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The Most Influential Black Icons of Our Time

Black history is simply not complete without black women. So, to celebrate Black History Month, we’re taking a moment to honour 22 of the most iconic and influential black women of our time. Some you may already know and love and some you may not be quite as aware of - as we’re heading all the way back to the 1930s to give these iconic and influential black women the recognition they deserve.

​​​​​​​From fashion moments, to black female leads, all the way to the civil rights movement, these women deserve recognition for their milestone achievements for the black community.

Halle Berry holding Oscar for best actress

1. Halle Berry

In 2002 Halle Berry became the first ever black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress, making it a huge milestone for the black community. She delivered her emotional acceptance speech between sobs, mentioning how the moment was so much bigger than her whilst also giving thanks to her black counterparts such as Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Naomi Campbell on Time Magazine cover 1991

2. Naomi Campbell

Naomi Campbell made waves for the black community when she became the first black woman to feature on the front cover of Time Magazine in September 1991, wearing Isaac Mizarahi’s Totem Pole Gown that was inspired byNorthwest Coast designs.

Beyonce performing at Grammy 2017

3. Beyonce Knowles

Beyonce has always been making waves within the black community.

​​​​​​​From breaking the internet not once but twice in 2017 when she first announced she was having twins and again when she presented them to world, to her iconic box braids in her Lemonade album visual, her unforgettable Coachella headline performance, and more recently her release of her visual album Black is King on Disney+. Black is King has not only served some iconic black looks but Beyonce also called it her ‘passion project’ which ‘meant to celebrate the breadth and beauty of Black ancestry’. And we can safely say it has certainly done that.

Whitney Houston on Life Magazine cover wearing floral detail dress

4. Whitney Houston

If you look into any mainstream fashion trends, a vast majority of them originated from the black community. 9 times out of 10 you’ll find a black person who did it first, although they likely don’t get the recognition for it.

​​​​​​​Whitney Houston’s front cover on Life magazine in 1987 is a perfect example of this. The dress you see on the front cover is one you might recognise as it did the rounds after Sarah Jessica Parker wore it in Sex and the City, but let’s not forget that Whitney did it first, a whole 12 years earlier, in fact.

Lil Kim wearing lilac wig and lilac dress

5. Lil Kim

Lil Kim made a name for herself not just in the music circle but also in the fashion circles.

​​​​​​​ Although she may have been dragged through the mud in the 90s for her ‘out there’ looks, nowadays we still see so much of Lil Kim’s influence within fashion. From the runways, to celebrities, to every teen and 20 something year old trying to recreate her iconic looks.

Diana Ross on catwalk, wearing orange embellished dress

6. Diana Ross

Mahogany was Diana Ross’ second moving picture. Released in 1975 the film saw Diana play Tracy, an aspiring designer from the slums of Chicago. The film examines racial discrimination within the fashion industry as well as the greater world around it, and even forty-plus years on since it first aired, there are still aspects of it that are very real to this day.

Beverly Johnson on Vogue magazine cover

7. Beverly Johnson

Beverly Johnson’s modelling career included a number of firsts that helped pave the way for other black supermodels. From being the first black model to feature on the front cover of American Vogue in 1974 to again being the first black model on the front cover of French Elle, Beverly was a trailblazer that allowed for other supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Iman and Tyra Banks to follow in her footsteps.

Zendaya in Woke TV Show

8. Zendaya

Zendaya is an influential black role model for much of today’s youth.

While many will remember her from her role in Shake it Up on the Disney Channel, it’s safe to say she’s come a long way from the parent-approved portion of her TV career.

​​​​​​​Not only is she an amazing actress, dancer, and model but many will also say that she is the perfect role model for today’s youth in her promotion of body positivity, to being culturally aware and willing to educate those who aren’t and her impact on the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sade Adu at 1985 Brit Awards

9. Sade

It might be a look that we see every fashion influencer and Instagram girl wearing today, but the slicked back hair, hoop earrings and red lips was done by Sade first.

Eartha Kitt Playing Cat Woman in 1966 Batman Movie

10. Eartha Kitt

In 1966 Eartha Kitt brought some fun to the too-boring-and-polite Batman film franchise. Eartha was cast and played Catwoman, the purrfect villain. She may have been the first black Catwoman, but it’s safe to say in our eyes she was also the best.

leomie Anderson on catwalk

11. Leomie Anderson

It had been a long time coming, but in 2015 Leomie Anderson became the first black British supermodel to walk for Victoria Secret. And in April 2019 she was announced as the brand’s first black British Angel, currently we couldn’t be prouder, you go Leomie.

Grace Jones posing for photoshoot

12. Grace Jones

Is there anything Grace Jones can’t do? From singer, to supermodel and actress, Grace Jones is a major iconic and influential black woman.

At just 18 years old she had a modelling contract and was working with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, and by the late 70s had carved her way through the music industry and had a successful singing career.

​​​​​​​Grace Jones gave black girls hope and proved that it was possible to break through no matter the colour of your skin.

Gloria Hendry playing Bond girl Rosie Craver in Live and Let Die

13. Gloria Hendry

Gloria Hendry made history in 1949 when she got the role of Rosie Carver in Live and Let Die, making her the first ever black Bond Girl.

Edward Enninful’s First Vogue Magazine Cover

14. Edward Enninful

Ok, we know Edward isn’t a black woman, but the work he has done to enable their representation in fashion can’t be denied. In 2017 Edward Enninful was appointed as the first ever black editor for UK Vogue. His first magazine hailed Adowa Aboah on the front cover, a supermodel and activist in her own rights. Under previous editors Vogue had been criticised for its lack of diversity, but Edward has now clearly turned this around.

Tina Turner performing in concert in 1875

15. Tina Turner

See what we did there? Ok, no, let’s be serious now, Tina Turner has a legacy like no other. Known for her chart-topping hits, there was never any slowing Tina Turner down.

She was a role model for many other black artists, with Beyonce saying ‘If there was an award for biggest known groupie of Tina Turner, I would win that title!’

​​​​​​​At the 2018 Grammy Awards Tina was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement award, one that she so very muchdeserved.

Iman wearing red midi dress

16. Iman

Iman is truly the OG supermodel. Scouted in Kenya back in 1975, she has gone on to become one the world most super supermodels. And not only is she the perfect supermodel, but she’s always been the perfect role model too. She’s has spent much of her career championing women and, more specifically, women of colour. She even launched her own beauty line to cater toward black skin tones due to often having to do her own makeup on set due to makeup artists lack of shades and not being equipped to work with darker skin tones.

Josephine Baker – first black woman to star in major motion picture

17. Josephine Barker
​​​​​

Josephine Barker is a name many of us will not know, but definitely should. Josephine was the first ever black woman to be cast in a major motion picture, Zouzou in 1934.

​​​​​​​And not only was she the first woman of colour to break the boundaries into film, but she also made headlines within the civil rights movement. She rightly refused to perform for segregated audiences in America and is a name that should go down in the history books.

Janet Jackson performing

18. Janet Jackson

There is and will only ever be one Janet Jackson.

​​​​​​​Janet is a pop legend through and through, providing us with hits all through the decades and still to this day. She made headlines again last year after her iconic Glastonbury performance and landed herself a Las Vegas residency.

Michele and Barack Obama dancing on stage

19. Michelle Obama

When Barack Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, it meant that Michelle Obama became the first African American First Lady of America. And it’s safe to say she used her power for the greater good.

Solange Knowles A seat at the table album cover

20. Solange Knowles

There has never been any stopping the Knowles sisters. And Solange has always been taking the fashion and music industry by storm, but in a much quieter and subtle way than her sister, Beyonce.

​​​​​​​Solange released ‘A Seat at the Table’ in 2016, an album that empowered black women. Solange’s sound is futuristic and jazzy, a big contrast in comparison to Beyonce. But not only does she have insane musical ability, she has also provided us with some iconic looks over the years, in particular with her album covers.

Angela Davis sitting at table wearing orange high neck jumper

21. Angela Davis

Angela Davis is an iconic activist, known as the world’s most famous ‘political prisoner’ after she was charged by the state of California with crimes connected to an armed takeover of a courthouse, which she was not a part of. Angela fled California and was captured 2 months later and dubbed a ‘dangerous terrorist’. She spent 18 months in prison, before finally being cleared of all charges in 1972. Millions of Americans backed Angela’s innocence; John Lennon and Yoko Ono even wrote a song dedicated to her named ‘Angela’.

Tyra Banks featured on Sports Illustrated magazine cover

22. Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks made history in 1996 when she became the first ever black supermodel to grace the front cover of Sports Illustrated and has since been on the cover numerous times. She is, however, only one of three black models to grace the front page of the coveted magazine, a sign that times still need to change.