Most Beautiful Classic Black Actresses

by msladysoul | created - 04 May 2011 | updated - 03 Feb 2014 | Public

This is a list of classic black actresses from the Golden Era of Hollywood and Harlem from the 1920's to the 1950's. Some of these actresses are well-known, some aren't, but their worth knowing, and its worth checking out their films. I will get profile photos added in the meanwhile. I want to educate people that there were other black actresses of the classic era besides our beloved Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge.

1. 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, ...

2. Evelyn Preer

Actress | Within Our Gates

Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, pioneering black actress Evelyn Preer was educated in Chicago, where she and her mother moved after the death of her father. She entered show business vis vaudeville and the "chitlin' circuit" of minstrel shows that served the country's strictly segregated black ...

3. Kathleen Noisette

Actress | A Daughter of the Congo

Catherine Noisette was one of Oscar Micheaux's beautiful and most glamorous actress. She was one of Oscar Micheaux's leading ladies in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Catherine starred in "Wages of Sin," "The Daughter of Congo," and "The Exile." She usually played the femme fatale, the vamp, the ...

4. Fredi Washington

Actress | Imitation of Life

Fredi Washington was a pioneering African-American actress whose fair skin and green eyes often were impediments to her showing her extraordinary acting skills. Her talent was often overlooked because of people's obsession with her race and color. In the few films in which she acted her enormous ...

5. Josephine Baker

Actress | Zouzou

Josephine Baker was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, MO, in 1906 to Carrie McDonald, a laundress, and Eddie Carson, a musician. Her early life hinted at her future career. She first danced for the public on the streets of St. Louis for nickels and dimes. Later she became a chorus girl on...

6. Mildred Washington

Actress | Torch Singer

The name Mildred Washington isn't remembered but she appeared in under 15 films in small parts but her presence, finesse, beauty and vivacious personality wasn't small. Mildred was a beautiful, curvaceous, popular Black actress and dancer in the 1920s and 1930s. She started on the stage appearing ...

7. Daisy Bufford

Actress | Deep South

Daisy Bufford was born on April 20, 1913 in Franklin, Louisiana, USA as Daisy King. She was an actress, known for Deep South (1930), Love on Toast (1937) and Forgotten Faces (1936). She died on December 18, 1987 in Contra Costa County, California, USA.

8. Etta Moten

Actress | Flying Down to Rio

In addition to her vocal dubbing and on-screen film credits, Etta Moten played the role of Bess in the 1943 revival of "Porgy and Bess" at the personal request of Ira Gershwin (not George, who had died in 1937). Etta and husband Claude Barnett, founder of the Negro Associated Press, served as US ...

9. Theresa Harris

Actress | Baby Face

Theresa Harris appeared with more stars of the Golden Era of Hollywood than anyone else. She sang, she danced, she appeared in movies and TV. She graced the screen with her magnetic presence and most times stole scenes from the top stars of the day every chance she got and made a lot of dull films ...

10. Mildred Boyd

Actress | The Red Dragon

Gorgeous and reserved actress and dancer Mildred Boyd had a three decade movie career, starting in the 1920s in silents to the 1950s she graced the screen with her modest but illuminating, youthful presence whether in bit parts or dancing parts. Mildred Boyd is another unsung black performer and ...

11. Ethel Moses

Actress | Birthright

In the 1920s and 1930s Ethel Moses was one of the most popular Harlem performer. Then she became the most popular, most recognizable, most beloved actress of Black cinema in the late 1930s and even to this day. Ethel Moses was what you might call a Harlem star. She was apart of the Golden Era of ...

12. Dorothy Van Engle

Actress | Swing!

Dorothy Van Engle was Oscar Micheaux's most beautiful and talented actress, and he used her in most of his important films: Harlem After Midnight (1934), Murder in Harlem (1935), God's Step Children (1938) and Swing! (1938). She was a favorite of black audiences and her beauty and natural, ...

13. Louise Ritchie

Cabin in the Sky

Louise Ritchie is an actress, known for Cabin in the Sky (1943), The Falcon Takes Over (1942) and Turnabout (1940).

14. Edna Mae Harris

Actress | Lying Lips

Edna Mae Harris was one of the best actresses of the Black race in the 1930s and 1940s. She starred in some of the best all black cast independently produced movies in the 1930s and 1940s. An attractive woman who had a soulful voice, personality, sex appeal, she was a triple threat to show business...

15. Jeni Le Gon

Actress | Double Deal

Born in 1916 in Chicago, Jeni Le Gon trained at Mary Bruce's School of Dancing and performed as a chorus girl, later in vaudeville, from age 16. In Hollywood she appeared in her debut film, Hooray for Love (1935), as dancing partner of the great Bill Robinson. Though primarily a dancer, Jeni sang ...

16. Vivian Dandridge

Actress | The Big Broadcast of 1936

Vivian Dandridge was born on April 22, 1921 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA as Vivian Alferetta Dandridge. She was an actress, known for The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935), Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat (1941) and Brown Sugar (1986). She was married to Gustav Friedrich, Ralph Bledsoe, Jack Montgomery and ...

17. Louise Franklin

Actress | Strange Journey

Louise Franklin was a gorgeous, winsome lady full of sex appeal and charm who graced the movie screen and stages from the 1930s to the 1950s. She was a popular California chorus girl, dancer, and actress who appeared in popular nightclubs, soundies, race films, and black musical numbers featured in...

18. Marguerite Whitten

Actress | King of the Zombies

Gorgeous, versatile Marguerite Whitten (aka Margaret Whitten) was a wonderful, natural actress of "the golden era" of Hollywood and of black cinema. She had a sweet, likable presence on screen and her performances were always enjoyable. Margaret was a fine actress, never having to overact to ...

19. Francine Everett

Actress | Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.

Francine Everett, who was called the most beautiful woman in Harlem and one of the most beautiful actresses to appear on screen. She became a familiar face with black audiences through the race films, now known as Black Cinema. She was one of the few who became a movie star through Black Cinema and...

20. Florence O'Brien

Actress | Double Deal

Sexy comedienne Florence O'Brien stole many a scenes with her sassy, brassy comedy, much in the same way as Una Merkel, Patsy Kelly and Clara Bow. Her comedic talent was seen on screen in such independent black films as Double Deal (1939), Lady Luck (1942), While Thousands Cheer (1940), Mr. ...

21. 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 ...

22. Suzette Harbin

Actress | Look-Out Sister

Suzette won a beauty contest which gained the way for a movie career. Suzette started out appearing in many Hollywood films that had African American musical numbers, she either singed, danced, or just looked pretty. She also appeared in the iconic films, "Cabin In The Sky," (where she had a ...

23. Millie Monroe

Actress | Up Jumped the Devil

Gorgeous, vivacious, glamour girl Millie Monroe was another black beauty that contributed her talent and beauty to films but didn't get the fair chance she so deserved in films. Millie Monroe was a California based dancer, singer, and actress who appeared in many Hollywood and race films in the ...

24. Doris Ake

Actress | Up Jumped the Devil

Doris Ake was born on August 31, 1916 in Los Angeles, California, USA. She was an actress, known for Up Jumped the Devil (1941), I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Cabin in the Sky (1943). She died on October 5, 1985 in Los Angeles.

25. Avanelle Harris

Actress | Up Jumped the Devil

Avanelle Harris was born on February 18, 1917 in Wisconsin, USA. She was an actress, known for Up Jumped the Devil (1941) and Lady Luck (1942). She died on February 5, 2014 in Los Angeles, California, USA.

26. Maggie Hathaway

Actress | Gang Smashers

Maggie Mae Hathaway was quite a lady, who had many talents, and in her every conquest she left a memorable mark. Maggie isn't as well-known as Lena Horne or Dorothy Dandridge, and she's been overlooked by movie historians and history books, but she definitely did her part by contributing her talent...

27. Josephine Edwards

Actress | One Dark Night

Gorgeous Josephine Edwards was the singing and acting sensation in the entertaining race film/Black Cinema movie, "Mystery In Swing." She gave a great performance as one of the scorned lovers of a playboy trumpet player, she witnesses the murder of her lover, and before she condemn the murderer, ...

28. Sybil Lewis

Actress | Broken Strings

Attractive Sybil Lewis was one of the best, most convincing actresses of Black Cinema. Her sophisticated, sometimes snooty presence was one of many but her more popular approach to acting always worked whether in drama, straight, romance or comedy roles and always remained likable. Sybil's acting ...

29. Tommie Moore

Actress | Mystery in Swing

Pretty Tomiwitta Moore, who shortened her name to Tommie Moore was the bright, sweet, girl next door ingénue of Black Cinema. She was small in size but had a big presence on screen. To look at her in her early films, Tommie, looked like a young teenage girl but she was really an adult woman in her ...

30. Izinetta Wilcox

Actress | Moon Over Harlem

Izenetta Tears was born in Austin, Texas, the daughter of a funeral director and a schoolteacher; she was named for her paternal grandmother. A 1936 graduate of Wiley College, she pursued further study in New York City at Juilliard, and also briefly taught school in Austin before marrying Eddie ...

31. Ida James

Actress | Hi De Ho

Delicate beauty Ida James was a sweet-honey voiced singer who's singing could rival the birds, she gained popularity in the 1940s for her beauty, high, bird-like voice, grace, and glamour. She was the definition of daintiness and winsomeness. In everything she did, she always had charm and grace in...

32. Emily Santos

Actress | Murder on Lenox Avenue

Emily Santos was one of the most beautiful showgirls, chorus girls, and models in the late 1930s and 1940s during the Golden Era of Harlem. She was a tall beauty who had poise, class, and allure that was so noticeable even in extra parts in the Black Cinema films she appeared in. Her beauty always ...

33. Kathleen Hartsfield

I Walked with a Zombie

In the 1940's strikingly beautiful Kathleen Hartsfield was a model and movie dancer in "Cabin In The Sky," "I Walked With A Zombie," "Stormy Weather," and "Broadway Rhythm." She appeared as a dancer in two of Lena Horne's biggest movies, "Cabin In The Sky" and "Stormy Weather," both films gave many...

34. Juliette Ball

To Have and Have Not

Tall, statuesque beauty Juliette Ball was one of the many gorgeous starlets of the 1930's and 1940's who had dreams of movie stardom. Juliette Ball worked in films as a dancer in "Cabin In The Sky," "Stormy Weather," and "Broadway Rhythm." She appeared as a dancer and extra in a few Lena Horne ...

35. Sheila Guyse

Actress | Sepia Cinderella

Beautiful multi-talented Sheila Guyse was a popular, well-loved figure on the stage and screen of the Dorothy Dandridge era. Some critics even felt she was a better actress than Dandridge, some said if Sheila ever decided to go to Hollywood, she would give her a run for her money. She appeared in ...

36. Artie Young

Actress | Life Goes On

Statesque beauty Artie Young was one of the premier dancers of her day. In the late 1930's to the 1950's, no show was complete without Artie's beauty and divine dancing.

Artie was a popular nightclub and stage dancer in California. She was a dancer in Duke Ellington's Jump For Joy, where she ...

37. 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 ...

38. 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 ...

39. Hilda Simms

Actress | The Joe Louis Story

Hilda Simms was born Hilda Moses in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of nine children. Prior to becoming an actress, Hilda planned to enter the teaching profession. Hilda and enrolled at the University of Minnesota and engaged in her studies until lack of funds forced her abandon them. She relocated to ...

40. Pearl Bailey

Soundtrack | The Fox and the Hound

Her father Joseph was a minister and her mother was named Ella Mae. Her birth name was Pearly Mae but her parents anticipated she would be a boy and when a girl was born she was nicknamed "Dickie". Her brother was entertainer Bill Bailey (1912-1978). She spent her early life in Washington DC where ...

41. Olga James

Actress | Carmen Jones

Olga James was born on February 16, 1929. She is an actress, known for Carmen Jones (1954), The Bill Cosby Show (1969) and Sealab 2020 (1972).

42. Carolle Drake

Actress | Band of Angels

Carolle Drake was born on August 29, 1923 in Georgia, USA. She is an actress, known for Band of Angels (1957). She was previously married to Capt. Rev. Matthew C. Faulkner and Billy Eckstine.

43. Ellen Holly

Actress | In the Heat of the Night

Ellen Holly was a beautiful, talented expressive Black actress. She is best known for her part as Carla in "One Life to Live" which she played for over 20 years but she proved she was more then a soap opera actress. On the Broadway stage, Holly showed her versatile acting talent in the various ...

44. Dorothea Durham

Cabin in the Sky

Strikingly beautiful Dorothea Durham was a popular dancer in the 1930's and 1940's, who also appeared in Hollywood films. Dorothea's beauty and graceful, sensual dancing style was often written about in African American newspapers of the time. She headlined at popular clubs such as Sebastian's ...

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