Days

Captivating, gifted, and sensational, Angela Bassett's presence has been felt in theaters, stages, and television screens throughout the world. Angela Evelyn Bassett was born on August 16, 1958 in New York City, to Betty Jane (Gilbert), a social worker, and Daniel Benjamin Bassett, a preacher's son...

Notable Film Performances:

-Waiting to Exhale -What's Love Got to Do With It -The Score -How Stella Got Her Groove Back -Boyz In the Hood

3. Cicely Tyson

Actress | The Help

Cicely Tyson was born in Harlem, New York City, where she was raised by her devoutly religious parents, from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her mother, Theodosia, was a domestic, and her father, William Tyson, was a carpenter and painter. She was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine and...

Notable Film Performances:

-Sounder -The Help

4. Ruby Dee

Actress | American Gangster

Ruby Dee was born on October 27, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA as Ruby Ann Wallace. She was an actress, known for American Gangster (2007), Do the Right Thing (1989) and A Raisin in the Sun (1961). She was married to Ossie Davis and Frankie Dee Brown. She died on June 11, 2014 in New Rochelle, New ...

5. Alfre Woodard

Actress | Star Trek: First Contact

Alfre Woodard was born on November 8, 1952 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the youngest of three children of Constance, a homemaker, and Marion H. Woodard, an interior designer. She was named by her godmother, who claimed she saw a vision of Alfre's name written out in gold letters. A former high school ...

Notable Film Performances:

-Passion Fish -Crooklyn -Down In the Delta -Love & Basketball

6. Diahann Carroll

Actress | Claudine

One of television's premier African-American series stars, elegant actress, singer and recording artist Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diann (or Diahann) Johnson on July 17, 1935, in the Bronx, New York. The first child of John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel Faulk Johnson, music was an ...

Notable Film Performances:

-Claudine -Eve's Bayou -Carmen Jones

7. Dorothy Dandridge

Actress | Carmen Jones

Dorothy Jean Dandridge was born on November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Ruby Dandridge (née Ruby Jean Butler), an entertainer, and Cyril H. Dandridge, a cabinet maker and minister. Under the prodding of her mother, Dorothy and her sister Vivian Dandridge began performing publicly, usually in ...

8. Halle Berry

Actress | Catwoman

Halle Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father, Jerome Jesse Berry, was African-American, and worked as a hospital attendant. Her mother, Judith Ann (Hawkins), who is Caucasian, has English and German ancestry, and is a retired psychiatric nurse. Halle has an older sister, Heidi Berry. Halle ...

Notable Film Performances:

-Losing Isaiah -Boomerang -Monster's Ball -Frankie & Alice -Things We Lost in the Fire

9. Ethel Waters

Actress | Cabin in the Sky

The child of a teenage rape victim, Ethel Waters grew up in the slums of Philadelphia and neighboring cities, seldom living anywhere for more than a few weeks at a time. "No one raised me, " she recollected, "I just ran wild." She excelled not only at looking after herself, but also at singing and ...

10. Viola Davis

Actress | Fences

Actress Viola Davis was born on her grandmother's farm, at the then-Singleton Plantation in St. Matthews, South Carolina. When she was two months old her family moved to Central Falls, Rhode Island, where her father, Dan Davis, worked as a horse groomer and trainer. Her mother, Mary Alice (Logan), ...

Notable Film Roles:

-The Help -Antwone Fisher -Doubt

11. Lonette McKee

Actress | Honey

Lonette McKee's career began in the music industry in hometown Detroit, Michigan as a child prodigy, where she began playing keyboards composing music and lyrics, singing and performing professionally at a young age. At fourteen she recorded her first record, "Stop Don't Worry 'Bout It" which ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Sparkle -Jungle Fever

12. Pam Grier

Actress | Jackie Brown

Pam Grier was born in Winston-Salem, NC, one of four children of Gwendolyn Sylvia (Samuels), a nurse, and Clarence Ransom Grier Jr., an Air Force mechanic. Pam has been a major African-American star from the early 1970s. Her career started in 1971, when Roger Corman of New World Pictures launched ...

13. Beah Richards

Actress | Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Beah Richards left her native Vicksburg, Mississippi, for New York City in 1950. She would not acquire a significant role on stage until 1955, when she appeared in the off-Broadway show "Take A Giant Step" convincingly portraying an 84-year-old grandmother without using theatrical makeup. In 1962 ...

14. Kimberly Elise

Actress | Diary of a Mad Black Woman

Kimberly Elise was born on April 17, 1967 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA as Kimberly Elise Trammel. She is an actress, known for Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005), The Manchurian Candidate (2004) and John Q (2002). She was previously married to Maurice Oldham.

Notable Film Performances:

-Woman Thou Art Loosed -Set It Off -For Colored Girls -Diary of a Mad Black Woman -The Manchurian Candidate

15. Juanita Moore

Actress | Imitation of Life

African American actress Juanita Moore entered films in the early 1950s, a time in which few black people were given an opportunity to act in major studio films. Fortunately Moore's roles began improving as Hollywood developed a social consciousness toward the end of the decade. In 1959 she ...

16. Lynn Whitfield

Actress | Eve's Bayou

With roots that lead back to Louisiana southern aristocracy, lovely leading lady Lynn Whitfield was born in 1953, the eldest of four children and a third-generation BFA graduate from Howard University. Her dentist father was instrumental in developing Lynn's initial interest in acting as he was a ...

17. Taraji P. Henson

Actress | The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Taraji P. Henson was born on September 11, 1970 in Washington, District of Columbia, USA as Taraji Penda Henson. She is an actress and producer, known for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Hidden Figures (2016) and Hustle & Flow (2005).

Notable Film Roles:

-Baby Boy -Talk to Me -The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -Hustle & Flow

18. Queen Latifah

Actress | Chicago

Often considered hip-hop's first lady (though some would attribute that to Roxanne Shanté), the woman behind the moniker Queen Latifah was born Dana Elaine Owens on March 18, 1970, in East Orange, New Jersey. She is the daughter of Rita (Bray), a teacher, and Lancelot Owens, Sr. She came from a ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Set It Off -The Secret Life of Bees -Chicago -Bringing Down the House -Hairspray

19. Sophie Okonedo

Actress | Hotel Rwanda

Sophie Okonedo was born on August 11, 1968 in London, England. She is an actress, known for Hotel Rwanda (2004), After Earth (2013) and Dirty Pretty Things (2002).

20. Mary Alice

Actress | The Matrix Revolutions

Mary Alice was born on December 3, 1941 in Indianola, Mississippi, USA as Mary Alice Smith. She is an actress, known for The Matrix Revolutions (2003), Awakenings (1990) and I'll Fly Away (1991).

21. Lena Horne

Soundtrack | Cabin in the Sky

Lena Calhoun Horne was born June 30, 1917, in Brooklyn, New York. In her biography she stated that on the day she was born, her father was in the midst of a card game trying to get money to pay the hospital costs. Her parents divorced while she was still a toddler. Her mother left later in order to...

22. Butterfly McQueen

Actress | Gone with the Wind

Thelma McQueen attended public school in Augusta, Georgia and graduated from high school in Long Island, New York. She studied dance with Katherine Dunham, Geoffrey Holder, and Janet Collins. She danced with the Venezuela Jones Negro Youth Group. The "Butterfly" stage name, which does describe her ...

23. Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Actress | Secrets & Lies

Marianne Jean-Baptiste was born on April 26, 1967 in London, England as Marianne Raigipcien Jean-Baptiste. She is an actress and director, known for Secrets & Lies (1996), Spy Game (2001) and Without a Trace (2002). She has been married to Evan Williams since 1997. They have two children.

24. Vanessa Williams

Actress | Ugly Betty

Vanessa Lynn Williams was born in Millwood, New York, to Helen L. (Tinch) and Milton Augustine Williams, Jr., both music teachers. Vanessa and her brother grew up in suburban New York in comfortable surroundings. Vanessa sang and danced in school productions and signed her high school yearbook with...

25. S. Epatha Merkerson

Actress | Law & Order

A native of Michigan, S. Epatha Merkerson earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Wayne State University. In 1978, she moved to New York City to apply her craft on stage. Although best known since 1993 as the smart and shrewd Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the long-running TV crime drama Law &...

26. Regina King

Actress | Ray

Regina King was born in Los Angeles, California, to Gloria, a special education teacher, and Thomas King, an electrician. She began her career in the television show 227 (1985), followed by a role in Boyz n the Hood (1991). She began to be recognized by a mainstream audience after her role as Cuba ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Poetic Justice -Ray -Down to Earth

27. Abbey Lincoln

Actress | Nothing But a Man

Abbey Lincoln was born on August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, USA as Anna Marie Wooldridge. She was an actress, known for Nothing But a Man (1964), For Love of Ivy (1968) and Mission: Impossible (1966). She was married to Max Roach. She died on August 14, 2010 in Manhattan, New York City, New York...

28. Debbi Morgan

Actress | Eve's Bayou

Debbi Morgan was born September 20, 1956 in Dunn, North Carolina, to Lora and George Morgan, Jr., she moved to New York City when she was three months old. Her most memorable role was on the television series All My Children (1970). She played Angie Baxter. Her performance in the series earned her ...

29. CCH Pounder

Actress | The Shield

CCH Pounder (the CCH standing for Carol Christine Hilaria, her birth name). As can be said of other similarly styled actresses such as Alfre Woodard and Cicely Tyson, most of Pounder's characters are enriched with these same positive attributes and it is a testament to this actress' abilities that ...

30. Claudia McNeil

Actress | A Raisin in the Sun

Claudia McNeil was born on August 13, 1917 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She was an actress, known for A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Black Girl (1972) and The DuPont Show of the Month (1957). She died on November 25, 1993 in Englewood, New Jersey, USA.

31. Diana Ross

Actress | Lady Sings the Blues

Best known as the the lead singer of the popular 1960s singing group The Supremes, Diana Ernestine Earle Ross was born on March 26, 1944, in Detroit, Michigan, the second of six children of African-American parents Ernestine Lillian (Moten), a schoolteacher, and Fred Earl Ross, who served in the ...

32. Kerry Washington

Actress | Scandal

Kerry Washington was born on January 31, 1977 in The Bronx, New York City, New York, USA as Kerry Marisa Washington. She is an actress and producer, known for Scandal (2012), Django Unchained (2012) and Save the Last Dance (2001). She has been married to Nnamdi Asomugha since June 24, 2013. They ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Ray -The Dead Girl -The Last King of Scotland -For Colored Girls -Night Catches Us

33. Jennifer Hudson

Soundtrack | Dreamgirls

Jennifer Hudson is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Academy Award-winning actress and best-selling author. Bright and booming talent Hudson is a perfect example of how NOT winning the title of American Idol (2002) can actually be a boon to your career and not necessarily the end of a ...

Notable Film Roles:

-The Secret Life of Bees -Dreamgirls

34. Jurnee Smollett-Bell

Actress | Underground

Jurnee Smollett-Bell was born on October 1, 1986 in New York City, New York, USA as Jurnee Diana Smollett. She is an actress, known for her role as "Jess Merriweather" on the Emmy Award-winning TV series, Friday Night Lights (2006). She is also known for her roles in The Great Debaters (2007), ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Eve's Bayou -The Great Debaters

35. Oprah Winfrey

Producer | The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah Winfrey was born Orpah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, a former maid, and Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner, barber, and city councilman.

While Winfrey has been cited as the richest African American of the 20th century, she does not come from a rich, or even middle class, ...

36. Mo'Nique

Actress | Precious

Monique received a standing ovation when she stepped on stage for the first time in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, giving her confidence to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian. After numerous stand-up performances, she took a leap forward with one of the starring roles in The Parkers (1999)...

37. Irma P. Hall

Actress | The Ladykillers

Irma P. Hall was born on June 3, 1935 in Beaumont, Texas, USA as Irma Dolores Player Hall. She is an actress and producer, known for The Ladykillers (2004), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) and Soul Food (1997).

38. Thandie Newton

Actress | Crash

Thandie Newton was born in London. She is the daughter of a Zimbabwean mother, Nyasha, a health-care worker from the Shona tribe, and Nick Newton, a British father who worked as a lab technician. She lived in Zambia until political unrest caused her family to move back to the UK. She then lived in ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Beloved -Crash -The Pursuit of Happyness -For Colored Girls

39. Nicole Beharie

Actress | Shame

Nicole Beharie is an American actress.

Her critically acclaimed film debut was in the film American Violet (2008) alongside Alfre Woodard, Tim Blake Nelson and Will Patton. Beharie also played Ernie Davis' girlfriend in the movie The Express (2008). Her upcoming projects include My Last Day Without ...

40. Zoe Saldana

Actress | Avatar

Zoe Saldana was born on June 19, 1978 in Passaic, New Jersey, to Asalia Nazario and Aridio Saldaña. Her father was Dominican and her mother is Puerto Rican. She was raised in Queens, New York. When she was 10 years old, she and her family moved to the Dominican Republic, where they would live for ...

Notable Film Roles:

-Star Trek -Guess Who -Columbiana -Avatar

41. Tamara Dobson

Actress | Cleopatra Jones

Tamara Dobson was born on May 14, 1947 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA as Tamara Janice Dobson. She is known for her work on Cleopatra Jones (1973), Chained Heat (1983) and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975). She died on October 2, 2006 in Baltimore.

42. Nia Long

Actress | Big Momma's House

Stunning pop culture icon, Hollywood leading lady and three-time NAACP award winner Nia Long returns to the big screen this fall in the highly anticipated Universal Pictures sequel The best man holiday (in theaters November 15th) where she reunites with original castmates Taye Diggs ("Private ...

43. Nina Mae McKinney

Actress | Hallelujah

Nina Mae McKinney is known as the seductress "Chick" from Hallelujah (1929), the first all-black, all-sound musical. Even though she was acknowledged as a great actress, singer and dancer by audiences in the U.S. and Europe, today she is mostly forgotten. She certainly had the looks, enthusiasm, ...

44. Diana Sands

Actress | The Landlord

Diana Sands was born on August 22, 1934 in New York City, New York, USA as Diana Patricia Sands. She was an actress, known for The Landlord (1970), East Side/West Side (1963) and A Raisin in the Sun (1961). She was married to Lucien Happersberger. She died on September 21, 1973 in New York City.

45. Sanaa Lathan

Actress | AVP: Alien vs. Predator

Sanaa Lathan, pronounced Sa-NAA, "like Sinatra without the tra", was born on September 19, 1971, in New York, as her actress mother Eleanor McCoy performed on Broadway with the likes of Eartha Kitt, and her director father Stan Lathan worked behind the scenes in television for PBS. She was exposed ...

46. Octavia Spencer

Actress | Hidden Figures

Spencer is a native of Montgomery, Alabama, which she claims is the proverbial buckle of the Bible belt. She's the sixth of seven siblings and holds a BS in Liberal Arts from Auburn University. A "closet" lover of acting, this practical Alabamian knew that she'd someday work in the film industry, ...