For 2023 Black History, as usual we focus on Cleveland Black History, but this year we focus on some famous African-Americans in the field of entertainment who are from Cleveland. Cleveland has no shortage of famous actors and musicians. Here we look at four of them.
Tracy Chapman was born in Cleveland. She started writing songs and playing guitar at age eight. She later attended Tufts University earning a B.A. in Anthropology & African Studies. Her big break came in 1988 with the release of her album simply titled Tracy Chapman. It included the single “Fast Car” which would peak at no. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The album earned her three Grammys. Her biggest hit actually came off her fourth album, New Beginning – “Give Me One Good Reason” which hit no. 3 on the Hot 100 in 1996.
Chapman has given back to her home town of Cleveland. She worked with Cleveland’s elementary schools to produce an educational music video highlighting achievements in African-American history. Chapman sponsored an essay contest for high school students in Cleveland called “Crossroads in Black History”.
Arsenio Hall is from Cleveland. His dad was a Baptist minter. He attended Warren Heights High School and Kent State University. He would later move to Los Angeles to pursue his career in comedy. Starring in 1988’s Coming To America with Eddie Murphy really put Arsenio on the map.
And in 1989 the late night talk show, The Arsenio Hall Show launched. It was huge hit! The audience would chant “Woof, woof, woof!” while pumping their fists, an alternative to applause. This originated in the Cleveland Browns’ Dawg Pound in the east end zone. Democratic Presidential Candidate, Bill Clinton would appear on the show and play his saxophone, a first. The show lasted in 1994. Arsenio has appeared in countless TV shows and movies throughout his career.
Halle Berry was born Maria Halle Berry in Cleveland but at age five her name was legally changed to Halle Maria Berry. She was named after Cleveland’s grand department store of the day, Halle Bros., her mother’s favorite store. During her time in Cleveland, she graduated Bedford High School, worked at Higbees and attended Cuyahoga Community College. In 1986 she won Miss Ohio USA.
She would eventually move to Los Angeles and her big break came in 1992 in Boomerang opposite Eddie Murphy. In 1999, she portrayed a fellow Clevelander in a TV film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge for which she won a Primetime Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award. In 2001, she won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in Monster, becoming the first African-American woman to do so. She has been in countless movies throughout her career, including portraying Storm in the X-Men movies.
Bill Cobbs’ name may not sound as familiar as some of the others here but he is a man you recognize. He was born in 1934 here in Cleveland. He served in the US Air Force for eight years. He worked for IBM, sold cars here in Cleveland and acted locally at Karamu House. At age 36, he left for New York City to pursue his acting career.
He played on TV shows like The Sopranos, Touched by an Angel, Six Feet Under, The Drew Carey Show, and Star Trek: Enterprise. His movie career included The Hitter, The Cotton Club, New Jack City, The Bodyguard and Night At the Museum.
But I have a special connection to a movie he made in 2006 called the Ultimate Gift. It was filmed in Charlotte, NC where I lived at the time. They filmed part of the movie on my floor of the office building I worked in. I was “on set” for the week. I actually passed him in the hall on my way to my office.
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