Angela Evelyn Bassett is an American actress and activist. She was born on August 16, 1958 in New York City, the daughter of Betty Jane (née Gilbert; 1935–2014) and Daniel Benjamin Bassett (1924–1981), and was raised in Harlem. Bassett’s middle name was given to her in honor of her aunt Evelyn. The origin of the Bassett surname comes from her great-grandfather William Henry Bassett, who took the surname of his former slave owner.
Ten months after Bassett was born, her mother became pregnant and had a second child, Bassett’s sister D’nette. Bassett said that the pregnancy made things harder, so Bassett’s parents “shipped” her to stay with her father’s sister Golden. While her aunt did not have any children of her own, she loved children, and she was good with them.
After her parents’ separation, she relocated from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she and her sister D’nette were raised by their social worker/civil servant mother. Bassett did not see her father again for several years, until she attended her grandmother’s funeral. There, Bassett met his daughter from his first marriage, Jean, who at twelve years old, was several years older than Bassett.
After graduating from Jordan Park Elementary School, she began being bused out of her neighborhood to attend Disston Middle School for seventh grade. The year she began attending was 1970, the first year busing was implemented to integrate public schools in St. Petersburg. After completing seventh grade, she was bused to Azalea Middle School for eighth and ninth grade. Bassett’s mother became more involved in her daughter’s grades and told her and her sister the pair were going to college.
As her interest in entertainment developed, Angela and her sister would often put on shows, reading poems or performing popular music for their family.
At Boca Ciega High School, Bassett was a cheerleader and a member of the Upward Bound college prep program, the debate team, student government, drama club and choir. A straight “A” and “B” student for the most part.
During high school, Bassett became the first African-American from Boca Ciega to be admitted to the National Honor Society. She participated in Upward Bound, an academic and cultural enrichment program for underprivileged students even though Bassett said she and the other participants did not see themselves as underprivileged.
Bassett attended Yale University and received her B.A. degree in African-American studies in 1980. In 1983, she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama, despite opposition from her father’s sister who warned her to not “waste” her Yale education on theater. She was the only member of Bassett’s family to have gone to both college and graduate school. At Yale, Bassett met her future husband Courtney B. Vance, a 1986 graduate of the drama school.
After graduation, Bassett worked as a receptionist for a beauty salon and as a photo researcher. Bassett soon looked for acting work in the New York theater.
In 2018, Basset was awarded an honorary doctoral degree in fine arts from her alma mater, Yale University.
Bassett has been noted for portraying real life African-American women, usually smart and strong. Bassett said in 2001 that she liked those roles and that those are the parts she is attracted to.
She has turned down roles which she viewed as demeaning to her image because of the way she thinks or how she is made.
Bassett is a supporter of programs for the arts, especially for youth. She annually attends events for children with diabetes and those in foster homes. She is an active Ambassador of UNICEF for the United States. She is also a supporter of the Royal Theater Boys & Girls Club in her hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.