Her connection to ESSENCE is a cool one!
Amirah Vann doesn’t have a marquee name on WGN’s Underground.
That distinction goes to stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge and Christopher Meloni.
But Vann, who is best known for her work in theater, is the one getting a ton of buzz from critics and fans who tweet about her every week for her performance as Ernestine on the runaway slave drama.
In time for the seventh episode of Underground titled “Cradle,” here are five things you may not know about Vann, a Queens, New York native.
1. Vann graduated from Far Rockaway High School and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Fordham University.
She later earned her Masters of Fine Arts degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. While in grad school, she traveled and performed in Florence, Italy. Her off-Broadway credits include “Wax Wings” and “Trouble in Mind.”
2. When Vann first started out as an actress, the singer and songwriter sang at weddings to pay the bills.
It was an idea she got from ESSENCE Magazine’s now defunct “Hustle of the Month” column. “I was a wedding singer and joined a band and ESSENCE told me how to do it,” Vann says with a chuckle.
3. As for her familial roots, Vann’s father is African American and her mother is Puerto Rican.
Her father’s family is from Georgia where the drama is set. Vann has an older sister and despite her convincing turn as a dedicated mother, she is not a mother in real life. But she is an aunt with two nieces and a nephew.
4. The actress is thrilled that people love her as Ernestine but she almost turned down the role.
“When I first got the audition, I was like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’ And that’s literally what people say about the show when they first realize it’s about the Underground Railroad,” Vann says. “And I’m with you. I get it. But as soon as I read the script I knew (creators) Misha Green and Joe Pokaski had written something different. We’re not just wading in the water. This is about celebrating our heroes who revolted against slavery.”
5. Underground has inspired Vann to learn as much as she can about enslaved Black people and how they survived.
This includes the Gullah culture in states such as Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. “This is our legacy,” Vann says. “Family. Strength. Resilience.”
Underground airs Wednesdays at 10 pm ET on WGN.
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