Leaders of the New School: Amirah Vann
Derek Reed

AGE: Thirtysomething

ROLE CALL: WGN America’s Underground

UP NEXT: Season 2 (begins March 8)

WHY SHE MAKES THE GRADE: You could say that Underground‘s Vann is an accidental entertainer—she was cast in a high school production as Tina Turner after she was spotted shaking her hair—but she certainly doesn’t take her career lightly.

The theater actress decided to make the leap to television after reading the script for the John Legend–produced series.

“We’ve heard about this period of history,” says Vann, who plays Ernestine. “But never in this way that has really showcased our ancestors for the strength and intelligence that came with them.”

So what can we expect from her in season two? Vann says she’ll continue to find her voice, both literally and figuratively (yes, that means more vocals for the show’s sound track): “This is my chance to tell other people’s stories and live them fully.”

This feature originally appeared in the March 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.