Published on May 18th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

There have been numerous actors & actresses who have gotten their start in soap operas. Below, you will find my list of the Top 10 African American actors & actresses who started in soaps. The order of the list is based upon three factors: (1) The number of movie & television roles by the actors following their soap opera careers. (2) The number of accolades received from their movie and television roles, and (3) The actor’s longevity in the entertainment industry. And one final note, this list does not include any actor or actress who left their soap and then later returned. This list is solely for those who left and did not go back to their daytime jobs. So, without further ado, let the top 10 debate begin.


10. Shemar Moore


From 1994 to 2002, Shemar Moore played the role of Malcolm Winters on the soap opera, “The Young and the Restless.” After the “Young and the Restless,” Moore has appeared in movies such as Butter, Motives and The Brothers. He currently plays Derek Morgan in the TV series “Criminal minds.


9.Tichina Arnold




From 1987-1989, Tichina Arnold played the role of Zena Brown on the soap opera, “Ryan’s Hope.” After departing “Ryan’s Hope,” Arnold went on to play Pamela James on the Fox sitcom Martin, and Rochelle on Everybody Hates Chris.


8. Nia Long


From 1991 to 1994, Nia Long played the role of Katherine “Kat” Speakes on the soap opera, “A Guiding Light.” She has since gone on to have TV roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Third Watch. Her movie roles include,  Soul Food, Love Jones, The Best Man, Big Momma’s House, and Are We There Yet?.


7. Taye Diggs


In 1997, Taye Diggs played record producer Adrian “Sugar” Hill on the soap opera, “Guiding Light.” Diggs went on to have roles in The Wood, The Best Man, Brown Sugar, and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.


6. Vivica A. Fox


From 1989 to 1991, Vivica A. Fox played the role of Maya Reubens in the black soap opera, “Generations.” Fox also had roles in “Days of Our Lives,” and “The Young and the Restless.” Fox has since gone on to have roles in movies such as Independence Day, Set It Off, Soul Food, and Kill Bill.


5. Cicely Tyson


In 1966, Cicely Tyson played the role of Martha Frazier in the soap opera, “A Guiding Light.”  She went on to star in Sounder, King, Roots, and the critically acclaimed The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.


4. Ruby Dee


In 1967, Ruby Dee replaced Cicely Tyson as Nurse Martha Frazier in the long-running daytime soap “Guiding Light.” Dee went on to have roles in Do the Right Thing, American Gangster, Jungle Fever, and A Raisin in the Sun.


3. Billy Dee Williams


Billy Dee Williams is one of the few actors to appear on three soap operas. In 1966 he appeared as assistant D.A. on “Another World”, Jim Frazier on ‘Guiding Light’ and Toussaint DuBois on “General Hospital.” After the soaps, Williams went on to find stardom in numerous movies including Brians Song, Star Wars, Scott Joplin, and Lady Sings the Blues.


2. James Earl Jones

In 1966 James Earl Jones replaced Billy Dee Williams in the role of Jim Frazier on the soap opera, “A Guiding Light.” In the same year, Jones also played the role of Jerry Turner on the soap opera, “As the World Turns.” Jones extensive resume includes Claudine, The Great White Hope, A Piece of the Action, and Boomerang.


1. Morgan Freeman


In 1982, Morgan Freeman played the role of Dr. Roy Bingham on the soap opera, “Another World.” He played the role for two years before moving on to movie roles such as Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Almighty, and Glory.

Entertainment | Comments (14)

14 Responses to “Top 10 Actors Who Started in Soaps”

  1. Shack II Says:

    Man – With the exception of “Opossum Eyes,” I had NO idea so many major stars began their careers in soaps. Particularly Arnold,Long,Fox & Diggs. Didn’t know that about the veteran performers either!Since I’ve never watched any of these shows, guess that’s no surprise. Very informative and Great research

  2. Leon Says:

    Thanks Shack! I appreciate the positive feedback.

  3. Shack Says:

    Leon – Is there a “typo” under Cicely Tyson’s info? It says 1996….seems like it should be 66′ if she was playing opposite Billy D.W. and JEJ as Martha Frazier.

  4. Leon Says:

    Shack, you’re right! The year was 1966, not 1996.
    The change has been made. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  5. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Wow! I have just learned so much…I love it! I did not know this about any of them. Great Job!!!Go Leon, Go Leon, Go Leon…LOL.

  6. Leon Says:

    Lenora, I’m pleased to hear how much you liked the list.
    Thanks for the great feedback and the cheer! lol.

  7. Shonee Says:

    Very informative list Leon. I knew Shemar Moore starred in the soaps but not the others.

    However, to this kid born in 1970, Morgan Freeman will always be remembered as one of the characters on Electric Company, lol!

  8. Leon Says:

    Shonee, you’re not alone. A lot of people remember Morgan Freeman on Electric Company.

  9. Shack Says:

    I’m shocked no one has given me any flak for referring to Mr. Moore as “Opossum Eyes!”

    Ladies, are you all not defending “your baby?”

  10. Leon Says:

    Shack, no one knew who you were referring to as “Opossum Eyes.”

  11. Shack Says:

    Well no one asked! Was just trying to generate some discussion. Don’t you ladies think Shemar Moore has eyes like an opposum?

    My wife thinks he’s hot so I thought you ladies would lambaste my assertion!

    Nothing against him or his talent but his eyes are “not the norm!” Just an observation…

  12. Trisha Says:

    Very informative list Leon, I didn’t know so much talent started in the Soaps. Shack, Opossum eyes or not Shemar Moore’s body is to die for.

  13. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Funny Shack, I almost said something earlier but I thought you were talking about one of the older ones with the glasses. Shemar Moore is my relative. Just kidding, but my maiden name is Moore and Kenya Moore really is my cousin.

  14. Shack II Says:

    Ms. Lenora-Kenya Mo Be Yo cuzn…WAT HUH NUMBA IS?? LOL