Dreams Do Come True: Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose

anika noni rose

June 6, 2024

Written by: Jim Smith

“The only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.” – Tiana

If ever there was a Disney voice performer who resembles their on-screen animated counterpart, it’s Anika Noni Rose. The homegrown, self-motivated actor, singer, and performer is the very definition of hard work and perseverance. Beginning with her small town roots, goin’ down the bayou, and all the way to the stars – Anika has settled for nothing but her very best throughout her life, as a performer and a person.

As we begin to experience the brand new Tiana’s Bayou Adventure attraction in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, let’s celebrate the intense effort and exquisite charm of Anika Noni Rose, in this edition of Disney Legends Spotlight.

Small Town Girl

Anika Noni Rose was born September 6, 1972 in the village of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The daughter of John and Claudia Rose, The origins of Anika’s name are Swahili, with Anika meaning “goodness” and Noni meaning “gift of God.” A voracious reader, she eagerly read every book she could get her hands on. Outside the pages, Anika was a sponge within her world – studying the ways of the people around her and often imitating the way they walked, talked, and lived. Even at a young age, Anika was doing role research – though she didn’t realize it at the time.

Growing up, Anika’s parents would treat her and her brother to theater shows in New York City, further germinating the seed that would become her passion. While attending Bloomfield High School, Anika was cast in the musical Fame. It was here, as a high school freshman, that she started to seriously consider a career in acting.

Moving On and Moving Up

After graduating high school, Anika attended Florida A&M University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Theater in 1994. Shortly after finishing college, Anika advanced her theater knowledge further, studying acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. There, she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in 1998.

While in and around San Francisco, Anika performed in a number of local productions. One of these productions – Valley Song – earned Anika her first acting award – the Dean Goodman Choice Award.

anika noni rose 3
Image: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Shortly after earning her Master’s degree, Anika moved back to the East Coast in 1999, trying her hand on the stages of New York. In 2000, she landed the role of Rusty in the musical Footloose.

Almost There

Three years after moving to the Big Apple, Anika’s big Broadway break came in 2003 when she landed the role Emmie Thibodeaux in the Tony Kushner musical Caroline, or Change. Anika’s breakthrough performance was met with rave reviews, earning her multiple awards, including the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Having made a splash on stage, Anika had her sights set on Hollywood. She was “almost there.”

Big Screen Dreams

Anika made her feature film debut in the infamous American Idol 2003 spinoff film From Justin to Kelly, playing the role of Kaya. After 2004 roles in Temptation and Saving Christmas, Anika got her big film break in the award-winning 2005 musical film Dreamgirls, starring alongside performing titans Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy.

dreamgirls beyonce jennifer hudson and anika noni rose
Image: DreamWorks Pictures

In the film, Anika played the part of Lorrell Robinson, the third “Dreamette” in the film’s musical star trio. She was nominated for an NAACP Image Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and shared a Grammy nomination with Beyonce and Hudson for the film’s soundtrack album.

Goin’ Down the Bayou

Film success had found Anika Noni Rose. But her gorgeous, yet accessible, voice would become immortalized thanks to her next, most iconic role to-date. Anika was cast as the voice of Princess Tiana in Disney’s 2009 animated film The Princess and the Frog. Following 72 years of Disney Princesses, Tiana represented Disney’s first African-American princess. Tiana also represented Disney’s first American princess, with the film being set in 1920s New Orleans.

princess and the frog tiana with frog
Image: Disney

With The Princess and the Frog being released the same year Barack Obama became the first African-American U.S. president, 2009 became a strong reinforcement of African-American ambitions.

Anika’s performance in the film earned her a nomination for an NAACP Image Award and three nominations for the Black Reel Awards. Of the three Black Reel nominations, Anika won the award for Best Outstanding Voice Performance, and shared the award for Outstanding Original Song – for the instantly iconic “Almost There” – with fellow Disney Legend Randy Newman.

princess and the frog tiana almost there
Image: Disney

Anika has worn her Disney Princess crown with pride, stating “I always dreamed of being a voice in a Disney movie, but even in those dreams, I never once dreamed of being a princess… I just wanted to be a voice. I feel like what an honor that this is how the dream comes true, bigger and stronger than I had even imagined it.”

Trivia tidbit: At the suggestion of Anika Noni Rose herself, the character of Princess Tiana is left-handed. Given that Anika is left-handed herself, this adorable detail appeals to left-handers around the world!

As Princess Tiana’s popularity has grown even more over time, Anika has been with her every step of the way. She has continued to voice the iconic princess in various media iterations, including a 2014 episode of the Disney Junior show Sophia the First, Disney’s 2018 film Ralph Breaks the Internet, and several small roles in television specials and video games.

Beginning in 2024, Anika’s voice will be heard in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, as both parks put the finishing touches on the new attraction – Tiana’s Bayou Adventure – continuing Tiana’s story after the events of The Princess and the Frog. Anika, as well as most of the original cast, reprise their roles, along with plenty of new critter characters.

tianas bayou adventure tiana animatronic
Image: Disney

Film, Theater, Television, and Beyond

Anika continued to strive beyond her Disney Princess superstardom into the 2010s and beyond, turning in impressive performances in film, on television, and on the stage. 

In 2010, Anika gave an “especially fierce” performance in the role of Yasmine in the Tyler Perry film For Colored Girls, starring alongside Phylicia Rashad and Janet Jackson.

Anika returned to Broadway in 2014 for a revival of A Raisin in the Sun, earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play.

In 2019, Anika earned high praise and several award nominations (winning the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical) for her role as Carmen Jones in the Off-Broadway musical Carmen Jones.

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown of 2020, Anika leaped into action, creating a weekly series – Bedtime Stories for the Littles – where she read bedtime stories to small children to help ease their anxiety during the lockdown. Remarking on her project, Anika said, “I love reading to kids, and I wanted to give our little people something soft and soothing in this very jarring moment in time. I thought a bedtime story would be the perfect way. I can give my voice to the ones who know it best, without anyone leaving home.” As part of her project, Anika read a Princess and the Frog spin-off book “Tiana’s Growing Experiment.”

Continuing to celebrate the qualities of the iconic Princess Tiana, Anika will once again be lending her voice to the princess in the Disney+ series Tiana, currently in development.

disney tiana series image
Image: Disney

A Disney Legend in Her Own Time

In recognition of her iconic portrayal of a groundbreaking Disney Princess, Disney recognized Anika Noni Rose as a Disney Legend in 2011. At 39 years old, she was – at the time – the youngest person to ever receive the award. That distinction will shift to entertainer Miley Cyrus once she is inducted as a Disney Legend on August 11, 2024, at the age of 31.

In honor of Anika’s talent, and in recognition of Princess Tiana’s never ending pursuit of success, the International Star Registry named a star after the performer in 2019.

At a time when the Walt Disney Company, and America as a whole, was breaking color boundaries, Anika Noni Rose gave the performance of a lifetime, bringing to life not only a remarkable Disney Princess, but also a generation of young ladies who could see the sky is truly the limit.

anika noni rose 4
Image: Variety

Thanks for reading about Anika Noni Rose – an instantly iconic Disney Legend. Check out more Disney Legends in our spotlight collection.

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D23 – Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose

Encyclopedia.com – Anika Noni Rose

IMDB – Anika Noni Rose

Connecticut Women’s Hame of Fame, Anika Noni Rose

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