Skip To Content
  • BHM2023 badge
  • Black Is You, Black Is Me badge

26 Interesting Facts You Probably Never Knew About These Black Celebs

Thanks to the continued success of "All I Want for Christmas Is You," Mariah Carey became the first singer to have a No. 1 song in each of the past four decades. So far, the only other celeb to accomplish this is Beyoncé.

Hollywood is filled with so many accomplished and talented Black performers who all deserve their flowers.

Here are 26 interesting facts about Black celebs:

1. Keke Palmer's full name is Lauren Keyana Palmer, but "Keke" isn't actually short for "Keyana." The nickname came first, and her family got it from the name of her older sister's imaginary friend, Keke.

Keke on the red carpet smiling

She told Wired, "[The nickname is] what inspired my full name ... My mom thought I needed a name that sounded, like, real chill so I'd get a job, and then I ended up going by 'Keke Palmer' anyway."

2. Viola Davis was only in Doubt for one scene and had fewer than eight minutes of screentime, but her performance was so powerful that she earned her first nominations (of many!) for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a SAG Award.

Viola in a coat and holding a bag and umbrella

She's the first and so far only Black actor to achieve the Triple Crown of acting: winning an Emmy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She also recently became an EGOT winner after nabbing a Grammy for her audiobook, Finding Me.

3. When Michael B. Jordan was growing up, other kids on the basketball court teased him for sharing a name with a famous player. When he got his SAG card, he considered using the stage name Michael Bakari (his middle name) for "two seconds of weakness," but then he decided to "own it."

Speaking to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, he joked that reaching a point where the basketball player was known as "the other Michael Jordan" had been "[his] goal for a long time, since [he] was a kid."

4. Tessa Thompson cowrote the songs she performed as Bianca Taylor in Creed and Creed II.

Tessa holding a microphone

She told Bustle, "The first time around, I really started with this idea of, 'Oh, I'm writing for a movie,' and so I sort of had this idea of what it should sound like. Ludwig [Göransson, the composer] and I would send those tracks to [director] Ryan Coogler, and he was like, 'Don't like it.' And then when I just started writing from a place of what I wanted to talk about ... that's when it got into a sweet spot."

5. Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance first met as classmates at the Yale School of Drama in the '80s, but they didn't get together until they crossed paths in LA 14 years later. They got married in 1997.

Courtney — in a suit, tie and hat — and Angela — in a strapless velvet gown — on the red carpet

Recounting meeting Courtney again in LA, Angela told The Jesse Cagle Interview, "I was single, he was single. And I had such an appreciation for him over those years — of his consistency, how he treated other people, of what a supporter he is, what a connector of people and ideas he is, how passionate he is."

6. Lupita Nyong'o was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents while her dad was teaching in Mexico City. When she was 16, she returned for seven months to learn Spanish. So when she got the opportunity to speak Spanish in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, she was "very, very happy to do it."

Lupita in Black Panther

She told EW's Around the Table, "It was just a straight gift ... I've always wanted to work in Spanish, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that that opportunity would come in Black Panther."

7. Before he was a musician, Lil Nas X anonymously ran a popular Nicki Minaj stan account called @nasmaraj.

Lil Nas on the red carpet

However, he initially denied running the account because he was concerned about outing himself as gay due to stereotypes about stan culture.

On Twitter, he said, "people will assume if you had an entire fan page dedicated to nicki u are gay. and the rap/music industry ain't exactly built or accepting of gay men yet."

8. Growing up, Lori Harvey was a competitive horseback rider and show jumper. She dreamed of competing in the Olympics until she was 18, when an accident ended her riding career. So she pivoted her career plans to modeling.

Lori in a gown on the red carpet

On Pretty Little Thing's Behind Closed Doors podcast, she said, "It took a while for it to process for me. I just was like, 'As soon as I heal, I'm going to go right back.' But after talking to the doctors and talking to my parents, they were like, 'You can, but if you fall like that again, you might not get back up and walk.' So after that, they were just like, 'You need to figure something else out.' I was like, 'OK. I think I'll try modeling again.'"

9. After quitting their first and only retail job as a stocker at Bottom Dollar Food, Lil Uzi Vert got their first face tattoo (the word "faith" on their forehead) so that no one else would hire them, forcing them to focus on their rap career.

Lil Uzi Vert on the red carpet

They told Fader, "It was like, 'If I get this face tattoo, I got to focus.' I can't go in nobody's office with a suit on with this shit on my face. I got to focus on what I want to do."

10. Before she was discovered, Rihanna was an army cadet in Barbados — and fellow singer Shontelle was her drill sergeant.

Shontelle told BBC News, "We were both in cadets together — it wasn't compulsory or anything. But picture me and Rihanna in combat boots and fatigues crawling through mud, and things like that."

11. In high school, Lizzo was a member of the marching band. At the University of Houston, she majored in classical flute performance.

Lizzo at the Met Gala playing her flute

Calling out people who doubted her flute skills on Instagram, she said, "PSA for the weirdos that think I have the TIME to fabricate a flute back-story, RENT a flute to tour with and PRETEND to play. Bitch, I'm a full time artist. I been on this flute shit, read my old interviews ho! Enjoy this F natural."

12. A few decades into her acting career, Raven-Symoné decided to study fine arts, graduating with her associate degree in fine arts in 2016, then balancing working toward a bachelor's with starring in Raven's Home.

Raven-Symoné dressed casually on the red carpet

She took online classes from the Academy of Art University.

13. In 2023, Halsey's song "Without Me" became the milestone 100th diamond-certified RIAA record, meaning it's gone platinum 10 times in the US. It's also their second diamond record but their first solo one. Their first was "Closer" with the Chainsmokers.

Halsey on the red carpet

On Instagram, she wrote, "There were a few other really special stats I learned as well including that I have 75x platinum certifications across my catalog. This whole thing is so surreal."

14. Initially, Coco Jones didn't want to audition for Bel-Air because she was "assuming that [she] wasn't what they were gonna be looking for." However, series creator Morgan Cooper actually encouraged her to play Hilary Banks more like herself in her audition — and it turned out she was perfect for the role.

Coco leaning against a wall in a minidress

She told Elle, "I actually asked my acting manager [if I] could audition for Ashley. And he was like, 'Ashley's 12.'"

15. Laverne Cox spent 19 years working in restaurants in New York City — and she only quit a year before her first Emmy nomination for Orange Is the New Black in 2014.

Laverne in a strapless gown on the red carpet

She was the first openly trans person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category.

16. It was Samuel L. Jackson's idea for Mace Windu to have a unique purple lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels because he wanted to be able to find himself onscreen easily.

Samuel with a lightsaber

On The Graham Norton Show, he said, "We had this big arena, this fight scene with all these Jedi, and they're fighting or whatever. And I was like, 'Well, shit, I want to be able to find myself in this big ol' scene.' So I said to George [Lucas], 'You think maybe I can get a purple lightsaber?'"

17. Though he enjoyed doing theater during his college days, Brian Tyree Henry initially planed to follow in his three older sisters' footsteps by working in security after graduation. However, with a friend's recommendation, he decided to audition for the Yale School of Drama — and got in.

Brian in a suit and tie on the red carpet

While working on his master's degree, he befriended playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was later adapted into the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight.

Brian told GQ, "I did every play he ever wrote, man. That was my ally."

18. Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes went to high school together. They even had a rap battle in the cafeteria, and Jay-Z won.

Jay-Z and Busta Rhymes sitting together

DMX and the Notorious B.I.G. also attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School alongside them in Brooklyn.

19. Thanks to the continued success of "All I Want for Christmas Is You," Mariah Carey became the first singer to have a No. 1 song in each of the past four decades.

Mariah in a gown performing

The only other artist to achieve this so far is Beyoncé.

20. Beyoncé is named after her mom, Tina Knowles-Lawson, whose maiden name is Beyoncé.

Beyoncé with her arm around Tina

Thanks to a clerical error, several family members on her mom's side, including her uncle and his kids, actually have the last name Beyincé.

21. Pretty Little Liars actor Bianca Lawson became Beyoncé and Solange's stepsister in her 30s.

In 2015, their mom, Tina, married Bianca's dad, Richard Lawson.

22. At the beginning of her career, H.E.R. kept her real name, her face, and her personal life concealed because she wanted fans to "get to know who [she is] in [her] music."

HER in a sparkly pantsuit on the red carpet

She told 1035 the Beat, "I reveal who I am and my stories and my emotions, and music is an outlet for me. But it's all revealed through my music and my message."

Her stage name stands for "Having Everything Revealed."

23. SZA has an unconventional approach to songwriting. Instead of writing her lyrics first, she freestyles them off the top of her head while she sings.

SZA onstage holding an award announcement

She told Billboard, "Whatever comes to my mind, I just let it out the way it comes, which sometimes doesn't make any sense even to me. Poetry to me is audiovisual now. I'll see an image or hear a beat, and it will make me think about fields or something I saw on TV or a place that I read about, like Tahiti or Bali. And then I try and sing based on the imagery I see in my head."

24. When the Weeknd first began uploading his songs to YouTube, he kept himself anonymous. He was so successful at being anonymous that his American Apparel coworkers would listen to his music on the job without realizing it was him.

The Weeknd on the red carpet

However, later that year, he rose to international prominence when Oliver El-Khatib, Drake's co-manager, shared his music on October's Very Own, Drake's label's blog.

25. Before he began uploading covers on YouTube, Kane Brown auditioned for both American Idol and The X Factor. While Idol told him they didn't need "another Scotty McCreery," he successfully made it onto X Factor. However, he dropped out of the show because they wanted to put him in a boy band.

Kane Brown performing

He was inspired to try out for the reality competitions by Lauren Alaina, his fellow country singer and former classmate, who competed on American Idol.

26. And finally, Yara Shahidi got into Harvard with a recommendation letter from first lady Michelle Obama.

Michelle and Yara sitting together

She graduated in 2022.

Black History Month is here! Join us from Feb. 1 to Feb. 28 (or all year long) and support our content celebrating the culture.