Apr 14, 2012

Promenient Entertainers Share Pride in Jewish Heritage

While many people immediately perceive African Americans as Christians, our culture is diverse and some prominent members of our community identify with and take pride in their Jewish roots. Tracee Ellis Ross, Rapper Drake, Lisa Bonet, Maya Rudolph and Boris Kodjoe-all have their Jewish heritage in common.

Boris Kodjoe
Born in Vienna, Austria, Boris Kodjoe, also known as Boris Frederic Cecil Tay-Natey Ofuatey-Kodjoe, originally pursued a career in tennis, attending Virginia Commonwealth University on a tennis scholarship and winning a record 75 career singles matches. A back injury forced him out of the sport, but he quickly gained the attention of modeling and acting agents, and made a smooth transition to a performance career.

Boris made a name for himself with his starring role on the Showtime series, “Soul Food” in the early 2000s. He married his co-star Nicole Ari Parker seven years ago and they have two children. He's appeared on film, in such projects as “Love and Basketball”, “Brown Sugar”, and “The Gospel”. Since the run of “Soul Food” ended, he has appeared in such projects as “Madea’s Family Reunion”, “Surrogates”, and “Resident Evil: Afterlife”, and in guest-starring or starring roles on such television shows as “Nip/Tuck”, “Eve”, “Boston Public”, and “Undercovers”.

Boris' great grandmother was Jewish and died in the Holocaust. He takes pride in his Jewish heritage.

Lisa Bonet
Bonet was born in San Francisco, California. Her African American father, Allen Bonet, is an opera singer and Texas native; her Jewish mother, Arlene (née Litman), was a teacher. She has several younger half-siblings. An American actress, she is best known for her roles as Denise Huxtable Kendall on the long-running NBC sitcom The Cosby Show, and its spinoff .A Different World
On November 16, 1987, her 20th birthday, she eloped with singer Lenny Kravitz in Las Vegas.

She recalled their relationship:

"It was interesting when we were first finding out about each other, that our backgrounds were so similar. When I first told him my mom was Jewish, and he said 'So's my dad,' I thought that was both unusual and enchanting. I felt like, 'Okay, here's someone who really knows how it is.' And I think I trusted him a little more with my feelings and let him inside a little more than I ordinarily would have.”
The couple divorced in 1993. They had one child. Lisa remarried in 2007, uniting with Jason Momoa.  They have three children. The actress continues her work in films and television.

Tracee Ellis Ross
Born Tracee Joy Silberstein, October 29, 1972, in Los Angeles, CA. she is the daughter of real estate businessman Robert Silberstein and actress/singer Diana Ross. Tracee earned degree from Brown University, 1994 and studied acting at the William Esper Acting Studio. She worked as a magazine fashion editor, appeared in television commercials and made her feature-film debut in Far Harbor, 1996. She was cast in UPN sitcom Girlfriends, 2000.

Tracee has recognized that steady roles for biracial actresses like herself are not easy to find in the television industry, and has viewed her own success as a harbinger of things to come. "According to the casting world, I'm a black actress," Ross told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writer Joanne Weintraub. "But I always say that I'm a woman of color--several colors, because I'm black and Jewish. And that's been a great blessing in my life."

In 2007, Ross won an NAACP Image Award in the category, Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on the series. She won a second Image Award for the role in 2009. She is in a new show, Reed Between the Lines, with Malcolm-Jamal Warner airing on BET starting in October 2011.

Actor, Singer, Rapper Drake
Aubrey Drake Graham was born on October 24, 1986, in Toronto, Ontario. He is the son of Dennis Graham, a drummer who worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and Sandi Graham, an educator. Two of his uncles, Larry Graham and Teenie Hodges, are also musicians. Drake's father is an African American from Memphis, Tennessee, and Drake's mother is a Jewish Canadian. He attended a Jewish Day School and had a Bar Mitzvah.

His parents divorced when he was five years old, and he was raised by his mother in Toronto's wealthy Forest Hill neighborhood. Drake attended high school at Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, where he began acting but did not graduate. He spent most summers with his father in Memphis. Drake stated that his parents' divorce greatly affected him as a person, saying, “I had to become a man very quickly and be the backbone for a woman who I love with all my heart, my mother." In 2001, Drake began his acting career, playing the role of Jimmy Brooks, a character on Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the show, Brooks is a basketball star who became physically disabled after he was shot by a classmate.

In February 2006, Drake released his first mixtape Room for Improvement. It was made available via his website and official MySpace page. In 2007, he followed with his second mixtape Comeback Season. Drake became the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have his music video featured on BET when his first single, "Replacement Girl" was featured as the "New Joint of the Day" on April 30, 2007. Drake released his third official mixtape, So Far Gone, for free download on his blog site and received over 2000 downloads in the first two hours after release. He achieved success before signing to a major record label. The rest is history. During his singing career, Drake has won ten awards from fifty-two nominations.

Maya Rudolph
Maya was born in Gainesville, Florida, on July 27th, 1972, to Dick Rudolph, a music producer, and soul singer Minnie Riperton. In 1973, Maya, her parents, and her older brother, Marc Rudolph, moved to California to further Minnie's music career. Here Minnie recorded "Lovin' You", her most famous single, in which one can hear her sing "Maya, Maya, Maya" at the end of the song; Riperton claimed that this song was used as a lullaby for Maya.

During adolescence, Maya attended St. Augustine by the Sea School, where she met childhood friend Gwyneth Paltrow. The Paltrows and the Rudolphs became family friends and, in 2000, Dick Rudolph and Maya filled the role of music supervisors on the Bruce Paltrow-directed film Duets (2000), which starred Gwyneth.

Maya continued her education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she graduated in 1995 with a B.A. in photography from Porter College.

Maya is best known for her comedic roles as a cast member on Saturday Night Live from 2000 to 2007, and for appearing in films such as Away We Go, Bridesmaids, Grown Ups, A Prairie Home Companion and MacGruber. Since 2011, she has co-starred in the NBC sitcom Up All Night, with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett.

Maya Rudolph lives with director Paul Thomas Anderson and their three children



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