Published on February 4th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

After some extensive research, including going all the way back to the 1930’s, I discovered that there were several talented black actresses who paved the way for today’s actresses. So I decided to make a top ten list featuring the great actresses of the past with the great actresses of today.  Many of the actresses listed have won various awards including Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Tony Awards and NAACP Image Awards. Some have established their careers in television, some in film, some in television and film, and quite a number have performed on Broadway, television and film. 



10. Hattie McDaniel  1895 – 1952

 Hattie McDaniel was the first black performer to win an Academy Award. She won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind. (1939) McDaniel was also a professional singer-songwriter, comedienne, stage actress, radio performer, and television star. Hattie McDaniel was in fact the first black woman to sing on the radio in America. Over the course of her career, McDaniel appeared in over 300 films. McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood: one for her contributions to radio, and one for motion pictures. In 2006, McDaniel became the first black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.






9. Taraji Penda Henson 1970 -

                                                                                                                                                                       Taraji P. Henson is best known for her roles as Yvette in Baby Boy (2001), Shug in Hustle and Flow (2005) and Queenie in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009. In 2009, she appeared in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself as April, an alcoholic singer. She is the great grandaughter of Matthew Henson, one of the explorers who discovered the Geographic North Pole. Her first and middle name are of Swahili origin with her first name meaning “hope” and her middle name meaning “love.”






8. Dorothy Dandridge 1922-1965

 Dorothy Jean Dandridge  was an actress and popular singer, and was the first African American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She performed as a vocalist in venues such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater. In 1954, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Carmen Jones, and, in 1959, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Porgy and Bess. In 1999, she was the subject of the HBO biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. She has been recognized on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dandridge died of an accidental drug overdose









7. Lyn Whitfield 1953 -

Lynn Whitfield  began her acting career in television and theatre, before progressing to supporting roles in film. She won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special and a NAACP Image Award for her performance as Josephine Baker in the television movie The Josephine Baker Story (1991). She also won NAACP Image awards for her work in Touched by an Angel (1998), The Planet of Junior Brown (2000) and Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story (2004).       Her film work includes performances in A Thin Line Between Love and Hate (1996), Eve’s Bayou (1997), The Cheetah Girls (2003), Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), and The Cheetah Girls 2 (2006).


6. Ruby Dee 1924 –

Ruby Dee  is an actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist. Dee has been nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning once for her role in the 1990 TV film Decoration Day. She was nominated for her television guest appearance in the China Beach episode, “Skylark.” Her husband Ossie Davis (1917-2005) also appeared in that episode. In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was tied between Dee and Ossie Davis for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster. She won the SAG award for the same performance. At 83 years old, Dee is currently the second oldest nominee for Best Supporting Actress, behind Gloria Stuart who was 87 for her role in Titanic. This was Dee’s first nomination.


5. Whoopi Goldberg 1955 –

Whoopi Goldberg (born Caryn Elaine Johnson) is an American comedienne, actress, singer-songwriter and Emmy Award-winning talk show host. Goldberg made her film debut in The Color Purple (1985) playing Celie, a mistreated black woman in the south. She received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress and won her first Golden Globe Award for her role in the film. In 1990, she starred as Oda Mae Brown, a psychic helping a slain man Patrick Swayze find his killer in the blockbuster film Ghost. This performance won her a second Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Notable later films include Sister Act (1992) and Sister Act 2 (1993), Made in America (1993), How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), Girl, Interrupted (1999) and Rat Race (2001). She is also acclaimed for her role as the bartender Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation. 



 4. Diahann Carroll 1935 –

Diahann Carroll  is an actress and singer. Born in New York City, she attended its LaGuardia High School for performing arts. She appeared in the prestigious African-American themed films, Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959). Between 1968 and 1971, Carroll starred in her own television series, Julia, which made her the first African American actress to star in her own television series where she did not play a domestic worker. In 1984, she joined the evening television soap opera series, Dynasty as Dominique Deveraux. She went on to appear in its spinoff, The Colbys, in 1987. She is the recipient of numerous stage and screen awards and nominations, including a nomination for an Academy Award for best actress for Claudine. She is a breast cancer survivor and activist.


3. Cicely Tyson  1933 –

Cicely Tyson is an actress known for appearances in the film Sounder and the television specials The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Roots.Tyson was discovered by a photographer for Ebony magazine, and became a popular fashion model. After her modeling career, she went on to do the long-running soap opera The Guiding Light. In 1972, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the critically acclaimed Sounder. In 1974 she won two Emmy Awards for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Other acclaimed television roles included Roots, King, in which she portrayed Coretta Scott King, The Marva Collins Story, When No One Would Listen and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All for which she received her third Emmy Award.


2. Angela Bassett

Angela Evelyn Bassettis an actress who has become well-known for her biographical film roles portraying real life women in African American culture, perhaps most prominently as singer Tina Turner in the motion picture What’s Love Got to Do with It, as well as her portrayal of Betty Shabazz in the films Malcolm X and Panther, Rosa Parks in the The Rosa Parks Story, Michael Jackson’s mother Katherine in the miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream and Christopher ‘The Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace’s mother Voletta Wallace in the film Notorious. Bassett won a Golden Globe and earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Tina Turner. She was the first African-American to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.


 1. Halle Berry  1966 -

Halle Berry  is an[actress, former fashion model, and beauty queen. Berry received an Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, and an NAACP Image award for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and won an Academy Award for Best Actress and in 2001 for her performance in Monster’s Ball, becoming the first and, as of 2009, only woman of African American descent to have won the award for Best Actress. She is one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood and also a Revlon spokeswoman. She has also been involved in the production side of several of her films. Before becoming an actress, Berry entered several beauty contests, finishing runner-up in the Miss USA (1986), and winning the Miss USA World 1986 title. Her breakthrough feature film role was in the 1991 Jungle Fever. This led to roles in The Flintstones (1994), Bulworth (1998), X-Men (2000) and its sequels, and as Bond Girl Jinx in Die Another Day (2002).

Entertainment | Comments (7)

7 Responses to “Top 10 Actresses”

  1. Trisha Says:

    Wow… Halley Berry as #1 actress….If you were going soley by looks I would have to agree. You did leave out Angela Bassett’s role in “Boys in the Hood”. Not to mention Monique’s current performance in “Precious” or Queen Latefah’s role in “All That Jazz”. But to put Cecily Tyson behind anyone after listing her performances in so many “MUST SEE” movies is hard to understand.

  2. Leon Says:

    Halle Berry was named #1, for being a very good actress, and also for the fact that she is the only African American female to win an Academy Award in a leading role. Looks played no factor in my decision.

  3. Shack Says:

    Oh No, No, No,
    Monster’s Ball/Halle Berry’s performance pathetic – Not worthy of Academy Award.A. Bassett is a clear No.1.

    No Lena Horne and/or Regina King (probably has the best body of work than any current actress)- Clearly Top Tenners

    Pam Grier deserves recognition although she starred in Blaxplotation Flicks but also did some good wotk in other movies.

    What about Sanna Latham, Gabrielle Union

    Also Rosalind Cash and Beah Richards are Hon. Mentions.

  4. Leon Says:

    You underestimate the difficulty of Halle’s role & the range of emotion she displayed throughout the movie. Pam Grier, Sanaa Latham, & Gabrielle Union although very talented, have yet to tackle difficult roles. Lena & Regina were close to making the list, but I just didn’t have enough room. And also, all those listed have either been nominated or winners of top awards, the actresses you named have not.

  5. Shack Says:

    Shack beleives the difficulty, role & range of emotion were $#%*!

    More credibility should be given to W. Goldberg for the screw job the Academy gave to her and the greatness of the best Black Movie of All Time – The Color Purple. Although I can hardly stomach her personally, she’d run circles around Halle in terms of acting talent! Just my opinion…

  6. RDF Says:

    Shack is here with me and he says what about Nia Long?
    She’s been nominated for several awards and according to Shack she also deserves to be in the TT!

  7. TomPier Says:

    great post as usual!