Bump what you saw on “College Hill 4: Virgin Islands.” Not all U.S. Virgin Islanders are as crazy as the folks on that show, and in fact, many of ’em are some the most talented and successful black (and white) people out there! They’re NBA Championship winning basketball stars, acclaimed authors, actors, singers and more. Don’t believe me? Just check out these nine individuals who rep VI.
The infamous author and former video vixen known as Karrine Steffans was born and raised for most of her childhood in the Virgin Islands in Saint Thomas. It wasn’t until Steffans was 10 that she, along with her mother, moved to Florida. And I guess that’s when ish fell apart for her. When speaking of her life in St Thomas in an interview, Steffans had this to say:
“Our education and way of thought and consciousness are very different than here in the US. We ran around the beach naked as children and it was commonplace to see the women of the island wrapped in sarongs and walking around the island barefoot. We are a free people, natural in all our ways.”
Everyone’s favorite singing and dancing game show host and improvisationalist (I just made that word up obviously), Brady wasn’t necessarily born in VI, but his family is from the island. Wayne was raised by his grandmother, and when he speaks of her (he calls her mom actually), he often does a cute VI accent. The culture of Virgin Islanders has also influenced the music Brady likes, as well the music he makes. He told Black Voices that, “My family is from the US Virgin Islands so there was also a lot of Soca, Calypso and Reggae,” which he listened to often, and tried to find a way to integrate into his album, A Long Time Coming. Yeah, it’s okay if you didn’t know Wayne Brady dropped an album…
Jazz saxophonist and legend, Sonny Rollins was actually born in New York City, but his parents were natives of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has much love for the island, and his best known work, “St. Thomas,” was a calypso track influenced by a tune his mother used to sing to him as a child that she picked up while living in VI. He was said to have introduced the jazz world to calypso music through that classic. Rollins’s mother actually bought him his first saxophone, not knowing that he would want to become a jazz musician. As his sister, Gloria Anderson put it, “All West Indian parents wanted children who could entertain by playing something at teatime on Sundays, but no one wanted them to think of becoming a jazz musician.” Luckily for his family, Rollins isn’t half bad…*winks*
So now we know why Kelsey Grammer is always behind our favorite black TV shows…kidding! But seriously, the guy we know and love as Frasier and Tom Kane on “Boss” was born and raised in Saint Thomas, the son of two musicians. He spent his early years on the island, until his parents divorced. When they parted, Grammer left with his mother and siblings for New Jersey, while his father stayed in the Virgin Islands, where he owned a bar. In the end though, Grammer grew up in Florida and moved to New York to attend Julliard on his own when he was 18.
Cochise! Was anybody else a huge fun of the movie, Cooley High back in the day? If you don’t remember that, I’m sure you know LHJ from “Welcome Back, Kotter” and from playing crazy a** Joe Jackson in “The Jacksons: An American Dream.” Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs was born in the Virgin Islands, but was raised in NYC, and both of his parents were born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Cutie shooting guard Raja Bell of the Utah Jazz, but originally a star of the Philadelphia 76ers, was actually born in St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. He went on to be raised in Miami of all places. At one point, Bell was even slated to play on the Virgin Islands basketball team for the Caribbean Championships in 2011 (until he decided that he couldn’t participate). Bell, who got his name from his dad, Roger Bell, being called “Raja” in VI, says that his early days there were all about beaches and barbecues. “My childhood was all barbeques on the beach. There’d be eight to 10 kids, and all our parents, from afternoon to night.”
Christian was a feminist, author and professor of African-American studies at The University of California-Berkeley (a department she helped establish and because of it, she became the first black woman at the school to be granted tenure), and on top of that, she garnered much attention for her book, Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition in the early ’80s. Christian was born in St. Thomas, and what influenced her to write Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, which allowed her to cover the works of women like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and more, was that Christian remembered growing up as a “young girl in the Caribbean,” reading Nancy Drew books and wondering what black female protagonists could compete with such a strong character.
Before he was killing folks in the NBA softly with his basic but lethal basketball skills on the court, Tim Duncan was just a young lad growing up in Christiansted, a town in Saint Croix. Initially a standout swimmer, Duncan wound up turning to basketball his freshman year of high school and wound up excelling at it at his school, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal High School. Duncan is often said to be the island’s “greatest export,” what with the four NBA championships he’s helped the San Antonio Spurs obtain and many other honors and awards. A video done in 2005 showcased where Duncan grew up, went to school and played ball at. Clearly the folks there still have mad love for him.
The former “Dancing With the Stars” co-host (it was way back when in season one), “Entertainment Tonight” correspondent and actress is another celebrity hailing from VI. Born and bred in St. Thomas, Canning got her start in radio and television as a teenager in the Virgin Islands. She worked at a station in St. Thomas, and in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1991, she explained what her experience was like. “I was scared to death,” she says of her first few times on the air. “For a long time all I could say was the time and the temperature. Then I would script everything I said.” She has definitely come a looooooong way.
So, any U.S. Virgin Islanders out there?
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