Born on this day in 1906, Josephine Baker was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture. Her 1934 film, Zouzou, was filmed at the Joinville Studios in Paris, with sets designed by the art directors Lazare Meerson and Alexandre Trauner. Its release set the stage for Baker and other women of her day to lead theatrical releases.
A star of screen, stage and a noted singer, Baker’s role as an activist cannot be overlooked. During the 1950s and 1960s, she fought for civil rights in the United States.
Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul, when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood. – Josephine Baker
Today we highlight Black women who took the world by storm, broke records and opened doors for a generation of aspiring creatives through their contributions to the arts.
A mogul in her own right, Beyoncé is the most decorated female Grammy Winner of all time. In total, Queen Bey has been awarded 28 Grammys, including two with Destiny’s Child.
2. Hattie McDanielSource:Getty
For her role in Gone with the Wind, McDaniel won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first African American to win an Oscar.
“I did my best, and God did the rest.”
3. Lauryn HillSource:Live Nation
Respected as a skilled lyricist and a talented singer, Ms. Hill’s monumental solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, is often ranked among the greatest album’s of all time. In 1998, she became the only Black artist to ever win both a Best New Artist and Album of the Year Grammy.
4. Whitney Houston
We lost Whitney in 2012, but her music legacy lives on. As a performer, Houston is one of the most decorated musicians of all time: She has 2 Emmy wins, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, 29 NAACP Image Awards, 12 Soul Train Awards, and 6 Grammy Awards.
5. RihannaSource:Courtesy Of Paper Magazine/Photography By Sebastian Faena
In 2014, the Barbadian beauty topped Madonna and Katy Perry for most number one pop songs by a woman on Billboard charts.
6. Viola DavisSource:Getty
A force to be reckoned with on screens big and small, in 2015, Viola Davis became the first Black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, for her work on How to Get Away with Murder.
7. Ava DuVernay
Big-budget films pack theaters and allow directors to let their creative whims run wild. In 2018, Ava DuVernay directed A Wrinkle in Time, and became the first Black woman to direct a film with a budget over $100 million.
8. Oprah Winfrey
A titan of the media world, Oprah Winfrey’s list of accomplishments span decades. At just 19 years old, she became the youngest and first female anchor for WTVF-TV, Nashville. In 2003, Winfrey became the first Black woman on Forbes magazine’s “World’s Richest People” list. As the first woman to own and produce her own talk show, she told TIME the following: “I made every single choice of my career based on my gut. I would literally ask myself, ‘Does this feel right?’ So when I got my show in Chicago, I built it around myself and the producers. We were young women in our 30s who were trying to figure it out and find our own way.”
9. Eartha Kitt
“My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions.”
Eartha Kitt’s distinct voice and ferocious persona has made her an icon. In 1967, Kitt took on The Caped Crusader himself in her debut as the first Black Catwoman in the Batman television series.
10. Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge was the first Black actress nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in the 1954 film Carmen Jones. In addition, she was also the first Black woman to cover of Life magazine.