Talented actors and actresses of color have been voicing life into some of our favorite characters for years, many of whom we never even realized. With characters of color already underrepresented in animation, these artists were behind the scenes all along, winning our love through their characters’ voices with little recognition of their own. Think you know them? Here are 18 of the most important voices of color in animation.
18. Dave Fennoy
A king of video game voice acting, Dave Fennoy has voiced nearly one hundred characters from Nick Fury on the Ultimate Spider-Man video game, to Commander Kellogg on the Space Race episode of Archer. 25 years in the game and still putting in work.
You may know him as Lee Everett, Warpath, or Pong Krell.
17. Arthur Burghardt
One of the early trailblazers for African American voice actors, Arthur Burghardt played villains in some of your favorite television cartoons. His most iconic roles were in the 1980s, but contributed to several videos games more recently including God of War: Ghost of Sparta, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and Ultimate Spider-Man.
You may know him as Destro, Devestator, or Pete.
16. Brock Peters
Best known for his role as Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, Brock Peters had a marathon career that included voicing roles on Batman: That Animated Series, Swat Kats, Captain Planet, Ahh! Real Monsters, Samurai Jack, and more.
You may know him as Dark Kat, Luscious Fox, or Soul Power.
15. Cree Summer
You know her as the eccentric hippie-turned-lawyer in A Different World, but did you know Summer is one of the busiest and most sought after voice talents on television? From Tiny Toons and Rugrats to the DC and Marvel Universes, her voice will forever be part of your childhood.
You may know her as Penny, Elmyra, or Hyena.
14. Kevin Michael Richardson
If there is a voice actor’s throne, Kevin Michael Richardson is the heir. As if passing the baton, many actors of color on this list originally voiced popular characters that Richardson voices now.
13. John Witherspoon
From the Wayans Brothers to Friday, John Witherspoon always had a knack as a convincingly crotchety old man. It was only right he was casted as Boondocks’ Granddad, the belt-wielding curmudgeon raising his two grandsons while chasing younger women.
12. Aisha Tyler
Aisha Tyler is a real-life superwoman. She is the co-host of a CBS’ daytime talk show, author of 2 books, producer and host of a hit podcast, and recently joined the crew on the re-launch of television’s Who’s Line Is It Anyway? But many of us know her best as Lana Kane, the smart, gorgeous, angry woman of Archer’s affection.
11. Isaac Hayes
The wise confidant of the kids of South Park, Chef was a recurring character whose musical numbers were a show favorite, brought to life by the voice of Isaac Hayes. After a long run he famously parted ways with the show in 2006, but many of us will always remember “I’m Gonna Make Love to You, Woman,” and “Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls.”
10. Jaleel White
Of course he was Steve Urkel, everyone knows that, but did you know he was also Sonic the Hedgehog?! That’s right – Jaleel White voiced Sega’s mega superstar of the 90s in both hit cartoons Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Underground.
9. Dorian Harewood
Where do I begin here? Dorian Harewood was been a part of anything you ever loved, and you never even knew it. Play 6 Degrees of Separation with voice actors and you will find this man every time, maybe as War Machine, Martian Manhunter, or Modo from Biker Mice from Mars. HE WAS MODO ON BIKER MICE FROM – okay, calm down, calm down.
8. Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Salli Richardson-Whitfield is the voice of Elisa Maza. She is perfect in every way. If you do not know who she is, kindly leave this article because there is nothing I can teach you. You must watch Gargoyles for yourself. I have nothing else to say on this matter.
7. Dante Basco
Since playing Rufio in Hook and being part of one of the best scenes in all of childhood, Dante Bosco has been quietly killing the voice acting game for years. Known best for his voicing of Avatar’s Zuko and Legend of Korra’s General Irho, Bosco’s name can be found all over iconic, imaginative works. Add to his attributes, he’s as down to earth as they come when discussing the challenges of landing roles as a person of color.
6. Earle Hyman
Best known as Cliff Huxtable’s father on the Cosby Show, Earle Hyman is actually only 11 years Cosby’s senior. Do you know who he was in the 1980s when not playing Russell Huxtable? He was Panthro! Grandpa Huxtable was a ThunderCat!
5. Regina King
Regina King has starred in hit television shows, movies, and cartoons, and while some may know her from Jerry Maguire or Miss Congeniality 2, I tip my hat to those who remember her from 227, Poetic Justice, or A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. For this list, however, let’s know her as Huey and Riley Freeman, the two leads of Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks. King so hilariously brings the Boondocks to life that it’s hard to imagine what the show would have been without her voice. (Bonus: For Boondocks fans, check out the Top Ten Best Boondocks Episodes of All Time)
4. Phil LaMarr
MADtv alum Phil LaMarr established an amazing voice acting career. With more star roles than anyone on this list, he has voiced characters like Green Lantern, Hermes Conrad, Samurai Jack, and Static.
3. James Avery
The beloved James Avery will always be remembered as Uncle Phil, but you can also remember him as Shredder, a role he mastered from 1987 to 1993. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air made its debut in 1990, so for 3 years he simultaneously held down two of the most recognizable pop culture figures of a decade.
2. LeVar Burton
There is only one proper reaction to meeting the man who has done this much for our childhoods. Most known for Reading Rainbow and his role on Star Trek, he was also Kwame, the first Planeteer to discover his ring and manipulate his element, Earth.
1. Keith David & Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Gargoyles is one of the greatest cartoons of all time. Keith David voiced Goliath, the star of the show and leader of the clan. This was one of the most thought-provoking and entertaining cartoons on television, and was able to challenge young viewers while never talking down at them – an incredibly difficult feat. Between Keith David’s Goliath and Salli Richardson-Whitfield playing a Black and Native American Elisa Maza, this was the best Black television relationship the world never knew. Gargoyles was years ahead of its time.