1 of 32
At the height of her fame, Lauryn Hill walked away from it all to raise her children. While the world pines for her big comeback Ms. Hill continues to take her time and do it her way.
2 of 32
Once dubbed “the most exciting woman in the world,” Eartha Kitt was never afraid to show off her sensuality at a time when Black actresses were typecast as caretakers. This South Carolina native danced, sang and acted her way to the top.
3 of 32
We pity the fool who dares to put Erykah Badu in a box. From the beginning, this Texas girl has let us know she’s taking no prisoners when it comes to her self expression.
4 of 32
That big hair and even bigger voice certifies Ms. Patti as one of the most original entertainers we’ve ever seen. And she did it all her way.
5 of 32
The story of a young Black woman from segregated St. Louis in the ’20s who became the toast of Europe is still fascinating even after all these years. Josephine Baker dared to do it – and she did it so well.
6 of 32
As Deniece on “The Cosby Show” Lisa Bonet’s style influenced a generation. As the years went by, instead of caving in to what the world expected of her, Bonet left the industry to live a quiet life and do the projects she wanted. We’ve loved her ever since.
7 of 32
As a singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, Simone dared to speak her mind, even when it seemed like no one was listening.
8 of 32
From radio to television, this Jersey girl has used her eccentricities to her benefit. We’ll never get enough of hearing about the friends “in her head.”
9 of 32
When it came to avant garde style, Grace Jones was miles ahead when she burst onto the scene in the 80s. We’re inspired by how she continues to push the envelope.
10 of 32
When it comes to zany in 00s, no one can beat Nicki Minaj. Her outrageous style and equally creative lyrics reflect those of a woman on her own mission.
11 of 32
Dubbed “the Empress of Blues,” Bessie Smith sang about female freedom and sexuality and became one of the most successful artists of her time.
12 of 32
Even Prince had to stop and take notice of Janelle Monae’s talent. With that gorgeous face, eclectic sound, signature whipped bouffant, and tuxedos who wouldn’t take notice?
13 of 32
This British femcee came on the scene rapping about peace and girl power at a time when hip hop was an all-boys club. Her “Buffalo Stance” will forever live in our minds.
14 of 32
Her brazen sexuality and powerhouse chords made Chaka one of the most exciting vocalists of our time. And she always took her self expression very seriously.
15 of 32
When RiRi first burst onto the scene, she seemed sweet and innocent. But fast forward a few years later and the “S&M” singer loves to show off her outrageous style.
16 of 32
Missy’s style broke barriers by showing that success is possible even if you go against the music industry’s image status quo. Not too many female emcees can rock a trash bag sweatsuit and still have cool sense of style.
17 of 32
The original “Queen Bee” boasted her own brand of feminine pride in the 90s, even if some didn’t agree with it.
18 of 32
Considered one of the world’s first Black superstars, the 30s and 40s belonged to the singer Ethel Waters. Whether it was in theater or vaudeville, the Oscar-nominated phenom always pushed boundaries. In 1939, she became the first African-American to star in her own television program, The Ethel Waters Show on NBC.
19 of 32
Whole essays have been written about her unshaven legs and unconventional ways, but Mo’Nique won’t budge, always proclaiming to us all that she is who she is. Take it or leave it.
20 of 32
Kelis came into the music industry like a lion with her now-classic “Caught Out There.” Since then, she’s continually pushed boundaries with her incomparable style and music.
21 of 32
Not afraid to inject a little hard rock into her music, Nona Hendryx was edgy and avant garde long before it became the thing to do.
22 of 32
Though her trouble with drugs would plague her legacy, we can never forget what a phenomenal talent Billie Holiday was. She was unfazed by the pressure of being a woman in a male-dominated industry.
23 of 32
This Zimbabwean-British singer’s style is all about taking things to the next level.
24 of 32
An abusive marriage didn’t stop Tina Turner from forging ahead. When everyone
encouraged her to stick to her R&B roots, Tina flipped the script and channeled her inner Rod Stewart with a new look and new sound. What a good call that was.
25 of 32
Truly an icon, Ross has continually pushed the envelope and set trends. Thirty albums and 5 movies later, we know she did it her way.
26 of 32
27 of 32
28 of 32
29 of 32
30 of 32
31 of 32
32 of 32
You may like
Get The Essence Newsletter and Special Offers delivered to your inbox!