12 Famous Black Americans Who Were Seventh-Day Adventists

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Written by Ann Brown
Seventh-Day Adventists
12 Famous Black Americans Who Were Seventh-Day Adventists. Photo: Busta Rhymes performs at The Player’s Ball at The Armory on Feb. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis. (Photo by Omar Vega/Invision/AP)

Music legend Little Richard may have been known for his flamboyant personality, outrageous costumes and groundbreaking songs like “Tutti Frutti,” but he was also a member of a conservative religion.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination that observes Saturday as the Sabbath, as Judaism does. Founded in 1863, the Seventh Day Adventist denomination grew out of the Millerite movement in the U.S. and focuses on the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ. 

Known for encouraging its member to follow vegetarianism and a conservative lifestyle, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is considered one of the stricter sects of Christianity, according to the Seventh-day Adventist website. It has more than 81,000 churches worldwide. The church operates more than 7,500 schools, numerous hospitals and a humanitarian aid organization known as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.

Here are 12 famous Black Americans who were Seventh-day Adventists.

1. Little Richard               

Richard Wayne Penniman aka Little Richard was born into a devout Seventh-day Adventist family in 1932 and began singing and playing piano in the church, according to Encyclopedia.com.

At the age of 15, he left home and embarked on a music career. The singer said his father kicked him out of the family home because of his “effeminate ways.” By the 1950s, he had major hits debuting a style that became known as rock ‘n roll. But in 1957, Little Richard put his music career behind him and enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, following what he called an “apocalyptic vision.” He received a bachelor of arts degree and became a minister in the Seventh-day Adventist church. 

During the 1970s, music once again called and he took his show to the Las Vegas showroom circuit. A decade later Little Richard returned to the church.

In 1986 he was among the first artists inducted into the newly established Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his hometown of Macon, Georgia, named a boulevard in his honor. 

Little Richard died on May 9, 2020, at the age of 87 at his home in Tullahoma, Tennessee from a cause related to bone cancer.

2. Malcolm X

Malcolm X’s mother was a Seventh-day Adventist and she raised him in the church for a portion of his childhood, Essence reported. Later in life he became a member of the Nation of Islam and and was its prominent spokesperson.

3. Take 6

Members of the R&B a cappella group Take 6 have credited religion with their success. The group’s trademark style blends jazz with spiritual and inspirational lyrics.

All original members — Alvin Chea, Cedric Dent, Mervyn Warren, Mark Kibble, Claude V. McKnight III, and David Thomas —  grew up in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The Grammy Award-winning group goes back to 1980, when McKnight formed a group at Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) — a Seventh-day Adventist university in Huntsville, Alabama. Take 6 debuted its first album in 1988 and won 10 Grammy awards in a number of musical genres, including jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B, Adventist Record reported. 

“(Our faith) is extremely important to us,” said McKnight, whose brother is singer Brian McKnight. “It’s who we are, and that comes through our music.”

“The one thing that keeps us rooted is that we view what we do as a ministry,” Thomas said. “It’s the fact that we feel that we’ve been each individually called into this ministry that kind of keeps us rooted.”

4. Brian McKnight           

R&B veteran Brian McKnight was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. He attended Oakwood University — a Seventh-day Adventist college in Alabama, Essence reported. But in his second year he was expelled for having his girlfriend in his dorm room, Encyclopedia.com reported.

After leaving school, he concentrated on music full time and wound up making hit after hit. 

His whole family is involved in the church including Claude. His grandfather was a church pastor and his mother played the piano and sang in a gospel choir in Buffalo’s Emanuel Temple, Encyclopedia.com reported.

5. Ben Carson

A retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson serves as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration. He has been very open about being Seventh-day Adventist and was even baptized twice, Essence reported.

The former Republican presidential candidate told the Associated Press that for a brief period as a college student, he questioned whether to stay in the church. Carson’s mother was an Adventist. He has served as an elder, a religious teacher and representative of the denomination, PBS reported.

6. Prince

Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness before his death in 2016, but he was raised Seventh-day Adventist, AL.com reported. When asked about faith, Prince said, “We are sensual beings, the way God created us, when you take the shame and taboo away from it,” according to a V Magazine interview. Prince went on to describe religion as “like a force, an electro-magnetic one or like gravity, that puts things in motion.”

7. Busta Rhymes

Hip-hop legend Busta Rhymes is a devout Muslim but he was born to Seventh-day Adventist parents.

Raised in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, by devout Seventh-day Adventist Jamaican parents, Rhymes became a member of the Nation of Gods and Earths/Five-Percent Nation as a teenager, Spectrum Magazine reported.

8. CD Brooks

CD Brooks was a leading Seventh-day Adventist evangelist. He died on June 5, 2016, at the age of 85. 

For six decades, Brooks delivered the church’s message to millions of people as the founding speaker of the Breath of Life media ministry. He spent 23 years broadcasting on “Breath of Life,” billed as the first Black religious TV program. 

“Brooks conducted an evangelical campaign that was credited with converting tens of thousands and establishing 15 congregations in cities across the country,” The New York Times reported.

Brooks gained national recognition and spoke at President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. He served as a pastor in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio and converted hundreds of people in mass baptisms during campaigns in Washington, Brooklyn and Barbados.

When Brooks was 10, his mother read “The Great Controversy” by Ellen G. White, a founder of the church. Soon after, the family began worshiping in an Adventist congregation.

Brooks enrolled in Oakwood College (now Oakwood University), a historically Black Adventist school in Huntsville, Ala.. In 1952, a year after graduating, he ran his first evangelistic crusade in Chester, Pa., The New York Times reported.

9. DeVon Franklin                   

Hollywood producer, best-selling author and motivational speaker DeVon Franklin is best known for the films “Miracles from Heaven” and “Heaven Is for Real.” He also co-wrote the New York Times best-selling book, “The Wait,” with his wife, actress Meagan Good.

Franklin is also a renowned Seventh-day Adventist preacher and ordained minister. He told Oprah during a one-on-one sitdown in 2012 that he was raised Seventh-day Adventist, Essence reported.

10. Judge Greg Mathis

This tough-as-nails TV judge is also a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Judge Greg Mathis’ mother was a devoted Adventist and raised him in the church.

Mathis was a Michigan 36th District Court judge before he became the star of the Daytime Emmy Award–winning, syndicated reality courtroom show, “Judge Mathis.”

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11. Phife Dawg

Tribe Called Quest member Phife Dawg was raised in a Seventh-day Adventist household in Brooklyn, New York. 

But the hip-hop artist rebelled against the church’s strict conservative rules. On weekends he’d sneak in episodes of the long-running TV music-dance program, “Soul Train,” for his early musical education, Essence reported.

12. Chaplain Barry Black

In 2003, Barry C. Black became the first African American and the first Seventh-day Adventist to hold the office of the chaplain of the U.S. Senate. Prior to coming to Capitol Hill, Chaplain Black served in the U.S. Navy for more than 27 years, ending his career as the Chief of Navy Chaplains, according to the U.S. Senate website.