Prominent Figures Connected to Jersey City
Plenty of famous faces were born or grew up here in Jersey City, and others have contributed to or lived in this city at one point. Check out famous people from Jersey City, both old and new!
Francis Albert Sinatra (December 12, 1915 – May 14, 1998) was an American singer, actor and producer who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 150 million records worldwide.
Born to Italian immigrants in Hoboken, the all-time-great crooner moved to 137 Bergen Avenue in Jersey City after marrying his first wife – and Jersey City native – Nancy Barbato. Sinatra’s first two children, Nancy and Frank, Jr., were born in Margaret Hague Hospital in Jersey City as well.
Nancy Sandra Sinatra, born in Jersey City (June 8, 1940) is an American singer and actress. She is the eldest daughter of Frank Sinatra and Nancy Barbato Sinatra, and is widely known for her 1966 signature hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”.
Nancy Sinatra began her career as a singer and actress in November 1957 with an appearance on her father’s ABC-TV variety series, but initially achieved success only in Europe and Japan. In early 1966 she had a transatlantic number-one hit with “These Boots Are Made for Walkin‘“. She appeared on TV in high boots, and with colorfully dressed go-go dancers, creating a popular and enduring image of the Swinging Sixties. Sinatra also had a brief acting career in the mid-1960s, including a co-starring role with Elvis Presley in the movie Speedway, and with Peter Fonda in The Wild Angels.
Born in Jersey City in 1941, Martha Helen Kostyra is an American retail businesswoman, writer, television personality, and former model. She began modeling at the age of 13 and attended Barnard College before working as a stockbroker on Wall Street for a time. Of course all of that served as a precursor to her incredible success as a media mogul and all-around lifestyle guru.
As founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, she gained success through a variety of business ventures, encompassing publishing, broadcasting, merchandising, and e-commerce. She has written numerous bestselling books, is the publisher of Martha Stewart Living magazine, and hosted two syndicated television programs, Martha Stewart Living, which ran from 1993 to 2004 and Martha, which ran from 2005 to 2012.
“The Lion King” might have been set in Africa, but the voice behind the animated meerkat Timon himself hailed from Jersey City. Born and raised here, Nathan Lane is an American actor and writer. He attended St. Peter’s Preparatory High School on Grand Street where he caught the acting gig.
He went on to attend college at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia on an acting scholarship, sparking a career that would lead to Tony, Drama Desk, SAG, People’s Choice and Daytime Emmy awards; multiple Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe nominations; plus a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Lane publicly came out as gay after the death of Matthew Shepard, a tragic hate-crime case. He has been a long-time board member and fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and was honored with the Human Rights Campaign Equality Award, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Vito Russo Award,The Trevor Project Hero Award, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation Making A Difference Award for his work in the LGBT community.
Kool & The Gang
Brothers Ronald and Robert Bell were raised in Ohio before moving to Jersey City with their family in 1960. They’d go on to form Kool & the Gang with two Jersey City natives, Dennis Thomas and George Brown and members Robert “Spike” Mickens, Charles Smith, and Ricky West. They have undergone numerous changes in personnel and have explored many musical styles throughout their history, including jazz, soul, funk, rock, and pop music. After settling on their name following several changes, the group signed to De-Lite Records and released their debut album, Kool and the Gang (1970). Together, the band has sold more than 70 million albums.
From Nairobi to Newark, Kool & the Gang has performed continuously longer than any R&B group in history and their bulletproof funk and jazzy arrangements have also made them the most sampled R&B band of all time. They’re proud members of the New Jersey Hall of Fame, and saw the Jersey City Council rename the corner of Maple Street and Pacific Avenue “Kool & The Gang Way” in their honor. Their songs have been shared and sampled, including hits like “Get Down on It,” “Celebration,” “Jungle Boogie,” and “Summer Madness.”
Perhaps best known for her roles in “The Fast and the Furious” film franchise, Michelle Rodriguez bounced around a bit — from Texas to the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico — before landing in Jersey City at age 11. She credits her Jersey City roots with building the toughness and confidence that have served her well in roles like her debut film “Girlfight” which was her first audition, after running across an ad for an open casting call. Rodriguez beat 350 other applicants to win her first role.
Rodriguez has had notable roles in other successful movies, including Letty in The Fast and the Furious and Rain Ocampo in Resident Evil. She also appeared in Blue Crush and S.W.A.T.. In 2004, Rodriguez lent her voice to the video game Halo 2, playing a Marine. From 2005 to 2006, she played tough cop Ana Lucia Cortez on the television series Lost during the show’s second season and in 2009,Rodriguez starred in James Cameron’s high-budget sci-fi adventure epic Avatar, which became one of the highest-grossing films in history and Rodriguez’s most successful film to date. With her films grossing over $5 billion (U.S.) collectively, a 2013 Entertainment Weekly article described Rodriguez as “arguably the most iconic actress in the action genre, as well as one of the most visible Latinas in Hollywood”.
Born in St. Louis, Akon is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and actor. He spent much of his childhood shuttling between Senegal, West Africa and New Jersey cities (including Union City, Newark and Jersey City). He was born as “Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam”. A child of a dancer mother and a percussionist father, Mor Thiam, Akon learned to play five instruments, including drums, guitar and djembe. Akon attended Dickinson High School on Palisade Avenue, and he still frequents Ringside Lounge on Tonnele Avenue where he catches up with old friends and restaurateur Mario Costa.
As a triple-platinum hip-hop recording artist, he is the first solo artist to hold both the number one and two spots simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 charts twice. Akon has had four songs certified as 3× platinum, three songs certified as 2× platinum, more than ten songs certified as 1× platinum and more than ten songs certified as gold in digital sales. He was listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the #1 selling artist for master ringtones in the world.
Akon recently headlined at the 6th annual fireworks show on a July 4th concert alongside Pitbull at the Jersey City waterfront in Exchange Place.
Christine Flores better known as Christina Milian is an American actress, singer and songwriter born in Jersey City and raised in Maryland, then eventually moved to Los Angeles. Milian signed a contract with Def Jam at the age of 19. In 2001, Milian released her self-titled debut album, which features the single “AM to PM” and “When You Look at Me”. “AM to PM” charted within the Top 40 of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and both singles peaked in the top three on the UK Singles Chart. In 2004, Milian released her second studio album, It’s About Time, providing her first major U.S. hit, “Dip It Low”, which reached number five on the U.S. Billboard chart. “Whatever U Want” was released as the album’s second single. Both singles charted within the Top 10 of the UK chart.
Milian originally wanted to be an actress starting out. Her first leading role was in the 2003 film Love Don’t Cost a Thing, and she subsequently had lead roles in Be Cool and the 2006 horror film Pulse. Milian had a minor role in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, and starred as the lead role in the straight-to-DVD film Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. Milian has also starred in the 2010 ABC Family Original Movie Christmas Cupid, alongside Ashley Benson and Chad Michael Murray.Actress and “Dip It Low” singer also showed off some of her moves on season 17 of Dancing with the Stars and in Bring It On: Fight to the Finish.
The Jersey City born film and TV actor attended Henry Snyder High School and graduated from Linden High School. He made his big-screen debut performance in the 2002 film Antwone Fisher, directed and produced by Denzel Washington, winning the Independent Spirit Award. Luke also played Gabe Jones in Captain America: The First Avenger and currently stars as Kevin Porter in the Netflix original series 13 Reasons Why. He is also known for his role in the 2004 film, Friday Night Lights.
Clerow “Flip” Wilson Jr., one of the most popular comedians, actors, writers and host was born in Jersey City. He was one of ten children. His father worked as a handyman but, because of the Great Depression, was often out of work. When Wilson was seven years old, his mother abandoned the family. His father was unable to care for the children alone and he placed many of them in foster homes. After bouncing from foster home to foster home, 16 year-old Wilson lied about his age and joined the United States Air Force. His outgoing personality and funny stories made him popular; he was even asked to tour military bases to cheer up other servicemen. Claiming that he was always “flipped out”, Wilson’s barracks mates gave him the nickname “Flip” which he used as his stage name.
Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning Wilson, was best known for his television appearances during the late 1960s and the 1970s. He was the first African American to host a successful TV variety show, The Flip Wilson Show, and one of the first successful African American entertainers, according to the New York Times.
Joe Budden is an American broadcaster, songwriter and former rapper who grew up in Jersey City and attended Lincoln High School for a short period of time. Budden began rapping in 1999 and his eponymous debut studio album was released in 2003, debuting at number 8 on the Billboard 200, selling 95,000 copies within its first week. The album featured the hit single “Pump It Up”, Budden’s most commercially successful solo single. From then on, he was signed to major record label Def Jam Recordings, until 2007 when he signed to Entertainment One Music.
After separating from Def Jam, he began recording and releasing solo mixtapes and albums on independent labels. In 2013, he released No Love Lost; followed by “Some Love Lost” and “All Love Lost“. Budden’s final album “Rage & The Machine” was released on October 21, 2016. In addition to his solo work, Budden was a member of the American hip hop supergroup Slaughterhouse.
Budden currently hosts The Joe Budden Podcast, released bi-weekly through Spotify and YouTube. He also hosts State of the Culture on Revolt. He was previously one of three hosts of Complex’s Everyday Struggle along with DJ Akademiks and Nadeska Alexis, before leaving the show in January 2018. In addition, he has also appeared on VH1’s TV show Love & Hip Hop.
Lester Green, widely known as “Beetlejuice,” is an American actor and comedian with microcephaly and dwarfism, known for his frequent guest appearances on The Howard Stern Show (in addition to being a member of Stern’s “Wack Pack”). Lester has appeared in feature films as well as performed voice-over work. Green has performed with various Howard Stern Show-related comedians, including those who perform under The Killers of Comedy Tour banner.The Jersey-City born entertainer also appeared in Scary Movie 2.
Malcolm Jamal-Warner is an American actor, director, producer, musician, and writer born in Jersey City. At the age of nine, he demonstrated an interest in show business which led to enrollment in acting schools. His career as a child performer later led him to graduate high school from The Professional Children’s School in New York City, New York.
With appearances and roles on many television shows and films, he landed his most successful role as Theo Huxtable, son of Heathcliff Huxtable, who was played by Bill Cosby on the NBC sitcom, The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992. Warner auditioned for the role on the very last day of the nationwide search and was chosen by Cosby himself.
He’s also starred in Malcolm & Eddie, BET’s Reed Between the Lines and made appearances on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Born in Jersey City, Beth Fowler was a teacher with a fondness for Broadway theatre. She was raised in the Greenville neighborhood, and attended Sacred Heart School.
In 1970, she decided to audition for Gantry. She was signed for the chorus and as understudy for the lead, but the show unfortunately closed on opening night. Additional Broadway credits include 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Peter Pan, Baby, Take Me Along, Teddy & Alice, the 1989 revival of Sweeney Todd, Beauty and the Beast, in which she originated the role of Mrs. Potts, Bells Are Ringing, and The Boy from Oz.
During her career, she also appeared in a number of films, including Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Friends & Family, Did You Hear About the Morgans? I Don’t Know How She Does It, and Mulan, in which she sang “Honor to Us All”. She is best known for her role as Sister Ingalls on Orange Is The New Black, which she along with the cast won a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.
Paul Gleason was an American film and television actor born in Jersey City. He grew up in Miami during his childhood into young adulthood. When he gained an interest in acting, he decided to move to New York City, eventually joining The Actors Studio where he would study for four years before moving to Los Angeles.
Gleason starred in many movies, and became well-known initially as Dr. David Thornton on All My Children, playing the role from 1976 to 1978. He also played the notorious role of Principal Richard Vernon in The Breakfast Club and is known for his roles in Trading Places, and Die Hard along with many others.
Tracey Walter is an American character actor who has appeared in over 100 films and television series. He was born in Jersey City and attended St. Anthony’s High School. Walter is known for his portrayal of “sidekicks” and “henchmen” such as Bob the Goon in Batman, Cookie in City Slickers, and Malak in Conan the Destroyer.
His biggest roles include those in The Silence of the Lambs, Matilda, Drive, Erin Brockovich, Designing Women, and dozens of other shows and movies. Walter’s television credits include guest appearances on Taxi, Charlie’s Angels, Hill Street Blues, Amazing Stories, Moonlighting, David Lynch‘s On the Air, Melrose Place, The Division, Veronica Mars, Criminal Minds and Cold Case.
Willie Banks is a former pitcher in Major League Baseball who played for the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox. Banks was born in Jersey City and went to St. Anthony’s High School. Banks was a member of the 1991 World Series champion Minnesota Twins and the 1995 National League Western Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Willie is now part of the Toms River Sports Academy (TRSA) in Toms River. He has been instructing and coaching young athletes for the past 8 years. Willie offers individual or group lessons at the Sports Academy. He has also been instrumental in assisting the TRSA coaching staff to bring 8 teams to championships, winning 6 of the 8 within a 6 year period.
Sam Coppola was an American actor from Jersey City who has appeared in almost 70 films, beginning in 1968. He is best remembered for his role as Dan Fusco in Saturday Night Fever and the idiosyncratic family therapist of Jennifer Melfi in The Sopranos. His many TV credits include The Practice, The Good Wife, Law & Order, The Sopranos, Ryan’s Hope and the 2001 A&E movie The Big Heist. He also had stage roles, including off-Broadway production Waiting for Godot.
Phyllis Newman is an actress and singer on Broadway, film, and television. She was born in Jersey City and attended Lincoln High School where she was voted “Future Hollywood Star”. Newman made her Broadway debut in Wish You Were Here in 1952. Some of her theater credits also include Bells Are Ringing, Pleasures and Palaces, The Apple Tree, On the Town, and Subways Are for Sleeping, for which she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She has been nominated twice for the Drama Desk Award and received a second Tony Award nomination for Broadway Bound.
Newman became a major television celebrity of the 1960s and 1970s, a frequent panelist on the top-rated network game shows What’s My Line?, Match Game and To Tell the Truth. She was also a regular on the primetime series 100 Centre Street and the NBC satirical series That Was The Week That Was. On screen, Newman appeared in Picnic (1955), Let’s Rock (1958), Mannequin (1987),and The Human Stain (2003) just to name a few.
In 1995, Newman founded The Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative of the Actors Fund of America. Since then she has hosted the annual Nothing Like a Dame galas, which have raised more than $3.5 million and has served 2,500 women in the entertainment industry. In 2009, Newman received the first Isabelle Stevenson Award, a special Tony Award, for her work with the Health Initiative.
Brandon McGowan is a former American football safety. Born and raised in JC, McGowan attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City where he played football as a safety and running back. He was a defensive first-team All-County selection as a senior.
McGowan went undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft and signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Bears. McGowan was the only undrafted rookie to make the Bears’ roster. Later on, McGowan signed with the New England Patriots on May 5, 2009.
Bernard “Bernie” Parmalee is the current assistant special teams Coach and offensive assistant for the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League. He attended and played football at Lincoln High School, and went on to play running back for the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets from 1992 to 2000.
He then began an expansive coaching career from 2002-present. Working different coaching positions for the Miami Dolphins, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, and his current position with the Atlanta Falcons.
Bob Hurley is a 71-year old head basketball coach and former college and professional player from Jersey City. He was raised in Greenville, attended St Peter’s Prep, attended St Peter’s for college, and then began coaching in St. Anthony’s. He has coached at St. Antony’s high school since 1972 and has been in charge of the men’s basketball program up until the school shut down in 2017.
It can be said with confidence that Coach Hurley built a local program into a national powerhouse and ran it like a smooth engine. During Hurley’s 45 year reign of coaching, he has won 4 National Championships, 28 State Titles, 13 Tournament of Champions Title, and over 1,100 Career Wins. He also became just the 10th coach in high school history to win 1000 games and has led five of his teams to 8 undefeated seasons.
Hurley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame that year and only the third high school coach in history to be so honored. Hurley is considered a top 10 high school basketball coach in the history of the United States. Currently, Coach Bob Hurley continues his mission of developing children’s potential in life through the game of basketball via The Hurley Family Foundation. The Hurley Family Foundation runs a free basketball program for students in 3rd through 12th grade in Jersey City. Over 400 unique athletes participate in the clinics and each session is packed with over 75 players.
Born in Jersey City, Susan Flannery is an American actor and director, best known for starring in the American daytime soap operas ‘Days of Our Lives’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’. She acted in feature films, including The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Gumball Rally (1976). She also acted in the primetime television series Dallas, playing Leslie Stewart during season four (1980–1981).
Flannery became best known worldwide for portraying Stephanie Douglas Forrester on the American soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful (1987–2012). She was one of the original cast members of the series, only two of whom still appear (Katherine Kelly Lang and John McCook). Flannery was also a regular director on the show, and was twice nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for her work. After 25 years, she decided to leave the show in 2012. Flannery came in at #1 in the Top 50 Soap Actresses of All Time poll on the internet blog We Love Soaps in 2010.
She has taken an active role in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in securing cable rights and foreign residuals for actors when their work appears in other media. Her efforts have had a positive impact on how The Bold and the Beautiful actors are paid when the show is televised in countries outside the United States.
Norman Lloyd is an American actor, producer and director with a career in entertainment spanning over nine decades. He has worked in every major facet of the industry including theatre, radio, television and film, with a career that started in 1923 and his last film to date Trainwreck in 2015.
In the 1930s, he apprenticed with Eva Le Gallienne‘s Civic Repertory Theatre and worked with such influential groups as the Federal Theatre Project‘s Living Newspaper unit, the Mercury Theatre and the Group Theatre. Lloyd’s long professional association with Alfred Hitchcock began with his performance portraying a Nazi agent in the 1942 film Saboteur and went on to produce Hitchcock’s long-running anthology television series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Lloyd directed and produced episodic television throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
As an actor, he has appeared in over 60 films and television shows, with his roles including Bodalink in Limelight, Mr. Nolan in Dead Poets Society and Mr. Letterblair in The Age of Innocence. In the 1980s, Lloyd gained a new generation of fans for playing Dr. Daniel Auschlander, one of the starring roles on the medical drama St. Elsewhere. Lloyd turned 100 in 2014.
Currently living in Jersey City is Gerald Aston, an American R&B singer, and the lead singer with the Manhattans. He joined the Manhattans in 1970, shortly after the death of their former lead singer George Smith and helped the group remain a fixture on the R&B top ten as lead on songs like “Kiss and Say Goodbye“, “There’s No Me Without You”, and “Shining Star“.
Between 1988 and 1995, he left the group to record five albums (later recording his tribute to Sam Cooke in 2008) and ten solo singles, including “Take Me Where You Want To,” “Slow Motion,” a remake of Atlantic Starr‘s “Send for Me”, and “Activated”, most of which was for Motown Records.He is the nephew of Shirley Alston Reeves, former lead singer of the Shirelles. Aston rejoined the group in 1995 after finding that “his solo career wasn’t what he thought it would have been”.
KAWS (Brian Donnelly)
Brian Donnelly, known professionally as KAWS, is an American, JC born artist and designer. His work includes repeated use of a cast of figurative characters and motifs, some dating back to the beginning of his career in the 1990s, initially painted in 2D and then in 3D. Some of his characters are his own creations while others are reworked versions of existing icons. Donnelly attested the School of Visual Arts in NYC, receiving a Bachelor’s in Illustration. He started off as a freelance animator, painting backgrounds for the animated series 101 Dalmatians, Daria and Doug. Animator by day, and graffiti artist by night, he began to make a name for himself.
After moving to New York City in the 1990s, he started “subvertising” billboards, bus shelters and phone booths. Since then, he’s subvertised in Paris, London, Berlin and Tokyo.In 1999, KAWS made his first toy, “Companion”, a vinyl figure of Mickey Mouse with x-ed out eyes in collaboration with Japanese company Bounty Hunter. Donnelly has been compared to the likes of Andy Warhol for his appeal across the market and ability to blur the lines between commercial and fine art. He’s worked with major names and brands such as streetwear brand BAPE, MTV, cover art for Kanye West, clothing store Uniqlo, the MoMA, and more.
Although not a Jersey City native, Rosa Parks spoke at the Jersey City State College’s commencement ceremony in 1983 (which is NJCU today) and was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree!