Singer Ella Fitzgerald became the first African-American woman to win a Grammy Award in 1958. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences did not deny the wondrous voice of the “First Lady of Song”. She was noted for her purity of tone, vocal diction and “horn-like” precision in her scat singing. Her career boosted to fame when she created a rendition of the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”. She soon appeared in movies and popular television shows making collaborations with musical legends Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and The Ink Spots.
Civil Rights activist, poet, and author Maya Angelou broke barriers in several of her books of poetry, essays, and autobiographies. Her career spanned over 50 years with a credited list of plays, movies, and television shows. She received endless awards spanning from a Spingarn Medal in 1994 to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. She also was awarded over 50 honorary degrees. Her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” told the story of her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition for her literary work. In 1993, Angelou became the first African-American poet to make an inaugural recitation at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, reciting her poem “On the Pulse of Morning”.
Beyoncé has been nominated for 529 different awards and has won 185 of those nominations. Her career started off in the 1990s with her girl group “Destiny’s Child” however, her fame catapulted when she went solo in 2003. She became one of the best-selling artists of all time since then and the first African-American singer to receive an ASCAP Pop Songwriter of the Year Award in 2001. The Houston native was named the Top Female Artist of the 2000s in 2009 and the Artist of the Millennium in 2011. She is also listed as the most powerful female musician by Forbes magazine in 2015.
Oprah Winfrey is well known for her work as a talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Best known for her show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Winfrey was the first talk show host, African-American, and woman to have the highest-rated program of its kind in the history of American television from 1986 to 2011. Many have dubbed her the “Queen of all Media” as she is ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century, the biggest African-American philanthropist in American history, and North America’s first and only multi-billionaire African-American, according to Forbes.
Actress Quvenzhane Wallis became the first African-American girl to take the lead role in the film 2014 remake of “Annie”. She is known for her role as Hushpuppy in the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” for which Wallis, 12, became the youngest actress to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Shonda Rhimes is a mogul television producer, screenwriter and director. Rhimes is known for her addictive hit TV series “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Private Practice,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” She is the only person who has ultimately taken over Thursday nights on the ABC Network. In her memoir “Year of Yes,” Rhimes described herself as an introvert and gave details on how she confronted her fears and allowed herself to embrace other aspects of her life. In 2015, she received the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement from the Writers Guild of America Award.
Viola Davis is the first African-American actress to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in “How to Get Away with Murder.” Her role also won her a Screen Actor’s Guild Award in 2015 and 2016. The actress and producer has seen most spectrums of acting from theater to the big screen. She won a Tony Award in 2001 for her role as Tonya in “King Hedley II” and another in 2010 for her role as Rose Maxon in “Fences”.
Ava Duvernay is a Golden Globe-nominated director from Compton, California, who is knocking down barriers in the film industry. In 2012, Duvernay became the first African-American woman to win a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film, “Middle of Nowhere.” She also was the first African-American female director nominated for a Golden Globe for her movie “Selma.”
Model Tyra Banks became the first African-American woman to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue in 1997. The cover of the magazine helped push her career even further as a supermodel and trailblazer for African-American women. The now host, producer, and actress also became the first African-American woman on the cover of GQ and one of the original Victoria’s Secret Angels.
Channing Dungey recently became the first African-American to lead a major TV network when she was named the Entertainment President of Disney’s ABC television network. Dungey has worked for Walt Disney Co. as an executive for more than 10 years and helped developed ABC hit shows such as “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.”
Cheryl Boone Isaacs
Cheryl Boone Isaacs was named the first woman of color to be named the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The former marketing and publicity executive broke barriers in Hollywood when she was appointed the position in 2013. Prior to her position, Isaacs made initiatives to drive over 400 new members from diverse backgrounds into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. All her works come in the efforts to diversify Hollywood.