20 Great (and a Couple of Not-So-Great) Moments in Singer-Actor History

Billboard Magazine
20 Great (and a Couple of Not-So-Great) Moments in Singer-Actor History — From Frank Sinatra to Selena Gomez
Feb 22, 2015


1927: Jolson Breaks The Sound Barrier
Both controversial and historic, The Jazz Singer is remembered as much for its star, Al Jolson, performing in blackface as it is for being the first “talkie.” Though blackface’s legacy remains understandably controversial, Jolson popularized sounds like jazz and blues among white audiences of his era.

1944: Bing Meets Oscar
Bing Crosby’s Academy Award for best actor in the musical Going My Way fills out an inventory of accolades that includes three Guinness World Records, three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the first Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

1954: Sinatra Is Eternal
Pegged as a bobby-soxer idol, Frank Sinatra saw his career stall as he entered adulthood. His best supporting actor win for From Here to Eternity changed all that.

1956: Elvis Hits The Movies
After his screen debut with Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley went on to make a whopping 31 feature films, including hits like 1957’s Jailhouse Rock and 1964’s Viva Las Vegas.

1968: Captain Kirk Finds God
William Shatner’s spoken-word album The Transformed Man is a psych-’60s oddity. “I touched the face of God!” he shrieks on the title track, released two years into his Star Trek run.

1978: Travolta Does The Hustle
A year after hitting the top 10 with soft-rock marshmallow “Let Her In,” John Travolta landed one of the best one-two punches in Hollywood history, starring back-to-back in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. Both soundtracks hit the No. 1 spot in 1978, faring considerably better than his double-LP solo release, Travolta Fever.

1979: Bette Plucks The ”˜Rose’
Bette Midler won a Grammy (best pop vocal performance, female) for the tragic title track from her 1978 cinematic debut, The Rose. Her starring role in the film also earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

1980: Dolly Works Overtime
Having already written hits like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You,” Dolly Parton branched into acting when she played a secretary in working-girl comedy 9 to 5. Additional film credits include 1982’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (for which she received a Golden Globe nod for best actress), 1989’s Steel Magnolias and 2012’s Joyful Noise opposite Queen Latifah.

1984: Prince Makes It Rain
Prince rode the success of his landmark album 1999 directly into 1984’s Purple Rain, along with a soundtrack that’s consistently ranked among the best rock albums of all time. He then directed and starred in two more features (1986’s Under the Cherry Moon, 1990’s Graffiti Bridge) before putting his movie career on ice.

1985: Madonna Gets Into The Acting Groove
Jammed with screwball plot twists involving mob hits and temporary amnesia, quirky comedy Desperately Seeking Susan marked the Material Girl’s mainstream film debut, co-starring with Rosanna Arquette. Following roles in 1990’s Dick Tracy and 1992’s A League of Their Own, Madge eventually won a Golden Globe for 1996’s Evita.

1986: Bowie As The Goblin King
The Thin White Duke made his feature-film debut in 1976’s cult sci-fi classic The Man Who Fell to Earth, and has since portrayed such towering figures as Pontius Pilate and Andy Warhol. But his crowning thespian achievement was his role as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s acid-flashback kids’ movie, Labyrinth.

1987: Cher Is Over The Moon
Though she’s the only woman to notch a No. 1 single in each of the last six decades, the longtime pop goddess is every bit as much of a powerhouse actress. Her run of critically and commercially successful films from 1982 to 1992 includes Silkwood, Mask and Moonstruck, for which she won the Oscar for best actress.

1990: Will Gets Fresh
Before he struck box-office gold with 1996’s Independence Day and 1997’s Men in Black, Will Smith starred in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, an NBC sitcom based on his early rap persona — the one whom Jaden and Willow’s grandparents just didn’t understand.

1992: Whitney Needs A Bodyguard
For a crossover star, The Bodyguard was a meta moment: Not only did Whitney Houston play an internationally famous pop singer, but her character also wins an Oscar. Of course, Houston delivered a breakout performance and the highest-selling soundtrack of all time — 45 million copies.

1998: J.Lo Is ‘Out of Sight’
Acclaimed for 1997’s Selena, Jennifer Lopez became a bona fide movie star opposite George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. Her debut album, On the 6, arrived a year later.

2001: Mimi Fails To Shine
Glitter was a critical and commercial disaster for Mariah Carey, grossing a mere $5.2 million in its initial worldwide release and triggering an emotional breakdown. Fortunately, the singer redeemed her acting skills with supporting roles in 2009’s Precious and 2013’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

2002: Eminem Escapes The Trailer Park
Helmed by director Curtis Hanson (1997’s L.A. Confidential, 2000’s Wonder Boys), Marshall Mathers‘ star turn in 8 Mile is a hip-hop Karate Kid that works. The first rap act to win an Oscar, Eminem won best original song for the rap-battle track “Lose Yourself.”

2005: Actors Band Together
Russell Crowe & The Ordinary Fear of God’s full-length My Hand My Heart — released independently after the Kiwi actor’s other band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, dissolved — represents the nadir of actors’ vanity-rock projects. Kevin has The Bacon Brothers, Gary Sinise co-stars in the Lt. Dan Band — and who could forget Keanu’s Dogstar?

2010: J.T. Shows What’s Cooler Than $1 Million
Though he had already appeared in 2006’s Alpha Dog and 2008’s The Love Guru, Justin Timberlake’s turn as slimeball Zuck-whisperer Sean Parker in David Fincher’s The Social Network was proof the former Mouseketeer had serious acting chops.

2012: Disney Divas Go On Spring Break
The A-list of pop princesses who trace stardom back to the Disney music ecosystem seems endless (Miley Cyrus, Ashley Tisdale, Demi Lovato). But Selena ­Gomez and Vanessa ­Hudgens co-starring as ­criminal party girls in ­Harmony ­Korine’s Spring Breakers? ­Surreal, dark and ­unforgettable.

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