If you grew up Black, chances are you have a female relative who adored the daily drama of the nearly extinct genre. Your grandma, mom, auntie, etc., likely tuned in every weekday morning to catch up on her “stories” with a cup of coffee.
And, if you had to stay home from school, you probably sat right next to them and fell into their world of family dramas, love triangles, and overly dramatic deaths. Young and the Restless reigned supreme in my household, as my mom watched it religiously, just as her mother did.
While the messiness of the soap opera always intrigued me, I can’t say I saw too many women who looked like me, my mom, or any of the soap opera’s loyal viewers. However, few Black soap opera female actors demanded audiences keep all eyes on them.
These women were beautiful, fearless, and dynamic characters to see on screen. And while a few Black soap opera stars are leading the charge today, some of the stars in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and early aughts had the “it factor” that can never be replaced.
In honor of Black soap opera divas’ stamp in pop culture history, let’s look back at some of the most memorable ones, plus where the divas are now!
Some actors play a character so well that it’s hard to see them outside their TV persona. For many Young and the Restless fans, Victoria Rowell is that type of character. The Emmy-nominated actor played Drucilla “Dru” Winters on Young and the Restless. Victoria starred on Y&R from 1990-2007 and was best known for her marriage to Neil Winters, played by the late Kristoff St. John.
After leaving Y&R behind, Victoria continued acting in other roles outside of soaps. She is also the founder of a production company, Days Ferry Productions, and has starred in several of her company’s films, including BET Plus’s series, The Rich and the Ruthless.
Actor Debbi Morgan earned one Daytime Emmy and even more nominations for her game-changing role as Angie Baxter-Hubbard on All My Children. Debbi’s character remains one of her most significant gigs, as many of All My Children’s Black audiences fell in love with Angie and Jesse Hubbard’s (Darnell Williams) romance.
Debbi originally played Angie in soap operas from 1982 until 1990. However, she briefly returned to the show in the 2000s before it wrapped in 2011. Since ending her iconic soap opera run, Debbi has continued working on other projects, including Love and Basketball and her 2023 role as Keyshia Cole’s late mother, Frankie Lons, in Keyshia’s Lifetime biopic, Keyshia Cole: This Is My Story.
Vanessa Bell Calloway
While some soap opera divas will always live in our hearts for their longevity on their respective shows, some, like Vanessa Bell Calloway, used soaps as her springboard to TV and film success. In the 1980s, Vanessa appeared in three soap operas: All My Children, Days of Our Lives, The Colbys, and Falcon Crest. However, her role as Yvonne Caldwell in All My Children (her very first professional role, I must add) earned her a place in soap opera history.
After a taste of soap opera fame, Vanessa has found success on TV and film, with roles in What’s Love Got to Do With It, Coming to America 1 and 2, and Shameless. As of 2023, Vanessa still entertains us on the small screen and stage with her starring role as Caroline Britton in BET’s The Black Hamptons. She also starred in the revival of the Broadway’s Purlie Victorious.
Vivica A. Fox
Long before her roles in Kill Bill, Independence Day, and Why do Fools Fall in Love?, Vivica A. Fox kept daytime fans at the edge of their seats as Maya Reubens on Generations. Vivica starred in Generations from 1989 until the show ended in 1991. Though the series didn’t last long, soap opera fans during her era will never forget her incredibly dramatic, quintessential ‘80s catfight with Doreen Jackson, played by actor Jonelle Allen. What a time!
Those familiar with Vivica’s career know she never stopped working after Generations and has dabbled into everything from reality TV to co-hosting Fox Soul’s Cocktails with Queens. In 2023, Vivica launched a new talk show, Crowned, and starred in the BET Plus thriller Sworn Justice: Taken Before Christmas in November 2023.
After briefly leaving the series in the ‘90s, Tamara returned to the fallen show in 2000 until 2007. Since leaving soaps behind, Tamara became known for another fierce character: medical examiner Melinda Warner. More recently, the NAACP Image Award nominee starred as Whitney Houston’s mother, Cissy Houston, in the biopic Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody.
Tonya Lee Williams
Tonya Lee Williams was another soap opera diva who helped make Young and the Restless must-see TV in Black households. In the 1990s, Tonya joined Victoria Rowell on Y&R as Dr. Olivia Barber Winters. During her run on the series, Tonya was best known for her tumultuous relationships, including her marriage to her hunky on-screen hubby, Shemar Moore, who played Malcolm Winters.
After being killed off Y&R in 2012, Tonya moved on to other projects, including starring in a 2016 film, LAPD African Cops. She’s also been hard at work on her company, Reel World Summit, which takes place in Toronto, Canada, where Tonya was born and raised.
Renee Elise Goldsberry
Renee Elise Goldsberry earned a Soap Opera Digest Award for her captivating role as Evangeline Williamson in One Life to Live from 2003 until 2007. The actor also had several Daytime Emmy noms before she eventually left the show. After years on daytime TV, Renee became a Broadway icon, starring in The Lion King, Rent, and her Tony Award-Winning role Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. In 2023, the Girls 5 Eva actor is taking on stage and screen projects.