February is Black History Month and in celebration We Love Soaps will be featuring a number of classic articles on black actors in soaps. In reading the article below, from 1997, my first impression was we don't have nearly as many black stars as a decade ago. Victoria Rowell, Kevin Mambo, Rhonda Ross-Kendrick, Shemar Moore and many others named are long gone from soaps and are sorely missed.
Black stars heat up daytime soaps
October 13, 1997
Love, hate, marriage, divorce, murder, mayhem and sex are all ingredients that keep millions of viewers of daytime soap operas tuning in each week.
Black stars, whose roles have become more prominent over the years, heat up daytime soaps, helping them to keep their massive appeal.
The most-watched daytime soap is CBS' THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS (Y&R), which will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. It stars Tonya Lee Williams as Dr. Olivia Winters, who is married to Malcolm Winters, played by Shemar Moore. Malcolm's brother, Neil Winters, played by Kristoff St. John, is married to Olivia's sister, Drucilla Winters, played by Victoria Rowell.
The web is quite tangled with the Winters clan. Olivia is married to Malcolm but has feelings for her sister's husband. Olivia is trying to deal with her feelings as she watches her sister, Drucilla, mistreat her honest, adoring husband Neil.
Williams told Jet the chemistry between the actors is a reason people get tuned to what's happening with the two couples.
"The four of us have a dynamic quality; we complement one another well," she said. "My and Victoria's characters are different, but together they spark. The same is true for Malcolm and Kristoff's characters. And the four of us together are buzzing."
Another reason Williams said the Winters' story line has been a favorite is that their story line has been prominent in the show since it began eight years ago. Before, she said, many story lines where Blacks were featured were placed on the back burner and ultimately never received the popularity that theirs has generated.
She added that story lines featuring black actors have become more prominent because industry executives have realized that blacks are a huge part of the soap opera audience.
"They want to make money," she said. "We have big audiences in Canada, Africa, etc. And they want to see Blacks in their shows, and they are vocal about it."
Kevin Mambo may be fairly new to the soap opera genre, but he is already a Daytime-Emmy veteran. After only eight months of starring as Marcus Williams on CBS' GUIDING LIGHT (GL), he won his first Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor in 1996. He won the award again this year, for his role on GL, the longest-running daytime soap.
As Marcus, Mambo is a saxophone player who loves his music and a beautiful singer Dahlia Creed, played by Sharon Leal. But love isn't enough as the couple will keep things hot with the ups and downs of their relationship.
"It's going to be rocky, hopefully very rocky," he said. "As great as they are together, something's got to happen between them."
Also interesting is Marcus' relationship with his father, Griffin, played by Geoffrey Ewing.
Mambo, also an accomplished musician, gets to showcase his musical talent. Much of the music played on the show, he writes. It has been a hit with GL fans.
AS THE WORLD TURNS fans are currently caught up in the blossoming romance between Dr. Ben Harris and Camile Hicks, played by Peter Parros and Lauren Martin-Harkins.
ABC has a great number of black actors featured on its soaps.
Debbi Morgan, a soap veteran, currently portrays the hard-edged chief resident Dr. Ellen Burgess on the new soap PORT CHARLES.
As her story line progresses, PORT CHARLES fans will understand why this doctor is so hard-nosed. But despite that toughness, her heart may be warming up as romance may be in her near future.
On GENERAL HOSPITAL Senait Ashenafi stars as Keesha Ward, and Joseph Phillips is Keesha's brother, Justus. Keesha and her ex-fiance are involved in an intriguing tale of trying to get to the bottom of a scam being concocted by a pregnant woman who is trying to trap him. But the more they work together, the possibility of reconciliation becomes more real. The show also features Matthew St. Patrick as Detective Taggert and Vanita Harbour as Dara Jensen.
Belinda Keefer, played by Amelia Marshall, on ALL MY CHILDREN is constantly trying to avoid her Aunt Grace's (Lynne Thigpen) attempts to hook her up with Mr. Right. Belinda thinks she has met a good match with Miles Christopher, played by Roger Smith. But she will learn that Miles has a sinister side. Also on the show is William Christian as police officer Derek Frye.
Things center around the Gannon family on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Sandra P. Grant is the strong-willed, former drug-abuser Rachel Gannon, daughter of district attorney Hank Gannon, played by soap veteran Nathan Purdee. There is always friction between Hank and his brother, RJ Gannon, played by Timothy D. Stickney, a menacing, dangerously charming man who's involved in illegal dealings. RJ's business partner is Jacara Principal, played by Marva Hicks.
On NBC, soap opera newcomer Rhonda Ross-Kendrick, daughter of famed entertainer Diana Ross, has received rave reviews as Officer Toni Burrell on ANOTHER WORLD (AW). A victim of rape, Ross-Kendrick told Jet that AW fans can look forward to Burrell healing in the aftermath of that tragedy and rekindling her romantic relationship with Chris Madison, played by Eric Morgan Stuart. But Ross-Kendrick added that the audience also should not overlook her best friend, Tyrone Montgomery, played by Henry Simmons, who will add another exciting element to this story line.
Ross-Kendrick said her character is so appealing because she is "strong, competitive and confident while she is also vulnerable because of the rape. She has some insecurities. She loves being a police officer, and she loves the law."
She also believes that Blacks have become more prominent on the soaps because of the large Black audience. "It's only smart for soaps to bring in bright actors and let them shine their incredible talent in the Black community."
SUNSET BEACH fans are definitely deep into the romantic fires in the relationship between lifeguard Michael Bourne, played by Jason George, and star reporter Vanessa Hart, played by Sherri Saum.
The trials and tribulations of the Carver family keep soap viewers locked into DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Renee Jones and James Reynolds star as married couple Lexie and Abe Carver. Tanya Boyd is the mysterious and spiritual Celeste, Lexie's mother. Also on the show is Marie Alise Recasner as nurse Lynn.