Actress. Born August 16, 1958, in New York City. Bassett was raised with her sister, D’nette, in St. Petersburg, Florida by her single mother, Betty, a social worker. On a high school trip, she became inspired to act after seeing a Kennedy Center production of Of Mice and Men, starring James Earl Jones.
Encouraged by a teacher, Bassett went on to study at Yale on scholarship, earning a B.A. in Afro-American Studies and an M.F.A. in drama. While there, she studied under the renowned stage director Lloyd Richards who cast her in the Broadway productions of two August Wilson plays, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.
Despite her early success on stage, Bassett had to work hard to break through the stereotypical roles usually assigned to African American women on screen. Her first role was a bit part in the cult favorite, F/X (1986). In 1991, she had a key role in the seminal anti-gang film, Boyz ‘N the Hood. A year later, she landed the role of Katherine Jackson, mother of the Jackson Five singing group, in The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992). Bassett continued her stream of strong female roles by portraying Betty Shabazz in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X (1992) with Denzel Washington in the title role. She turned in an outstanding performance in her breakthrough role as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? (1993), earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Bassett costarred with Whitney Houston in the adaptation of Terry McMillan’s Waiting To Exhale in 1995. In 1998, she headlined another McMillan adaptation, How Stella Got Her Groove Back. In Jodie Foster’s extraterrestrial-encounter film, Contact (1997), Bassett portrayed a top-level presidential advisor. Other films include 1999’s Music of the Heart, 2001’s The Score and 2006’s sleeper hit Akeelah and the Bee.
Back on stage, Basett played Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, costarring Alec Baldwin, at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York City in 1998. She also starred with her husband, Courtney B. Vance, in His Girl Friday in 2005.
Bassett married Vance on October 12, 1997. The couple’s son and daughter were born by surrogate in 2006.