In my last post, I looked at actors who sing… How about a look at singers who act?
My last post on Pop Rock Nation focused on actors who sing. I know I missed many other thespians who have tried to broaden their audiences by turning to music, but to cover all of them would take way too much time and space. Besides, I have to save up material for the inevitable day when I have writer’s block. Actors are not the only ones looking to broaden their appeal. Quite a few singers have branched out into acting. Some have been surprisingly good at the acting gig, while others have been laughably bad. In the interest of continuity, here’s a look at a few well-known singers who took a stab at the small screen or the silver screen.
Kenny Rogers as The Gambler… and Brewster Baker!
In 1978, Kenny Rogers had a hit song called “The Gambler”, which he famously turned into several made for television movies in the 1980s. In 1982, he was in the major motion picture, Six Pack, which was about a race car driver who looks after six rag tag orphans who happen to be pretty good mechanics. The above clip is actually a tribute to the character Swifty, who was played by Robby Still. Robby Still has precious few credits on imdb.com, but he was pretty memorable in Six Pack. You can catch some of Kenny’s acting in this clip. Six Pack also starred future teen idol Anthony Michael Hall, future movie star Diane Lane, and Erin Gray, of whom I had fond memories when she played Colonel Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease and Kira in Xanadu
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta sing “You’re The One That I Want” on Grease.
A trailer for the 1980 film, Xanadu.
Olivia Newton-John was a huge smash when she played exchange student in the 1978 musical film, Grease, alongside John Travolta (an actor who sings). In 1980, she was tapped to play Kira, a muse who helps a couple of guys build their dream nightclub, Xanadu. I must confess that in the early 80s, I simply adored Xanadu! I loved Olivia Newton-John and I thought the film was just plain cool. It really captured my imagination and the soundtrack was pretty awesome, at least to my nine year old ears. Many years later, I think the film is ridiculous, but it’s still fun to pull out every once in awhile for a laugh. And it was also later turned into a musical, which I have yet to see. Olivia Newton-John teamed up with John Travolta again in the film Two of a Kind, which was a bit of a bomb. She has since been in television movies and has had cameos on popular television shows like Glee.
Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes and Truvy Jones
Dolly as Doralee Rhodes on the film, 9 to 5.
Dolly as Truvy Jones in Steel Magnolias.
Dolly Parton has been in more than a few movies, but two of my favorites done by her are 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias. In 9 to 5, she played sexy, feisty secretary Doralee Rhodes, who has to constantly has to put up with a scumbag boss. In Steel Magnolias, she plays Truvy Jones, small town Louisiana hairstylist extraordinaire. In both films, she handily and convincingly played southern women with heart. I think Dolly Parton is one of those singers who really can act, too! As long as she plays people who are a lot like her…
James Taylor as The Driver
Opening scene of Two Lane Blacktop…
It’s hard to think of singer-songwriter-guitarist James Taylor on the silver screen. He seems like such a sensitive, introverted soul. In 1971, he was in the film Two Lane Blacktop, playing The Driver. I have seen this film, but it didn’t really stick with me much. I think that’s a sign that JT is probably better off singing.
Whitney Houston as Rachel Marron
Whitney Houston died last year as she was completing a role in the 2012 film Sparkle. As an actress, she is best remembered for her role as Rachel Marron, a beautiful singer who needs to be protected by “the bodyguard” (Kevin Costner). I don’t know that Whitney’s acting skills were top notch, but the soundtrack for that film was huge and many people loved the film. Today, Whitney’s version of “I Will Always Love You” (written by fellow singer turned actor, Dolly Parton), is much loved and could probably be called her signature song.
Usher Raymond has an impressive string of credits on the small screen. The one I will remember him for is his turn as Will on an episode of 7th Heaven. He played a campus radio station manager who hires Reverend Eric Camden (played by Steven Collins, another actor who sings) to talk to a suicidal caller.
Janet Jackson as Penny Woods, Cleo Hewitt, and Charlene DuPrey…
In all fairness, Janet Jackson was probably better known as an actress before she became a megastar singer. But when most people think of Janet Jackson, they think of her as a singer. She acted on Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes, and Fame when she was coming of age. Later, after selling millions of records, Janet was in Nutty Professor II with Eddie Murphy (a comedian and actor who sings).
Michael Jackson as The Scarecrow
Janet Jackson’s older brother, Michael, was also not a total stranger to the big screen. In 1978, he performed as The Scarecrow in the film, The Wiz. In 2002, he played Agent M in the sequel to Men In Black, Men In Black II. Michael Jackson’s role as The Scarecrow was probably his biggest one as an actor, though he was a man of many talents– singing, dancing, and drawing among them!
Looking at this incomplete list of a few singers who act, I think maybe some of the singers were more successful at trying their hands at acting. Give me a few months, though, and this subject is bound to come up again!