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As the most significant historical minority in the United States, African-American culture forms an inseparable part of the American experience. And is represented through thousands upon thousands of community leaders and industry icons who have captured the heartfelt desires and pride of Black people for the past four hundred years.
Here is a list of five contemporary Black celebrities who have lived long, fruitful lives and become household names:
1) Morgan Freeman
One of the most iconic Hollywood celebrities, Morgan Freeman has represented Black America in the world’s largest film industry since 1967. Throughout the past 55 years, the Memphis-born actor has consistently starred in top-notch films for a multitude of studios in all conceivable genres. Freeman can be seen playing everything from a CIA agent in Red (2010) to Nelson Mandela in Invictus (2009), and from a mob boss in The Comeback Trail (2020) to a top-ranking official in Angel Has Fallen (2013).
Amazingly, Freeman remains as active as ever at the age of 85, and appeared in Paradise Highway and The Minute You Wake Up Dead, both released in 2022.
2) Sidney Poitier
The first-ever Black actor to appear on the national film scene, Sidney Poitier starred in lead roles throughout a stunning career spanning 76 years before his recent passing, only seven weeks before his 95th birthday. A uniquely talented person, Poitier is credited with creating a safe space in White Hollywood for early actors of color by refusing to take stereotyped roles, and glorifying the image of a Black actor. In fact, Poitier’s first role in 1950 was that of a Black doctor who attempts to cure a bigoted White criminal. Poitier was the first Black actor in history to win a competitive Oscar, and would remain the only one for nearly five decades until Denzel Washington received another one in 2002!
While born in Florida, Poitier was a dual-citizen of the Bahamas and the United States. Poitier left two autobiographies and other literary works as well, passing away at a rip age of 94.
3) Marla Gibbs
Margaret Theresa Bradley was born in Chicago in 1931, and received higher education at a time when few Black people were fortunate enough to be able to. Known by the stage name ‘Marla Gibbs’, Bradley became famous nationwide for her lead role as Florence Johnston in The Jeffersons from 1975-1985, and later as Mary Jenkins in NBC’s 227. She has received five Emmy nominations for her role in The Jeffersons.
Marla Gibbs is well and kicking at an age of 91. Her recent appearances include in the 2019 special Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, and in season 4 of CBS’ Young Sheldon.
4) Little Richard
Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1932, and is one of the best-known names in the history of American rock ‘n roll. He started singing and playing as a church musician, and then as a small-time blues artist in the early 1950s. Starting in 1955, he reached national fame for his infamous roaring performances with passionate howling and wailing then unprecedented in music. Richard’s career until retirement in 2013 was marked by a series of exhilarating ups and downs, including one time when the ‘Little Richard’ abandoned music altogether for nearly a decade and took to evangelizing.
Little Richard succumbed to cancer on May 9th, 2020.
5) Harry Belafonte
Another African-American musician, Harry Belafonte played a vital role in popularizing Black folk music, and has been associated with several civil rights causes over the past seven decades. Born to Caribbean immigrants in Harlem in 1927, Belafonte first worked as a pop singer before shifting to American and Jamaican folk music in 1950. Belafonte also starred in a number of successful films in the 1950s, winning an Emmy Award for the show Tonight with Belafonte (1959). His most recent appearance was in 2018 in BlacKkKlansman.
Belafonte is one of the oldest Black celebrities alive today, at the ripe age of 95. He was induced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2022.