Black History Month: 10 Notable Black Women from Past to Present

PAST: Etta James is considered to be one of the most dynamic singers of all time and has six Grammys to prove it. Her music is a perfect mix of jazz, soul, and rock and roll. Check out the Best of Etta James and honor her legacy by playing (or singing) “At Last,” “Something’s Got a Hold of Me,” and her other amazing songs.

PRESENT: Beyoncé of course! She’s won 17 Grammy Awards, sold over 75 million records worldwide, and was even the first black female to win the Pop Songwriter of the Year award at the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers Pop Music Awards. Like Etta James, Beyoncé mixes musical genres with ease on her albums. On Dangerously in Love you’ll hear a lot of R&B with pop, funk, hip hop, and soul influences. Last year she became a mom to a baby girl Blue Ivy.

PAST: Track and Field star Wilma Rudolph was the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympic Games. She won the 100- and 200-meter races, as well as the 4 x 100-meter relay in the 1960 Olympics. Not to mention she did all this on a sprained ankle!

PRESENT: Basketball star Lisa Leslie is known for being the first to do a slam-dunk at a WNBA game. Her amazing skills on the court led her to win the WNBA MVP award three times as well as three Olympic gold medals. While she retired in 2009, her legacy continues to influence budding basketball stars everywhere. Perhaps someday we’ll see her daughter Lauren Jolie or son Michael Joseph follow in her footsteps.

PAST: Actress and mother Dorothy Dandridge was the first black woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in her captivating performance in Carmen Jones. She forged the path for African-American actresses everywhere, particularly Halle Berry. Berry would go on play Dandridge in the movie, Introducing Dorothy Danridge. It won an epic amount of Emmys and even a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a mini-series.

PRESENT: Actress Angela Bassett continues to amaze everyone as she seeks roles that celebrate real-life, pioneering black women. Her most celebrated roles include playing Tina Turner, the late Dr. Betty Shabazz (widow of the slain civil rights pioneer Malcolm X), and Rosa Parks. Beyond all of her films, and her master’s degree from Yale, she is also the mother of twins.

PAST: Virginia Hamilton is one of America’s most honored writers of children’s literature. She’s won just about every award in the field in including the prestigious Newberry Medal for M.C. Higgins, the Great. She married a poet, had two kids, built her dream home in Yellow Springs NY, and published 41 books.

PRESENT: Zadie Smith is a critically acclaimed British novelist, essayist, and short story writer. Her bestselling book, White Teeth, mixes pathos and humor while discussing immigration and multiculturalism. Her latest book, NW  is also getting starred reviews. We can’t wait to see what she writes next.

PAST: Abby Fisher published her cookbook What Mrs. Fisher Knows about Old Southern Cooking  in 1881. Despite being a former slave who couldn’t read or write, she was able to create one of the oldest known African American cookbooks as she spoke the recipes to a scribe. This historic book contains 160 recipes.

PRESENT: Carla Hall gained her celebrity chef status when she was a finalist on Bravo’s cooking competition show Top Chef in 2008. Prior to Top Chef, she started her own catering company called Alchemy Caterers in 2001, where she continues to work as executive chef and owner. In addition, she’s currently one of the hosts on ABC’s hit foodie talk show The Chew. Like Fisher, she also recently published a cookbook called Cooking with Love. Talk about wearing a lot of chef hats!

Black History Month: 10 Notable Black Women from Past to Present

For Black History Month, we’re honoring notable black women who have shaped the course of this country. Some of our favorite singers, athletes, actresses, writers, and chefs from both past and present are included in the list. We hope they inspire you (and your kids) to follow your dreams! Click through our sideshow for the list of black women that inspire us all year long.