Jennifer Hudson, Cher, Bette, and More Singers Turned Oscar-Nominated Actors
by Christi Carras
Everyone loves a double-threat, especially the Academy. Lady Gaga has already sparked Oscar buzz with her starring performance in Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born, and should the “Bad Romance” singer score a 2018 nomination, she’ll join a long lineage of singers-turned-movie-stars — including her A Star is Born predecessors Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland.
Crooners like Frank Sinatra, pop stars like Cher, soul singers like Jennifer Hudson and Motown legends like Diana Ross have all transitioned into critically acclaimed film careers. But only a select few have reached the Academy’s upper acting echelons.
From Queen Latifah in Chicago to Bette Midler in Beaches, here are some of Hollywood’s most esteemed musical actors’ standout performances.
Jennifer Hudson, Cher, Bette, and More Singers Turned Oscar-Nominated Actors
- Jennifer Hudson – Hudson first broke into the music scene by impressing judges and audiences with her seemingly boundless vocal range on the third season of American Idol. Though she finished in seventh place on the competition program, she later went on to score several Grammy nominations, as well as a supporting actress Oscar win for her turn as the driven Effie White in Dreamgirls alongside Beyonce and Anika Noni Rose. More of her musical acting credits include Sing, Hairspray Live! and, soon, the star-studded adaptation of Cats.
- Cher – Cher had already established herself as a pop icon and television star by the time she started her film career, which made many hesitant to take her seriously as an actress. But she won respect in the 1980s when she scored a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her work in 1983’s Silkwood and took home the 1988 best actress Oscar for her turn as Brooklyn native Loretta Castorini in Moonstruck. Her most recent film role was as the grandmother to Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
- Diana Ross – Ross first made a name for herself as the soulful lead singer of the hit Motown girl group The Supremes. But her thriving solo music career and, later, film career, soon established her as a triple threat. Though she had already collected a couple TV credits, Ross made her mark on the big screen with a lead actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of another music legend, Billie Holiday, in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues. More of Ross’ notable film titles include Mahogany and The Wiz.
- Frank Sinatra – The legendary crooner is best known for his immortal tunes like “My Way” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” but the singer also achieved critical acclaim as an actor, starring alongside movie stars like Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury, Burt Lancaster
andRita Hayworth. His first Oscar win came in 1954 for his supporting role in the World War II drama From Here to Eternity, whilehealso scored a lead actor nomination for The Man With the Golden Arm. The Academy later honored him in 1971 with the Jean Hersholt humanitarian award.
- Mary J. Blige – After cementing an illustrious career as an R&B singer-songwriter with more than 20 Grammy nominations, Blige garnered her first recognition from the Academy in 2018 for her work on Dee Rees’ period drama Mudbound. In addition to receiving a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her performance as Florence Jackson, Blige also shared an original song nomination with Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson for Mudbound‘s “Mighty River.”
- Bette Midler – Though Midler was already a force in the entertainment industry with success as a stage performer and recording artist, the Broadway icon didn’t receive recognition as a film star until 1979’s The Rose, for which she scored a lead actress Oscar nomination for her turn as struggling rocker Mary Rose Forster. She later went on to receive another Oscar nomination for her lead role in For the Boys. Midler has since continued her acting career, appearing in various film and TV projects, including Beaches, the self-titled sitcom Bette and the cult classic Hocus Pocus.
- Barbra Streisand – Another Broadway-legend-turned-movie-star, Streisand first debuted her fortified vocals on film in 1968’s Funny Girl, in which she reprised her Tony
award-nominatedrole as the spunky Fanny Brice. Though the musical was her first foray into cinema, Streisand tied with Katharine Hepburn for the lead actress Oscar in 1969. Her second lead actress nomination came in 1974 for Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were. The remainder of her film career has been showered with Academy recognition, including a best original song win for her work on 1976’s A Star Is Born.
- Queen Latifah – Latifah started out as a pioneer on the female rap scene, impressing audiences with her charisma as both a collective member and solo artist. Simultaneously, Latifah was making a name for herself in the TV industry with a starring role on the hit sitcom Living Single. But it was her turn in 2002’s Chicago that allowed Latifah to display her full potential as an actress and singer. Her soulful role as Matron Mama Norton earned Latifah a supporting actress Oscar nomination that catalyzed her burgeoning film career, which has also included credits on titles like Hairspray, Taxi and Bringing Down the House.
- Judy Garland – It’s easy to forget that a silver-screen idol like Garland got her
startperforming onstage with her singing siblings as the youngest member of The Garland Sisters. It was her sweet song and dance performances on the Vaudeville circuit that prompted MGM to sign her, which began her groundbreaking career in the film industry. Though she is perhaps most remembered for her seminal role as Dorothy in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, Garland found most of her Oscar success later in her career, collecting a lead actress nomination for her role in 1955’s A Star Is Born and a supporting actress nomination for her work on the World War II drama Judgment at Nuremberg.
- Will Smith – Before Smith was the star of comedy series Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he was simply the Fresh Prince, rapping as half of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy and The Fresh Prince. The pair-turned-trio soon received popular and critical acclaim for their funky beats and upbeat lyrics, but Smith’s career really took off with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, establishing him as a beloved sitcom star. Later in his acting career, Smith proved how deep his talents could dig when he received his first Oscar nomination for portraying boxing legend Muhammad Ali in Ali. He later scored a second lead actor Oscar nomination for his starring role in The Pursuit of
Happyness. Up next, he’ll flex his musical and acting skills as Genie in Disney’s live-action remake of Aladdin.
- Doris Day – Day ranked as an A-list actress with the likes of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Vivien Leigh, she first found fame as a big band singer and solo recording artist, collaborating with jazz industry heavyweights like Jimmy James, Bob Crosby, and Les Brown. Despite starring in dozens of classic Hollywood films, including Love Me or Leave Me, The Glass Bottom Boat and Lover Come Back, Day received only one lead actress Oscar nomination, for her work in Pillow Talk as smooth-talker Jan Morrow.
- Mark Wahlberg – While Wahlberg first entered the music scene as Donnie Wahlberg’s younger brother in the boy band New Kids on the Block (he left before the group became famous), he soon made a name for himself as MC of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. But it was Wahlberg’s film career that later made him a household name, starring in an array of Hollywood hits from Boogie Nights to Ted. His only Oscar nomination came in 2007 for his supporting role in The Departed, starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson
andMatt Damon as Dignam. 40