Conventional entertainment wisdom says that even if you're a huge music star, you need more than one hustle. That's why so many singers and rappers have turned to acting. Rihanna, who on May 18 makes her initial movie bow in the probable summer blockbuster Battleship, is the latest convert. By August, count in Jordin Sparks, who's starring in Sparkle. Here, The Root looks back at other black female R&B singers when they first leaped onto the big screen.
Rihanna: Battleship (2012)
The Bajan R&B princess has rebounded from her disturbing beating at the hands of former boo Chris Brown with a series of assured albums and chart-topping singles. In her film debut, she continues that hot streak, turning in a kick-ass, gun-blasting, alien-killing performance in the goofy action flick Battleship. Listen for her Caribbean accent between the wisecracks.
Aaliyah: Romeo Must Die (2000)
Before her untimely death in 2001, Aaliyah seemed poised to transition from singing to acting. In her debut film Romeo Must Die, an urban update of Romeo and Juliet, she and Chinese martial art star Jet Li try to convince us of a budding romance. But its "no smooches" ending only proved Hollywood wasn't ready for that kind of (interracial) crossover.
Beyoncé: Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
The Mike Myers' Austin Powers franchise was an easy film introduction for Beyoncé. As Foxxy Cleopatra, she sings disco ditties at Studio 69 and looks every bit the part of a sassy, Afro-wearing bad broad in the Pam Grier mold. She might not have been able to keep up with Myers' comic barrage, but her charisma helped her hold her own. Oh, and she wears lots of gold. Yeah, baby.
Diana Ross: Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
It takes deft filmmaking to accurately portray the life of troubled jazz singer Billie Holiday. If reviews from the era are any indication, the folks behind the camera got it all wrong, except for choosing Ross to play Lady Day. The former Supremes star nails the singing parts, and works hard throughout to convey the right amount of drama and wit. It remains a black classic for that reason.
Jennifer Hudson: Dreamgirls (2006)
Who could have imagined that an American Idol reject would go on to win an Oscar (and a whole boatload of other awards) with her first film role? Hudson did the unlikely when she played Effie White, the talented but plump and plain-looking singer in 2006's Dreamgirls. Hudson arguably out-sang and out-acted the film's vaunted star Beyoncé, proving that she's really the total package.
Whitney Houston: The Bodyguard (1992)
Remembered more for the hit songs it spawned rather than the on-screen performances, The Bodyguard nevertheless is considered Houston's best-known film. The wooden chemistry between her pop-star character Rachel and her bodyguard (Kevin Costner) meant bad reviews from critics. But the moment you hear her belting out "I Will Always Love You," it's hard not to get the chills.
Tina Turner: Tommy (1975)
Before her later role in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Turner turned up in Tommy, the 1975 decadent rock opera based on The Who's concept album of the same name. In the film about a victimized kid turned pinball champ, Turner sings "The Acid Queen" with as much grit and emotion as you'd expect from Proud Mary. As film debuts go, Turner let her singing do the talking.
Aretha Franklin: Blues Brothers (1980)
You might expect that when Franklin tells a man to think, he'll actually ponder what he's about to do next. But in her movie-stealing cameo, it doesn't work out like that. Franklin plays a diner owner who's against her husband leaving to tour on the road with the Blues Brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi). She breaks into "Think," warning him not to ignore her feelings before he doffs his apron and leaves. Her performance is undeniable but the clunky choreography … not so much.
Mary J. Blige: Prison Song (2001)
MJB seemingly hasn't made crossing over to acting a huge priority in her career. Tyler Perry cast her in 2009's I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Before that was 2001's Prison Song, in which she plays a hardworking mother faced with the incarceration of her son (Q-Tip) and husband (Harold Perrineau). Blige knows how to express pain despite the ham-fisted acting of her co-stars.
Alicia Keys: Smokin' Aces (2006)
Her small-screen résumé includes appearances on The Cosby Show and Charmed. But Keys' celluloid debut couldn't have been further from those family-friendly roles. In the 2006 thriller Smokin' Aces, the singer plays a ruthless assassin in a cast that included Common, Ryan Reynolds and Ben Affleck. She told MTV: "I wanted to do something unexpected … I wanted to trick you completely." Mission accomplished.
Janet Jackson: Poetic Justice (1993)
Though Janet grew up before us in various TV roles, this John Singleton movie was her first film role. Jackson played the poetry-writing, dookie-braid-wearing nice girl to Tupac Shakur's rough guy. It was reported that Jackson demanded Pac take an HIV test before a kissing scene. Despite that PR blunder, the singer showed she could handle herself on-screen.