6 Great Musicians Who Should Have Won An Oscar For Their Acting Turn

Tupac Shakur in Juice, Diana Rossi n Lady Sings the Blues, Janet Jackson in For Colored Girls
(Image credit: Paramount/Lionsgate)

With the 96th Academy Awards on the horizon, multiple music superstars are up for Oscars (usually in the Score and Song categories). Musicians are routinely up for those categories. However, there are rare cases where music artists have garnered acting nominations for their film performances. Some music superstars scored Academy Awards, including Barbra Streisand, Cher, Jared Leto, and Will Smith. Others garnered at least one Oscar nom, including Queen Latifah, Andra Day, Mary J. Blige, Frank Sinatra, and Bette Midler. There’s another category – those who got acclaim but failed to secure a well-deserved Oscar nomination or win.

So, here are some great musicians who should have won an Oscar for their acting turn.

Aretha Franklin (Jennifer Hudson) in Respect

(Image credit: Universal)

Jennifer Hudson - Respect

Of course, most viewers know Jennifer Hudson has the vocal chops to pull off any musical film moment (i.e., Dreamgirls and Cats). However, Hudson took on her most challenging role yet – the Queen of Soul and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Aretha Franklin in the 2021 biopic Respect.

Much like Jamie Foxx in Ray, the Oscar winner sang Franklin’s songs live due to having a similar vocal range and tone to the late singer. However, Hudson’s acting chops are rivaled by her vocal abilities. She became the soul music icon through her speech, mannerisms, and personality. This technique was possible as Hudson studied Franklin, who handpicked the actress. The talk show host showed her emotional range, covering Franklin’s highlights and lowlights.

While Jennifer Hudson snagged a SAG nomination, it didn’t translate into a Best Actress Oscar nomination despite winning Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls in 2007. The film is available to stream on Peacock.

Bishop (Tupac Shakur) in Juice

(Image credit: Paramount)

Tupac Shakur - Juice

Most moviegoers know Tupac Shakur was a rap legend taken from the world too soon. However, Shakur was a rising Hollywood star with his first lead role in the 1992 coming-of-age film Juice as delinquent Roland Bishop.

The rapper’s acting background shone through as he played a street kid. The role saw his metamorphosis from a bullied militant delinquent to a homicidal psychopath. He captured being fearful and frustrated to ruthless, blood-thirsty, and menacing. Shakur shined the most in scenes with co-stars Omar Epps, Khalil Kain, and Jermain Hopkins. At the same time, he was a scene-stealer playing against veterans like Samuel L. Jackson.

Despite receiving praise from critics, this didn’t translate to any awards love, including the Academy Awards. The cult classic is available on streaming platforms, including Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Jo Bradmore "Lady in Red" (Janet Jackson) in For Colored Girls

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Janet Jackson - For Colored Girls

Most viewers think of Janet Jackson as a veteran performer and a member of the Jackson music dynasty. However, Jackson returned to her thespian roots by playing successful lawyer Joanna “Jo” Bradmore (aka Lady in Red) in the 2010 stage-to-screen adaptation For Colored Girls.

The pop superstar explored a new side as the actress by tackling the character’s duality as a successful attorney and oblivious wife. She’s stern and controlling in every aspect while seeking love in a loveless marriage. Jackson tapped into her play counterpart by channeling anger, hostility, and frustration. Those emotions led to the Grammy winner focusing on Jo’s personality and mannerisms in tune with her associated color.

While Janet Jackson did receive acclaim for the role, the praise didn’t translate into any awards season love, including the Oscars. Watch the female-centric melodrama by streaming it through an Amazon Prime Video subscription.

Sandman's wife (Macy Gray) in Training Day

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Macy Gray - Training Day

Macy Gray burst onto the music scene with a unique voice and style. So, her first film role was no different as she played the small but memorable role of Sandman’s wife in the 2001 Oscar-winning film Training Day.

Playing the wife of a drug dealer marked a complete departure from her eccentric music persona. She was a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking mother who didn’t mind mixing it up with the police. Gray became the character as she faced off against acting veterans Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke with ease, coming off as intimidating and condescending. She came off as an authentic ride-or-die wife, fitting into the movie’s gritty and amoral world.

Garnering acclaim for her debut role wasn’t enough to hear her name called for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Review the singer’s film debut by watching Training Day through a Netflix subscription.

Billie Holliday (Diana Ross) in Lady Sings the Blues

(Image credit: Paramount)

Diana Ross - Lady Sings the Blues

After launching a successful solo music career, Diana Ross leveraged her music success to launch a successful film career. Ross made a splash in her debut film – 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues – playing troubled jazz singer Billie Holiday.

Before Jennifer Hudson and Jamie Foxx, the Motown legend poured all her effort into becoming the beloved music figure. She nailed the late music icon's speaking style, mannerisms, and personality. Ross showed a range of emotions as she had to tackle the jazz legend’s tragic beginnings, music stardom, and downward spiral. Her chemistry with co-stars Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor only amplified those moments.

Her debut film performance secured Diana Ross multiple Best Actress nominations, including the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Unfortunately, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer lost the coveted prize to Liza Minnelli's Cabaret performance. See why Ross snagged an Oscar nom by buying/renting the musical biopic on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Preacher (Harry Belafonte) in Buck and the Preacher

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Harry Belafonte - Buck and the Preacher

While Harry Belafonte was a Hollywood staple dating back to the 1950s, the entertainer rarely got to show his acting range outside of a few movies. Belafonte stepped out of his comfort zone by playing flamboyant and shady Reverend Willis Oaks Rutherford (aka The Preacher) in Sidney Poitier’s 1972 directorial debut, Buck and the Preacher.

Compared to past drama roles, the actor-singer let his usual stoicism go for an over-the-top performance. He got to be charming and humorous while being unfiltered and manipulative. Belafonte played a nice balance of amoral and moral while getting down and dirty during action scenes. The calypso music pioneer was a great scene partner to Poitier and Ruby Dee, especially seeing the longtime friends go from foes to accomplices.

Harry Belafonte did receive praise for his film performance. However, he missed out on securing a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Watch the first all-Black western drama by streaming it through an Amazon Prime Video subscription.

Those stellar performances prove the musician-turned-actor is still battling for Hollywood’s respect despite multiple performers proving they can act. This stigma is still prevalent as moviegoers have seen multiple music artists passed over for Oscar recognition. Of course, Jennifer Lopez’s infamous Hustlers snub comes to mind. The Color Purple’s Fantasia Barrino was the latest victim of this stigma despite her acclaimed performance in the movie musical. As the Academy Awards push for more diversity, the voting body might start giving another musician a nod or win for their hard work and dedication.

In the meantime, check out who’s up for an Oscar this year before the 96th Academy Awards air on March 10 on ABC at 7 pm EST. Don’t forget to check out streaming platforms like Max and Netflix to watch all the outstanding performances from this year’s nominees.

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).