Singers, actresses make USA TODAY list

Oscar winners. Best-selling musical artists. Super Bowl halftime performers. These our Women of the Century in entertainment. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when women gained the right to vote USA TODAY put together a list of 100 Women of the Century, recognizing groundbreaking women who have contributed to their country and communities and helped shape our nation. 

We have well known superstars still making waves (Rita Moreno, Whoopi Goldberg, Dolly Parton) and deceased women who paved the way for them (Aretha Franklin, Anna May Wong, Katharine Hepburn). The entertainers on our list pack a punch, and they know it.  

Women of the Century: Recognizing the accomplishments of women from the last 100 years

USA TODAY

Celia Cruz

Salsa artist

(1925-2003) 

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz
Photo: Miguel Juarez Lugo, AP, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

In a male-dominated genre, Celia Cruz became one of salsa’s groundbreaking artists. Born in Havana, she moved to the U.S. in 1961 during the Cuban revolution. “The Queen of Salsa” revolutionized the genre by integrating African elements of her identity into her songs. She won five Grammys, including two Latin Grammys, received honorary doctorates from Yale University and the University of Miami, and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton in 1994. 

Gloria Estefan

Pop singer

(1957-  )

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan
Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Three-time Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan is a Cuban American best known for Latin pop hits like “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” which catapulted her to international fame. In 1992, she became the first person of Latin descent to headline the Super Bowl halftime show. She was awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 2017, making her the first Cuban American to earn the distinction, which honors contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

Ella Fitzgerald

Jazz singer

(1917-1996)

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald
Photo: Ron Frehm, AP, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Often called “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald was one of the most popular female jazz artists in the country and the first African American woman to win a Grammy. While she had always aspired to be an entertainer, she launched her musical career accidentally at 17, wowing the audience at an amateur singing contest. She put out her first No. 1 hit, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” in 1938 and went on to win 13 Grammys. 

Aretha Franklin

Singer, songwriter

(1942-2018)

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin
Photo: Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Illustration: USA TODAY NETWORK

The “Queen of Soul” was a largely self-taught and gifted pianist and singer, recording many of her earliest tracks at her father’s Detroit church at age 14. Aretha Franklin eventually moved to New York, where she produced many hits, including “Respect” and “Freeway of Love.” She won 18 Grammys and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was also the first female performer inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

Whoopi Goldberg

Actress, comedian

(1955-  )

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg
Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Whoopi Goldberg jump-started her career in 1983, when she starred in a one-woman production, “The Spook Show.” She contributed her own original comedy material that addressed issues of race in America, and won a Grammy Award for best comedy album. Goldberg went on to star in films such as “Sister Act” and “The Color Purple,” eventually winning an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role in “Ghost” in 1991. She hosted her own talk show, “The Whoopi Goldberg Show,”  and moderates “The View.”

Katharine Hepburn

Actress

(1907-2003)

Katharine Hepburn

Katharine Hepburn
PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS, ILLUSTRATION: USA TODAY NETWORK

Born to a liberal family with a mother who ran a Connecticut suffrage organization, Katharine Hepburn was a sharp-minded actress who starred in classics such as “Little Women,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “On Golden Pond.” She won her first Academy Award for her role in “Morning Glory” in 1933. Hepburn was memorable off-screen as well, refusing to conform to the traditional Hollywood starlet by choosing not to wear makeup and fleeing media attention. By the end of her career, she had received 12 Academy Award nominations, ultimately winning four. 

Queen Latifah

Rapper, actress

(1970-  )

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah
Photo: Kwaku Alston, USA TODAY, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Queen Latifah, born Dana Elaine Owens, first started as an influential rapper, winning a Grammy Award for her hit single “U.N.I.T.Y.” in 1995. She then turned to acting, starring in films such as Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever,”  and TV programs such as “Living Single” and her daytime talk show, “The Queen Latifah Show.” She was the first rapper with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One of her most acclaimed roles was in the 2002 musical “Chicago,” where she earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.

Hattie McDaniel 

Actress

(1893-1952)

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel
Photo: Associated Press, Illustration: Veronica Bravo, USA TODAY

Hattie McDaniel is most notably known for being the first African American to win an Oscar, which she did in 1940 for “Gone With the Wind.” While she started as a radio performer, she eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and landed major on-screen roles in “Judge Priest” and “The Little Colonel.” After winning the 1940 Academy Award for best supporting actress, she returned to radio and joined CBS radio’s “The Beulah Show” in 1947. 

Rita Moreno

EGOT winner

(1931-  )

Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno
Photo: Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Rita Moreno moved to New York from Puerto Rico at 5, later becoming the first Latina to win an Oscar. Known for her role as Anita in “West Side Story,” she is one of just 16 people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony. A passionate civil rights activist who attended the March on Washington, Moreno is also known for her work inspiring children in the Latino community. 

Dolly Parton

Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter

(1946-  )

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton
Photo: Gerald Holly, The Tennessean; Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Dolly Parton is one of the world’s most recognized and beloved artists. She has released almost 90 albums and written more than 700 songs, including No. 1 hits “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene.” She starred in films such as “Steel Magnolias” and “9 to 5.” Parton is a businesswoman and philanthropist as well. Dollywood, Dollywood’s Splash Country and other tourism businesses have transformed East Tennessee’s economy, providing thousands of jobs and attracting millions of visitors. In 2004, the Library of Congress gave her the Living Legend award.

Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey

Blues singer

(1886-1939)

Ma Rainey

Ma Rainey
Photo: Donaldson Collection/Getty Images, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Also known as the “Mother of Blues,” Ma Rainey became one of the first entertainers to introduce blues into her musical repertoire, serving as an inspiration for poets such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. She is best known for hits such as “Prove It On Me Blues” and “Deep Moaning Blues.” In 1990, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A 1982 play by August Wilson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” is a tribute to her.

Nina Simone

Jazz singer

(1933-2003)

Nina Simone

Nina Simone
Photo: Associated Press, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, Nina Simone aspired to be a pioneering African American classical pianist, applying to the Curtis Institute of Music, where her admission was denied. Attributing her rejection to racism, she started singing in jazz clubs. She was signed in 1957 and wrote songs such as the 1958 hit “I Loves you Porgy” and her protest-themed song “Old Jim Crow.” As a civil rights activist, Simone collaborated with Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and other influential figures to perform at rallies. 

Bessie Smith

Blues singer

(1894-1937)

Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith
Photo: Associated Press, ILLUSTRATION: USA TODAY NETWORK

One of the highest-paid Black performers of her time, Bessie Smith was a blues vocalist who started her career as a street musician to support her orphaned siblings. After making her recording debut with Columbia Records in 1923, she created hits such as “Down Hearted Blues” and “Careless Love Blues.” She was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. 

Anna May Wong

Actress

(1905-1961)

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong
Photo: Carl Nesensohn, AP, Illustration: USA TODAY Network

Widely considered to be Hollywood’s first Chinese American star, Anna May Wong defied her father’s wishes and pursued her Hollywood career behind his back at an early age, appearing as an extra in films such as “The Red Lantern.” She had one of her lead roles in the 1922 film “Toll of the Sea,” which jump-started her popularity as an Asian American actress. She went on to star in “The Thief of Bagdad,” “Peter Pan,” “Daughter of the Dragon” and “Portrait in Black.”

Contributing: USA TODAY reporters Jenna Ryu, Elinor Aspegren, Autumn Schoolman, Sarah Elbeshbishi, Ella Lee and Camille Caldera 

Sources used in the Women of the Century list project include newspaper articles, state archives, historical websites, encyclopedias and other resources.

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