Virginia’s Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023

Virginia's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023

Photo courtesy of Anthony Mooney via Shutterstock

By Aila Boyd

December 27, 2023

Although such celebrity meccas as New York and California may come to mind when you think of famous people, Virginia also has its fair share of noteworthy individuals. If you’re looking to get caught up on the big celebrity news in Virginia from the past year, check out this roundup.

Pharrell Williams

A 13-time Grammy-winning artist, Pharrell Williams was born in Virginia Beach and graduated from Princess Anne High School. Despite being an international celebrity, he’s still involved in his hometown. In 2019, he founded Something in the Water, a music, arts and culture festival in Virginia Beach. He also stays involved in the development of the entertainment destination Atlantic Park, according to Barron’s

Williams cemented his fashion bona fides in June when he made his debut as men’s creative director for the legendary fashion line Louis Vuitton, closing down the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris for a show featuring 70 looks, a full orchestra, and gospel choir. CNN noted, “He has an uncanny knack for staying ahead of the cultural curve, redefining the zeitgeist and understanding how to market an idea to the passes.” The collection prominently featured a reimagining of a classic checkerboard design.

Williams once again garnered plenty of buzz in late November when he staged what CNN called a “dramatic runway show” in Hong Kong. 

Missy Elliott

Virginia's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023

Photo courtesy of Everett Collection via Shutterstock

Missy Elliott, a rapper with four Grammy Awards to her name, is a native of Portsmouth. She’s so beloved in her home city that McLean Street was renamed Missy Elliott Boulevard in 2022. That same year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin recognized Oct. 17 as Missy Elliott Day in Virginia, according to WAVY.com.

But 2023 was a big year for “Misdemeanor” too, as she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Queen Latifah during a Nov. 3 ceremony. The hall noted, “Elliott has been her own woman. She’s carved out her own lane and done it her own way.” 

Prior to her induction, she gave an interview to “Good Morning America” in which she said “words cannot describe” how honored she felt by being selected as part of the 2023 class.

Wanda Sykes

Even though comedian Wanda Sykes was raised in Maryland, she was born in Portsmouth and even returned to the commonwealth to receive her undergraduate degree from Hampton University. 

Sykes has had a busy year, releasing her Emmy-nominated Netflix comedy special “I’m an Entertainer.” In it, the comedian sounds off on parenting with her French wife, the perils of public bathrooms, and why she’s tired of going high when others go low. 

Decider’s review of it stated, “STREAM IT. There’s a raw vitality and gravity to this hour…She deserves lots of eyeballs on this hour.”

August also saw the release of the third season of Sykes’ Netflix sitcom, “The Upshaws,” which she created and stars in. Deadline reported in December that it has already been renewed for a fourth season.

Finally, in October, she announced a 29-date tour for 2024 titled “Please & Thank You.” It will mark her first major tour in six years, according to Variety. Notably, she’ll make stops in both Norfolk and Richmond in mid-March. 

Caroline Aaron

Virginia's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023

Photo courtesy of DFree via Shutterstock

Caroline Aaron, a veteran film and television actress, still thinks of herself as a “Richmond gal” at heart after having moved away many years ago, according to Richmond Magazine. While growing up in the River City, she attended Douglas Freeman High School.

With her first IMDB credit dating back to 1982, Aaron has undoubtedly had a long and distinguished career, but this has been a banner year for the actress, having wrapped up her 29-episode turn as Shirley Maisel on Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Back in 2018 and 2019, she earned the Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series Screen Actors Guild Award for her part on the show. 

In a May interview with Northern Virginia Magazine, Aaron said, “What I’ll miss the most about playing her is that she has no self-consciousness or self-doubt.”

Gabby Douglas

Gabby Douglas, the first Black woman to win the Olympic all-around title at the 2012 London Olympics, was born and raised in Virginia Beach until she moved to Iowa at the age of 14 to train with a prominent gymnastics coach.

Douglas announced on Instagram in July that she is training again after a years-long hiatus, with plans to compete at the Paris Games next year. The post said, “I know I have a huge task ahead of me and I am beyond grateful and excited to get back out on the floor.” It ended with, “Let’s do this. #2024.”

Having not competed since the Rio Olympics in 2016, the announcement caught the attention of many fans, according to USA Today. In November, USA Gymnastics confirmed to NBC Sports that she had recently participated in her first national team camp in more than seven years.

John Grisham 

Virginia's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023's Homegrown Stars Had Big Moments in 2023

Photo courtesy of Debby Wong via Shutterstock

Even though he’s perhaps most closely associated with Mississippi given that one of his most well-known books, “A Time to Kill,” was set there and he even served in the state’s House of Representatives, novelist John Grisham has called Charlottesville home for nearly 30 years. After achieving notoriety, he wanted a place to escape, and Charlottesville fit the bill, C-ville Weekly reported. In a 2017 Time piece, he described it as “a quiet town with friendly people, good schools, lots of churches, parks and a bustling, growing community that more or less revolves around one of the country’s great public universities.” 

He released “The Exchange” this year. The follow-up to his popular 1991 novel “The Firm” lets readers in on what happened to Mitch and Abby McDeere, picking up 15 years later. In an October interview with Time, he said, “When I started writing the book in January of this year, I really got nostalgic.”

The AP said, “Grisham fans will devour it” in a review. As of early December, it was No. 3 on The New York Times Best Seller list, having been on the list for six weeks.

  • Aila Boyd

    Aila Boyd is a Virginia-based educator and journalist. She received her MFA in writing from Lindenwood University.

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