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.
You may know him as the Shredder, Bulkhead, or Martian Manhunter.
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 was 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.
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Brock Peters also was the voice of Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, in a 1970 documentary. As Jack Johnson, his voice is heard at the end of Miles Davis’ soundtrack album “A Tribute to Jack Johnson.”
In the radio version of Star Wars Brock Peters did the voice of Darth Vader
Thank you so much for making us aware of these very talented artists! Some I knew, others I did not. Keith David is awesome! And let’s not forget the late great Adolph Caesar.
Where’s Phil Lamar?
Josten Divad McInnis
You, have covered my young adult hood. I do have Gargoyles on DVD, and all of the American Dragon-Jake Long, and…. and….
Nice read! I knew a lot of these but there were some surprises too! Well done!
Oh and I *loved* Gargoyles! ^_^
Wish I was on the list. I was Baxter Stockman,Darkrai,Dakamal,Voorx,Sam Jackson,and many others I can’t recall.
Terrence T.C. Carson should of been added on the list for his voice of Kratos from God of War game series alone.
James T. Heckstall
No mention of Terrance C. Carter/ Kratos?
You forgot Scatman Crothers, Buster Jones, Arsenio Hall, and Will Smith. Look em up and you’ll see what I mean, especially the first two.
I just skimmed, but didn’t see CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller in Justice League series). Not only a voice, but one of the most instantly recognizable,
Nathaniel Bunkin Roberson
Scatman was Hong Kong Phooey
Didn’t know that? Thanks for the info.
Mike Boles II
What a great list. I know there are more voice actors out there but to narrow it down to the top 18 must have been hard. Great job.
Whoopi Goldberg voiced Gaia in the original Captain Planet cartoon.
Kel Mitchell has done a lot of voices also. He was T-bone on Clifford the Big Red Dog.
Lauren Tom from everything, and Mako, who played Iroh on Avatar
Gary Anthony Williams has got be on the heels of some of these talented people. Great article/list. Love seeing these exceptional actors’ faces and all the characters they’ve brought to life. Thank you for the homework you did on it.
Blu Mankuma should have been in this list. His voice was featured in Beast Wars Transformers, Reboot, GI Joe, War Planets, Double Dragon, My Little Pony. Very diverse career.
Dr Carl Crutchfield
I entered this article fully expecting Cree Summer to be #1 just from the sheer volume of quality work she has done alone. Much respect to all those on the list, but that sister is a beast in the voice-acting game.
Michael-Leon Wooley! the princess and the frog! and about 20 cartoons on Nick, Disney, WB, Dreamworks
Beau Billingslea? Kevin Clash?
You completely neglect the work being done by Disney.
Kiara Muhammad has championed not only children’s cartoon series where the lead is visibly black, but also helped make legions of children less scared to go to the doctor with a lovable show and numerous songs to help kids manage their fear.
This should be as highly ranked as any villain or superhero show, or higher because it actually helps parents too. 🙂
Brock Peters also played Darth Vader in the NRA Star Wars radio dramas. Many, myself included, think he was even better than James Earl Jones.
Regina King …..all I can say is Wow….!!!
Carl Lumbly, as The Martian Manhunter?
Great list! I’d love to also add Roscoe Lee Browne, who is sadly no longer with us. He was Wilson Fisk/Kingpin on Spider-Man, Reekon on Visionaries, and the Narrator for Babe.
Keith David also did voice acting on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II
I think we are missing Carl Lumbly.
Keith David was also Spawn
How can you forget Bill Cosby for Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids
I feel that Bill Cosby might be too hot of a topic for him to be on this list.
I think that Phil LaMarr, Cree Summer, and Keith David should be top 3. Other than that, great list!
Hold up man are you fucking serious??? Uncle Phil was THE FUCKING SHREDDER THIS WHOLE TIME??!!?!!!??!! OMG!!!!!!
Arsenio Hall as Winston Zeddmore on Ghostbusters!
Great stuff – I didn’t know Uncle Phil was Shredder! Anyone else know that Kyle from ‘Living Single’ (TC Carson) voices Kratos in God of War?
If you’re interested in Native American cartoons, here is a great list:
Scatman Crothers needs to be #1 on this list. He did so many voices to name in early cartoons check the history.
Strong lack of Beau Bilingslea on this list. Otherwise, I’m glad it exists.
I think Gary Anthony Williams should be on this list. He does so many amazing characters. Do yourself a favor and check him out.
James Avery was also the voice of the Junkyard Dog on Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling!
Even though he is no longer with us Scatman Crothers…He should have been front and center #HongKongPhooey #WorldsCoolestPorsche935
Carl Lumbly (Justice League) and Tommy Davidson (The Proud Family) are missing.
What about TC Carson?? Voice of Kratos in God of War. Voice of Mace Windu on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He had done a lot also for the voice over world.
Well Dorian Harewood was the voice of Black Panther of the Fantastic Four in 1994. There was Kene Holiday as Roadblock on GI Joe, the late Roscoe Lee Browne as the Kingpin on STAS and Merklynn, Oliver and Company as Francis and a few other, Sheryl Lee Ralph Cheetah on Justice League, Amanda Waller on Young Justice.
Dr. Lester Washington
Nice and educational! No Darlene Upkebor?
Kadeem Hardison has had an extensive voice acting career after a Different World.
Bumper Robinson has been voice acting since the 1990’s until now.
The same can be said about Khary Payton.
Why is cree summers not #2? She has more credits than names that were higher than her.
there’s always going to be talent that’s left of of these lists. Carl Lumby voiced the Martin Manhunter on Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and Justice League:Doom.
Evil Ninja (@EvilNinjaX24)
Just reading this today, and this list needs to be updated and expanded upon.