Black actors have been the backbone of Broadway and other theater communities worldwide for generations. 

The strips of New York and stages in London that make up some of the world’s most beloved entertainment venues have been home to novice performers who gradually became the familiar faces on our movie theater and television screens. Under the harsh glare of house lights they each learned how to translate the human condition with their characters and connect with the audience to tell joyful, morose, culturally significant and delightfully soapy stories. 

Before they were visiting our homes on a weekly basis, helping to make our date nights more exciting, and climbing into the winner’s circle at award shows, these theater actors were ambitious understudies, charismatic members of the chorus, and hopeful production assistants. After laying in wait they each got their shot to bring truth to the words of greats like Richard Welsey, August Wilson, and Lynn Nottage. One performance and review at a time their stage presence and star power grew. 

Photo Credit: Clyde’s

An iconic diva was first a school-girl-turned-competent-singer, a former beauty queen seized the spotlight by introducing the world to her talents, and a thespian learned how to jerk our tear ducts performing the work of the man whose words would help her secure a deserved golden statue.  

Their career trajectories each bore separate twists and turns but the result was the same. These performers were unforgettable. 

See some of the major Black actors who jumpstarted their careers in the theater below.