Popular Hollywood Stars Who Started Their Careers As Musicians

Hollywood might seem like a massive place where everyone knows everyone, and people work together on all kinds of projects, films, and television shows. However, despite the fact that A-listers typically ending up at the same parties, events, and awards shows, the industry is still very much divided. The music industry is very different from the studio system that produces our favorite films and TV shows, and often the two don’t mix.

Throughout history, many musicians from Elvis to Beyoncé have starred in various films over the course of their careers, though some roles have been more believable than others. Nonetheless, some celebrities who began their careers as musicians and have fully transitioned over to to the silver screen. These 15 celebrities might have stepped into Hollywood as musicians, but we know them best now for their acting roles. One singer won an Oscar with her film debut (page 12).

1. Juliette Lewis

Juliette Lewis

Juliette Lewis attends the 2016 | Lee Segretain/Getty Images

  • We bet you didn’t know about Juliette and the Licks

Juliette Lewis stunned us all in her stunning role as Danielle Bowden in Martin Scorsese’s 1991 film, Cape Fear opposite Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte. For her work, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She would go on to star in everything from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? to Enough and even the ABC anthology series Secrets and Lies.

However, Lewis never came to Hollywood to be an actress. She got her start as a rocker as the frontwoman in the band. Juliette and the Licks. She even released a solo project, Terra Incognito.

Next: The Fresh Prince who almost wasn’t a Hollywood star. 

2. Will Smith

Will Smith

Will Smith | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

  • Will Smith took the Fresh Prince job because he needed to pay the IRS.

Hollywood leading man Will Smith made his acting debut on the legendary ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which was a staple from 1990 until it ended in 1997. Smith went on to star in everything from Hitch to Independence Day and even Men in Black and Bad Boys. He was even nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor for his role as Muhammad Ali in 2001’s Ali and as homeless salesman Chris Gardner in 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. In fact, the father of three once declared, “I want to become the biggest movie star in the world.”

However, being a movie star was never Smith’s intention. In the ’80s Smith stepped onto the scene in the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. He took the job on Fresh Prince because he owned the IRS a ton of back taxes. The rest is history.

Next: An “American Idol” runner-up turned Oscar winner 

3. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson attending a premiere

Jennifer Hudson |Mike Windle/Getty Images)

  • Jennifer Hudson proves she can do it all, without winning a competition. 

Jennifer Hudson used her stunning voice in the 2006 Dreamgirls musical remake to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Since then she’s gone on to star in everything from The Sex and the City Movie to Fox’s Empire and even the animated film Sing!

Hudson has musical roots. Though she placed 7th in Season 3, Hudson was a fan favorite on Fox’s long-running singing competition American Idol. She may not have won the show, but Hudson learned how to seamlessly move across the music industry and film and TV studios.

Next: From a criminal to a musician to an actor 

4. Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Entourage"

Mark Wahlberg | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

  • Mark Wahlberg went from a criminal to a musician to the big screen 

There has never been a greater transition from the music industry to the film screen then Mark Wahlberg. Before his music career, Wahlberg was a violent criminal who harassed three Black children and a Vietnamese man. He was charged with hate crimes and attempted murder and sentenced to prison for two years. He eventually turned his life around. In the ’80s Wahlberg came to fame as the younger brother of New Kids on the Block’s Donnie Wahlberg, and he went on to form his own music crew, Funky Bunch where he was known as Marky Mark.

He then began starring in films like The Basketball Diaries, Ted, Three Kings and he’s also produced the HBO series, Ballers, Boardwalk Empire, Entourage, and How To Make It America.

Next: A rap legend turned actress 

5. Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah is smiling on the red carpet.

Queen Latifah | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

  • Before movies and TV, Queen Latifah was a pioneering rap artist 

You might know Queen Latifah for her role in the Academy Award-winning musical Chicago and the Golden Globe-nominated HBO film, Bessie. But before Latifah was starring on the ’90s sitcom Living Single or robbing banks in Set If Off, she was a pioneering female rapper.

In the 1980s’ with the group Ladies Fresh and as a solo artist Queen Latifah’s lyrics spoke to and about Black women. Her lyrics focused on everything from domestic violence, street harassment, and relationship problems. Now, you can see the legend on your TV screen in Fox’s musical drama, Star.

Next: A former boy bander turned movie star  

6. Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake onstage during the People's Choice Awards 2017

Justin Timberlake | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

  • Justin Timberlake started his career on the small screen.

We all know Justin Timberlake from the boy band, NSYNC. But he also got his start alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling on The All New Mickey Mouse Club. While transitioning into a solo singing career, he also began to snag roles on the big and small screens. He first appeared in the ABC TV movie, Model Behavior.

He’s gone on to star in everything from The Love Guru to The Social Network.

Next: A country music star turned actress  

7. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

  • Dolly Parton had a stint in films during the 1980s.

Singer Dolly Parton doesn’t do too much acting anymore, but the country music star proved she had some major acting chops when she put down her microphone for some stellar roles in the 1980s. Parton made her on-screen debut in 1980’s 9 to 5, where she starred opposite Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. She followed that up with, The Best Little Whorehouse, and Steel Magnolias.

Some of Parton’s other roles have been less successful, but she proved she could hold her own both on the stage and on the screen.

Next: A rap star who had stunned on the screen 

8. Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def

Mos Def

Mos Def at Madison Square Garden| Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

  • Mos Def has deep roots in acting 

You probably know Mos Def because of his career as a rap artist, but he started to pop up in films like Monster’s Ball and Brown Sugar. He was even nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe for playing to pioneering heart specialist Vivien Thomas in the 2004 TV movie, Something the Lord Made.

Though it may seem shocking that the hip-hop star transitioned from music to the big screen so seamlessly, it’s actually how he initially broke through in Hollywood. As a child, Bey, whose birth name is Dante Smith appeared in a slew of quickly canceled TV shows. Luckily his work as an adult has been more recognizable.

Next: The rock and roll star turned box-office icon.

9. Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley, the King

Elvis Presley | AFP/Getty Images

  • The King of Rock and Roll was once king of the box office

Elvis Presley might be the King of Rock and Roll, but he was also known for his work on the big screen. The “Heartbreak Hotel” singer made his big screen debut in 1958’s Civil War film Love Me Tender. It was a stunning debut that helped propel him to the top of the box office for a decade in movies like Jailhouse Rock and King Creole

Eventually, Presley would return to music entirely after Hollywood stopped giving him challenging film roles. However, by then, he’d proven that he could tackle nearly everything.

Next: A musical legend who transformed on the silver screen. 

10. Cher

Actress/singer Cher

Cher | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

  • Cher got her film debut because of a Broadway role. 

Cher rose to fame in the ’60s with her then-partner Sonny Bono in the music industry as Sonny and Cher. However, after divorcing Bono and trying to find her footing again in the ’80s, Cher turned to movies. Her debut came after starring in Robert Altman’s production of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She was so good that she was cast in the film adaptation in 1982 followed by roles in Silkwood, Mask, Moonstruck, and The Witches of Eastwick, and Suspect.

It appears that a decade of films was more than enough for Cher because she disappeared from the big screen shortly after that, only appearing in small parts here and there like in the hit sitcom, Will & Grace.

Next: A rap icon who turned into a comedic genius 

11. Ice Cube

 Ice Cube in Dallas,Texas

Ice Cube in Dallas, Texas | Ron Jenkins/BIG3/Getty Images

  • Did you know that Ice Cube wrote Friday and directed The Player’s Club?

Pioneering rap artist Ice Cube burst on the scene in the 1980s in the rap group N.W.A., and then he went on to have his own solo rap career. However, during that time he also got a knack for acting. In 1991, John Singleton cast Ice Cube in his Oscar-nominated flick, Boyz n the Hood and the rest is history. Ice Cube would go on to write and star in the favorite comedy Friday, and all of its sequels.

He’s also starred opposite Kevin Hart in Ride Along as well as movies like 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street. It’s been an amazing rise from a kid from South Central, Los Angeles.

Next: The rock and roll star turned box-office icon.

12. Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards

Barbra Streisand at the 75th Annual Golden Globe Awards | Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

  • Barbra Streisand’s film debut won her an Oscar 

Grammy and Tony Award-winning music artist Barbra Streisand had one of the most incredible film debuts in history.  Streisand made her mark on cinema in 1968’s Funny Girl where she earned a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of entertainer Fanny Brice.

Though she kept going with her music career full speed ahead she also starred in What’s Up, Doc?, 1973’s The Way We Were, 1976’s A Star Is Born, 1983’s Yentl, 1991’s The Prince of Tides, and 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces.


Next: A legendary entertainer who saved his career with one movie. 

13. Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra in "From Here To Eternity"

Frank Sinatra in “From Here To Eternity” | Columbia Pictures

  • Getting into the movie business saved Frank Sinatra’s career

In the 1940’s Frank Sinatra was a sensation. However, by the 1950’s his career was starting to decline and he knew he needed to make a major change to save it. In 1953 when Sinatra heard From Here to Eternity was being made into a movie, he begged for a role as Private Maggio declaring that he would do it for free.

Sintra made the right gamble. He earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work and it revitalized his career as a full-throttle entertainer.

Next: A country legend and movie star 

14. Kris Kristofferson

Kris Kristofferson in "Blade"

Kris Kristofferson in “Blade” | New Line Cinema

  • Kris Kristofferson does both movies and country music equally well. 

Country music legend, Kris Kristofferson has stepped onto the silver screen with over 100 TV and movie credits. He made his major movie breakthrough in the ’70s in Pat Garrett and Billy the KidAlice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and 1976’s A Star Is Born.

He’s continued to work in Hollywood including the Blade films in the ’90s and 2010’s Bloodworth. It seems like Kristofferson is just as much a movie star as he is a music star.

Next: An actor turned rocker 

15. Jared Leto

Jared Leto at the Oscars

Jared Leto at the Oscars | Valerie Macon /Getty Images

  • The Joker actor went from TV and movies to music

While the rest of the celebrities on this list went from the music stage to the big screen, Jared Leto’s journey was the opposite. The Academy Award winner debuted in the ’90’s on the teen drama, My So-Called Life. He also went on to star in Fight ClubAmerican Psycho, and Dallas Buyers Club.

In 2002, Leto decided he wanted a new challenge when he formed the band, 30 Seconds To Mars with his older brother Shannon. The bad has been hugely successful and has sold over 10 million records worldwide. Some people really can do it all.

Follow Aramide Tinubu on Twitter @midnightrami.

Read more: Actors Who Ruined Their Own Careers

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