Over the past 70 years, only nine African American women have won the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. These performers include Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams, Virginia Capers, Jennifer Holliday, Ruth Brown, Heather Headley, Audra McDonald, LaChanze, and Patina Miller. Fifteen have won for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Although you probably recall this year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy in Hollywood, things really aren’t much better on Broadway. It’s still a very white environment in terms of actors and actresses, creative teams, etc. While Hamilton has really shaken things up for the better, there is still a long ways to go as far as diversifying The Great White Way.

In the midst of Hamilton‘s massive success, I’ve been looking back at some of the musicals that have helped boost diversity on Broadway over the years. Unfortunately, the type of representation presented in these shows hasn’t always been the best. Even so, I would like to devote this blog post to highlighting several stand-out, solo musical theatre songs written for and/or originally performed by young black actresses. Note: no performer should feel limited by the songs below. However, if you and/or your student are looking for songs that were originally performed by black actresses in their 20s and early 30s, this list may be of use. As with all my rep lists, I hope this one is helpful!

P.S. If you need more musical theatre song suggestions, check out my professional repertoire guides here.

1. “Ain’t It the Truth” from Jamaica (1957)
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg
Performed by Lena Horne

2. “An Orthodox Fool” from No Strings (1962)
Music by Richard Rodgers
Performed by Diahann Carroll

3. “Being Good Isn’t Enough” from Hallelujah, Baby! (1967)
Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Performed by Leslie Uggams

4. “I Got Love” from Purlie (1970)
Music by Gary Geld; Lyrics by Peter Udell
Performed by Melba Moore

5. “Love Me” from Two Gentlemen of Verona (1971)
Music by Galt MacDermot; Lyrics by John Guare
Performed by Jonelle Allen

6. “Soon As I Get Home” from The Wiz (1975)
Music & Lyrics by Charlie Smalls
Performed by Stephanie Mills

7. “Out Here On My Own” from Fame (1980)
Music & Lyrics by Michael Gore
Performed by Irene Cara

8. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls (1981)
Music by Henry Krieger; Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Performed by Jennifer Holliday

9. “All Things to One Man” from Grind (1985)
Music by Larry Grossman; Lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
Performed by Leilani Jones

10. “Waiting for Life to Begin” from Once on This Island (1991)
Music by Stephen Flaherty; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Performed by LaChanze

11. “Shadowland” from The Lion King (1997)
Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Tim Rice
Performed by Heather Headley

12. “Your Daddy’s Son” from Ragtime (1998)
Music by Stephen Flaherty; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Performed by Audra McDonald

13. “A Change in Me” from Beauty and the Beast (1998)*
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Tim Rice
Performed by Toni Braxton

14. “Easy As Life” from Aida (2000)
Music by Elton John; Lyrics by Tim Rice
Performed by Heather Headley

15. “Here’s Where I Stand” from Camp (2003)
Music by Michael Gore; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Performed by Tiffany Taylor

16. “I Hate the Bus” from Caroline, or Change (2004)
Music by Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics by Tony Kushner
Performed by Anika Noni Rose

17. “Random Black Girl” from Homemade Fusion (2005)
Music by Michael Kooman; Lyrics by Christopher Dimond
Performed by Patina Miller

18. “Colored Woman” from Memphis (2009)
Music by David Bryan; Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Performed by Montego Glover

19. “Freedom Road” from Bad Girls: The Musical (2011)
Music & Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
Performed by Camilla Beeput

20. “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” from The Book of Mormon (2011)
Music & Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez & Matt Stone
Performed by Nikki M. James

21. “Sister Act” from Sister Act (2011)
Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Performed by Patina Miller

22. “The Crying Scene” from Murder Ballad (2013)
Music by Juliana Nash; Lyrics by Julia Jordan
Performed by Rebecca Naomi Jones

23. “Satisfied” from Hamilton (2015)
Music & Lyrics by  Lin-Manuel Miranda
Performed by RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry (& Lin-Manuel Miranda)

*This song was written for Toni Braxton specifically and added to the Broadway score.

Kevin Michael Jones

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