A respected actress of the stage, screen, and television, Angela Bassett has been one of the few African-American actresses to break Hollywood's color boundary. She has specialized in playing strong women familiar with adversity and has worked in genres from "chick flick" (Waiting to Exhale) to sci-fi action (Strange Days) to biography (What's Love Got to Do with It?), the last of which featured her in a star-making performance as Tina Turner.
Born in New York City on August 16, 1958, Bassett was raised in St. Petersburg, Florida by her mother. Growing up in a household where money was tight, she was taught determination and independence. These values were called into service after an eleventh grade Upward Bound trip to Washington, D.C., when Bassett saw James Earl Jones in a Kennedy Center production of Of Mice and Men. Deciding that acting was her calling, she became involved in a number of local productions in St. Petersburg. She continued to act at Yale University, where she earned a scholarship; after completing a B.A. in African-American studies, she also spent three years at the Yale School of Drama. One of Bassett's mentors at Yale was the drama school's dean, stage director Lloyd Richards, who was so impressed with her talent that he cast her in two of his productions, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Although she enjoyed relative success on the stage, Bassett, like other African-American actors, had a difficult time finding roles in television and film.