32 Times Singers Broke Into Acting

It's a time-honored tradition!

singers who became actors dolly parton
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When someone is an amazing, charismatic singer, it can be a hop, skip, and a jump to acting. Just think back to all your favorite singers who gave compelling on-stage or music video performances—you know, the ones that made you believe in the lyrics and feel like you were a part of their world? With that said, acting can be a very different animal (as some of the singers on this list learned the hard way), and singing talent doesn't always translate to acting talent. But you'll be surprised by how many of our great actors started out as singers—or who started singing and acting at roughly the same time—and went on to be our greatest movie and TV presences. Lots of these performers got their start in musicals, which require both singing and acting ability, and some made the transition to non-singing roles. Either way, the singing-to-acting pipeline has always been, and continues to be, strong.

Below, 32 times well-known singers broke into big acting projects.

Sarah Bareilles

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The "Love Song" singer-singwriter Sarah Bareilles had released several successful albums when she debuted as the lead of the musical Waitress in 2015. But did you also know she has TV creds too, appearing on Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (2018) and Girls5eva (which debuted in 2021)? 

Jessica Simpson

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Jessica Simpson signed with Columbia Records when she was a literal teenager, but she quickly parlayed that to reality TV infamy (hello, Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica) and then to some interesting on-screen work (That '70s Show, The Dukes of Hazzard).

Bing Crosby

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Bing Crosby achieved much of his early success as a singer, but he started starring in musicals in the 1940s. He's probably most known these days for White Christmas (1954) but he also won an Oscar for the musical Going My Way (1944) and got a nom for the film's sequel.

Lenny Kravitz

singers became actors Lenny Kravitz

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Singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz has had a legendary career as a musician—but, if you look closely, you'll notice him popping up in bit parts in some of your favorite movies and shows, from Zoolander to The Hunger Games and even episodes of The Simpsons and Entourage.


singers became actors Ludacris

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If you're only familiar with Ludacris as his character Tej from the Fast and the Furious franchise, it'll probably blow your mind to know what a successful rapper he was/is. If you're only familiar with Ludacris the amazing rapper who gave us "What's Your Fantasy," I have some films I want you to watch.


singers became actors beyonce

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We all know Queen Bey for her long, impressive music career—from her early beginnings in Destiny's Child on up—but she also began trying her hand at acting in the 2000s, most notably Goldmember and Dreamgirls (and continued to do voice acting, including for the Lion King remake).

Taylor Swift

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Taylor Swift is such an expressive singer (see also: all her music videos) that it wasn't all that surprising she turned her energy to acting. From Valentine's Day (2010) to the not-very-good Cats (2019) to Amsterdam (2022), she's given us some enthusiastic performances.

Jennifer Hudson

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It wasn't long after Jennifer Hudson was a finalist on American Idol (2004) that she made her film debut in Dreamgirls (2006)—and then immediately won an Oscar for Supporting Actress for her performance, no big deal. Several more films and a talk show followed.

Mandy Patinkin

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Technically, Mandy Patinkin became an actor and singer nearly simultaneously in musicals and on Broadway, but before he started his professional career, he sang in his synagogue choir growing up. His big break came in 1983's Yentl with Barbra Streisand (although he didn't sing in that!).

Mary J. Blige

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Only one of the most important R&B and hip hop singers of all time, no biggie, Mary J. Blige also wowed movie fans when she gave intense and soulful performances in films including Mudbound (2017) and the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect (2021).

Mandy Moore

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I admit to being a huge fan of Mandy Moore's "Candy" (1999)—Google it if you haven't heard it. On screen, she's probably most known for her role in This Is Us, but she also voiced Rapunzel in Tangled and had her breakthrough in the rom-dram A Walk to Remember (2002).

Snoop Dogg

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Rapper Snoop Dogg is often playing a version of his laidback, smooth self, but that doesn't mean we don't still enjoy it! He's probably most known for his bit parts, including in Training Day (2001), Starsky & Hutch (2004), and voice work in the animated Turbo (2013).

Mariah Carey

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If you're only familiar with singing superstar Mariah Carey's performance in the not-very-well-reviewed Glitter, check out Precious (2009). She's completely unrecognizable—and very good. After that, she did voice work on animated films and has made some cameos, too.

Whitney Houston

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While acting wasn't her primary focus (that would be her legendary singing, obviously), Whitney Houston is still an indelible part of some 1990s movie classics, including The Preacher's Wife and The Bodyguard, as well as Cinderella and Waiting to Exhale.

Ice Cube

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Songwriter and rapper Ice Cube quickly parlayed his '80s fame to acting, including impressive runs in Boyz n the Hood and Friday. But it's his performance as the most underrated part of the 21 Jump Street and Barbershop movies that most people know him for.


singers became actors rihanna

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If you're reflecting upon multi-hyphenate Rihanna as an actor, Ocean's 8 or Battleship probably come to mind immediately. But my favorite of her roles is in This Is the End, in which she plays herself and hilariously hits Michael Cera's character across the face.

Harry Styles

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Since his debut in Dunkirk (2017), Harry Styles has featured prominently in a few films—My Policeman and Don't Worry Darling—and (spoiler alert) makes a brief cameo at the end of The Eternals. Fans of Styles couldn't have been happier.

Josh Groban

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He's not just one of those performers with a sly, surprising sense of humor on stage—although he is that!—Groban also turned to acting in musicals (Sweeney Todd, Beauty and the Beast), and has also done TV work (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and movies (Crazy, Stupid, Love).

Russell Crowe

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Before making his film debut in the 1990s, Russell Crowe was part of a band (he did lead vocals and guitar!) that lasted until the early 2000s. Crowe has continued to sing and perform—usually not in movies but occasionally in movies too! (See also: Les Miserables)


singers became actors madonna

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Like so many things she did, Madonna was making the transition from singer to actor before lots of other people. Her movie career isn't as long as her decades-long singing career, but it still led to some great films, including A League of Their Own and Evita.

Queen Latifah

singers became actors Queen Latifah

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If you are only familiar with Queen Latifah from her acting roles (too many to name, but including Girls Trip and Bessie), it might surprise you to learn she's also a Grammy-winning rapper and singer who's incredible versatile in that arena, too.

Jack Black

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The School of Rock star (who sometimes likes to combine his singing and acting passions) is also lead singer and guitarist for the band Tenacious D—a duo that was founded in the 1990s. Technically Black's first on-screen role was a commercial in the '80s, but his acting really took off in the 2000s.

Harry Connick Jr.

singers became actors Harry Connick Jr

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Award-winning singer Harry Connick Jr. technically began his acting career in the 1990s (remember Hope Floats?) but fans of the sitcom Will & Grace will probably know him for his most recognizable role: Grace's boyfriend-turned-husband Leo.

Janelle Monae

singers became actors Janelle Monae

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Janelle Monae made everyone fall in love with her character in Glass Onion, but the singer has been popping up on our screens for a while—including Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and Antebellum. But her music career came first, kicking off in the 2000s.

Idris Elba

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Idris Elba was in Cats, per this photo, but he has also been in lots of other movies and TV shows. Fans of The Wire were shocked to learn that Stringer Bell was in fact played by a British guy (Elba's great at accents). It may also shock you to learn that this longtime rapper and DJ performed at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding!

David Bowie

singers became actors David Bowie

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Seen here as probably his most recognizable character (that would be the very creepy Jareth from Labyrinth), the iconic singer actually acted in a number of movies. From Tesla in The Prestige to his debut in the '70s with The Man Who Fell to Earth, his filmography is fascinating.


singers became actors elvis

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Producers knew that the King of Rock and Roll would bring audiences to theaters, so (no surprise) Elvis Presley was a shoo-in for movies. Starting in the 1950s and continuing after his military service, we probably know him best for Viva Las Vegas in 1964.

Lady Gaga

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Here pictured in character for Joker: Folie à Deux (Harley Quinn), Lady Gaga first flexed her acting muscles in her dramatic music videos. She began pursuing a movie career in earnest in the 2010s, and we may know her best for House of Gucci and A Star Is Born.


singers became actors cher

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One half of the 1970s media personality and singing duo Sonny & Cher, the couple actually hit it big in the 1960s with their music. Cher would, obviously, go on to have a long and successful solo singing career and would also win an Oscar for Moonstruck.

Barbra Streisand

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One of the few EGOT winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), Barbra Streisand started working in films in the 1960s (Funny Girl). She won her Oscar for The Way We Were (1973) and then directing and producing with the Oscar-winning Yentl (1983).

Dolly Parton

singers became actors dolly parton

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Country singing legend Dolly Parton has also worked as an actor, including as one of the best parts of 1980's 9 to 5. With Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin costarring, it was surprisingly prescient about working women, bad bosses, harassment, and a host of other issues.

Frank Sinatra

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With one of the most famous and recognizable voices ever, the prolific singer also had a prolific and impressive film career (that started with a variety series in the 1950s). Sinatra won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (1953) but is probably most known for The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Katherine J. Igoe
Contributing Editor

Katherine’s a contributing syndications editor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle. In her role, she writes stories that are syndicated by MSN and other outlets. She’s been a full-time freelancer for over a decade and has had roles with Cosmopolitan (where she covered lifestyle, culture, and fashion SEO content) and Bustle (where she was their movies and culture writer). She has bylines in New York TimesParentsInStyle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Her work has also been syndicated by ELLEHarper’s BazaarSeventeenGood Housekeeping, and Women’s Health, among others. In addition to her stories reaching millions of readers, content she's written and edited has qualified for a Bell Ringer Award and received a Communicator Award. 

Katherine has a BA in English and art history from the University of Notre Dame and an MA in art business from the Sotheby's Institute of Art (with a focus on marketing/communications). She covers a wide breadth of topics: she's written about how to find the very best petite jeanshow sustainable travel has found its footing on Instagram, and what it's like to be a professional advice-giver in the modern world. Her personal essays have run the gamut from learning to dress as a queer woman to navigating food allergies as a mom. She also has deep knowledge of SEO/EATT, affiliate revenue, commerce, and social media; she regularly edits the work of other writers. She speaks at writing-related events and podcasts about freelancing and journalism, mentors students and other new writers, and consults on coursework. Currently, Katherine lives in Boston with her husband and two kids, and you can follow her on Instagram. If you're wondering about her last name, it’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.