According to statistics, there are some three million Jamaicans or people of Jamaican descent living in other countries around the world. Quite a few of them have achieved popularity in a number of fields over the years, including politics and public service, the arts, sports and more. Last year, we featured a number of these outstanding sons and daughters of Jamaica, and since there are so many more famous faces out there with Jamaican roots, it’s only right that we bring you part two. After all, there are so many moreFeel free to share information about other well-known Jamaicans or Jamaican descendants with us in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.
Harry Belafonte – Legendary actor, singer and civil rights activist was born Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr in Harlem, New York, to a Jamaican mother and a Martiniquan father. At five years old, he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in rural St Ann, Jamaica, after his parents divorced and spent eight years here. He has said Jamaica is probably the place that has had the most impact on his values, thinking and direction in life. In order to pay for his acting classes, the struggling Belafonte worked as a club singer, starting out with pop before discovering folk music. His first film role was alongside the famed Dorothy Dandridge in Bright Road (1953), and the two would team up again for the iconic Carmen Jones a year later. Two years later, his big musical break came in 1956 with the release of the album Calypso, which included the famous Banana Boat Song (Day O). Belafonte is the first African American to receive an Emmy for Revlon Revue: Tonight with Belafonte in 1959. As an activist, Belafonte supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and was one of Martin Luther King Jr’s confidants. He was also one of the organisers behind the Grammy-winning charity single We Are The World, which raised funds for famine relief in Africa. He was recognised by publishers Carib News in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to the arts and received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences arm of the Oscars in 2014.
Notorious BIG – Late rapper Christopher George Latore Wallace was born to Jamaican parents in Brooklyn. As a student, he excelled in school, but soon began selling illegal drugs at the age of 12. His debut album Ready To Die (1994) went platinum, announcing BIG as the king of East Coast hip hop and also made a star of his producer and fellow rapper, Sean ‘Puff Daddy’ Combs (now known as P Diddy.) It featured the hit singles One More Chance, Juicy and Big Poppa. His second solo album, Life After Death, ironically came 16 days after he was killed in a drive by shooting in 1997. It was certified diamond (selling more than 10 million copies) in 2000. His murder remains unsolved.
Heavy D – The late Dwight Errington Myers was born in Mandeville. His family emigrated to New York when he was a child. A rapper, record producer, singer, actor, his initial success came as the former leader of hip hop group Heavy D & the Boyz. The group released five successful albums, including the massive hit Now That We Found Love from the 1991 LP Peaceful Journey. He began achieving solo success after being featured on Janet Jackson’s Alright in 1989. A few years later, he began focusing on acting, appearing in shows such as A Different World, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Living Single. He also starred in movies, such as Who’s the Man?, BAPS and Cider House Rules, and had a run in the off-Broadway production Riff Raff. His last projects were released a few months before he died from a pulmonary embolism in December 2011 – the film Tower Heist, starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy and his last album was Love Opus.
Sandra ‘Pepa’ Denton – One third of the pioneering hip hop girl group Salt-N-Pepa, she was born in Kingston but her family emigrated to Queens, New York when she was a child. Along with Cheryl ‘Salt’ James and Deidra ‘DJ Spinderella’ Roper, Denton became a part of music history as the first all-female rap group. Originally known as Super Nature, the group’s name was changed to Salt-N-Pepa before they released their debut album, Hot, Cool & Vicious in 1986. The group released four more albums, the last in 1997, before disbanding in 2002. Denton appeared on the fifth season of the VH-1 reality show The Surreal Life in 2005 and released an autobiography entitled Let’s Talk About Pep in 2008. She eventually starred in her own short-lived reality show of the same name in 2010.
Grace Jones – The iconic singer, supermodel and actress was born Beverly Grace Jones in Spanish Town, St Catherine and raised by her grandparents before moving to join her parents in Syracuse, New York. Her first taste of fame came as a model in New York, before moving on to rule the runways of Paris. She was highly sought after because of her androgynous, dark-skinned look, which also landed her on the cover of magazines such as Elle, Vogue an Stern. Jones transitioned to music in 1974 and put out her first album, Portfolio in 1977. It included the disco hit I Need A Man. She released two more disco records before changing her style to new wave with 1980’s Warm Leatherette. The 1981 follow-up, Nightclubbing, reached number one. A career in the movies beckoned and in 1984, she debuted as Zula the Amazonian in Conan the Destroyer, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her best selling album, Slave to the Rhythm came in 1985 and perhaps her most famous role as Helen Strangé in the Eddie Murphy film Boomerang came in 1992. She also contributed the song 7 Day Weekend to the soundtrack. Jones is still working today, and is set to release her 11th album soon.
Alicia Keys – Singer, pianist, actress and philanthropist Alicia Augello Cook was born in Hell’s Kitchen to a Jamaican-American father and a mother of mixed Italian/Scottish/English roots. Her debut album Songs in A Minor (2001) went platinum five times over and won five Grammys. She has sold more than 35 million albums and won more than 100 awards. Before the fame, Keys was a piano prodigy and top-ranking student who graduated high school at 16. She headed to Columbia University on a full scholarship but left after a few weeks to pursue her musical ambitions. Following the release of two more albums, The Diary of Alicia Keys and Unplugged, she turned her attention to acting, with a role in the crime film Smokin’ Aces. Keys has also starred in The Nanny Diaries and The Secret Life of Bees, and has produced and directed other projects. Her most recent album is 2012’s Girl On Fire and her sixth studio album is due later this year. Keys is also the co-founder and Global Ambassador of Keep a Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides medicine to families with HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Lianne La Havas – Born Lianne Charlotte Barnes to a Jamaican mother and Greek father in London, La Havas’ stage name comes from the latter’s Vla Havas. Her debut album Is Your Love Big Enough? debuted at number four in the UK, amidst critical acclaim, with the hit singles Lost and Found, Forget, No Room For Doubt and Age. It was named iTunes Album of the Year in 2012. She wrote her first song at 11 and learned to play the guitar at 18. She also counts the legendary Prince as a fan. Her second album is coming soon.
Carl Lumbly – Carl Winston Lumbly was born to Jamaican immigrants in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating college, he was working as a journalist when an assignment to write about a workshop theatre proved to be life-changing as he cast as an actor. His first major acting role was on the 1980s television series Cagney & Lacey as Detective Marcus Petrie. That job was also life-changing as he met his wife, the late Vonetta McGee of blaxploitation film fame, on set. His next big role was in LA Law, in which he played a teacher falsely accused of the rape/murder of a female student. Lumbly’s two most visible roles would come in the 2000 Disney movie The Color of Friendship, in which he portrayed activist and Congressman Ron Dellums, and in the 2001-2006 TV series Alias, alongside Jennifer Garner. He is also a respected stage and voice actor, working on series such as The Wild Thornberrys and Static Shock and Justice League as the voice of J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter.
Christopher ‘Kid’ Reid – The former rapper, actor and comedian famous for his hi-top fade haircut was born in The Bronx to a Jamaican father and an Irish mother. He is best known as one-half of late-1980s/early-1990s hip hop act Kid n Play, with fellow rapper Christopher ‘Play’ Martin. Together, they starred in the comedy movie House Party and its sequels. The duo released three albums: 2 Hype, Kid ‘n Play’s Funhouse and Face the Nation. Reid has also appeared in sitcoms like Sister, Sister and Martin. He currently works as a standup comedian, voice actor and radio show host. His most recent musical contribution is co-writing the theme song for HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher.
Busta Rhymes – The rapper, famous for his lightning-fast rhymes, was born Trevor Taheim Smith in Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican parents. His first break into the music industry came in 1989 as part of the rap group Leaders of the New School, which toured with Public Enemy. The group released two albums before disbanding in 1993. His solo career took off two years later with Woo Hah! Got You All in Check from his album The Coming. His 1997 follow-up When Disaster Strikes featured the hits Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See and Fire It Up! He released seven more solo studio albums, alongside a greatest hits collection and collaborations with his group Flipmode Squad, but his last big hits came in the early 2000s with Pass the Courvoisier (2001) and Make It Clap (2002). Rhymes has also appeared in a number of films including Shaft, The Rugrats Movie and Finding Forrester, as well as TV shows such as Cosby, The Wayans Bros and The Steve Harvey Show.
Madge Sinclair – Born Madge Dorita Walters in Kingston, Sinclair was a teacher for a number of years before she migrated to pursue her acting career. Her outstanding 27-year career included some 40 movie and television programme credits, and she will always be remembered for iconic roles such as Mrs Scott opposite John Voight in Conrack, Ernestine Shoop in Trapper John, MD, Kunta Kinte’s mother Belle in Roots, Prince Hakeem’s mother Aeoleon in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America and the voice of Simba’s mother Sabari in The Lion King. Sinclair was thrice nominated for an Emmy Award and finally copped the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series prize for her role as Empress Josephine in the 1990 television show Gabriel’s Fire. She died in 1995 from leukemia.
Zadie Smith – The acclaimed author and writing professor was born Sadie Smith in London to a Jamaican mother and an English father. She changed her first name to Zadie at 14 years old. Smith famously wrote her best-selling, multi-award winning debut novel White Teeth while a student at King’s College, Cambridge. The partial manuscript had started a bidding war amongst tp UK publishers, with Hamish Hamilton coming out on top. She has written three other novels and a novella: The Autograph Man, On Beauty, NW and The Embassy of Cambodia, respectively, all to critical acclaim. Her other writings include the non-fiction collection Changing My Mind, and essays for various newspapers and magazines. Smith visited the United States as a 2002–03 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellow at Harvard University, taught fiction writing at Columbia University and is now a tenured professor of fiction at New York University.