Pioneer Women: Black Entertainers Who Did It First

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  • Tyra Banks
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Vanessa Williams
  • Esther Rolle
  • Cicely Tyson
  • Beverly Johnson
  • Ethel Waters
  • Whitney Houston
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Dorothy Dandridge
  • Hattie McDaniel
  • Beyonce, Vanessa Williams
  • Cheryl Boone Isaacs
  • Halle Berry
  • Beyoncè

Vanessa Williams

On September 17, 1983, Vanessa Williams broke color barriers and made history becoming the first black Miss America. Upon winning, Williams faced a swarm of hate mail and racist comments. "I never imagined I'd be that depressed about being Miss America," Williams said. But the drama didn't stop there. Williams' reign ended early due to nude photos published of her in Penthouse magazine. But she rebounded with confidence and went on to have a career in films, television and music that is going strong to this day.

(Photo: NBCU Photo Bank)

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