A skilled performer has the ability to take the written word to new heights, infusing an author’s work with empathy, warmth, and excitement. And representation matters just as much for audio as it does for any visual medium: listeners should feel and hear themselves in art driven by powerful performers and authentic deliveries. In this list, we’ve gathered a few of the best Black audiobook narrators in the business—along with their can't-miss performances to have on your radar.
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British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor may have narrated just three audiobooks to date, but in this case, it’s quality over quantity. While you might know him best from film (12 Years a Slave, The Martian, The Lion King), his audio profile is on the rise. As the titular general in Othello and the voice of beloved children’s novel The Supernaturalist, Ejiofor had already voiced two audio gems—but it was his performance of Susannah Clarke’s 2020 fantasy Piranesi that really knocked our socks off. You haven’t lived until you’ve been mesmerized by Ejiofor’s exquisite tone, inflection, and interpretation of this spellbinding work, which won the Audie Award for Best Audiobook of the Year in 2020.
Bahni Turpin is an all-star Hall of Fame narrator, having lent her voice to some of the most talked-about books in recent memory, like Colson Whitehead's brilliant The Underground Railroad and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Along with being a narrator, Turpin is an experienced television and film actress whose dramatic training lends an additional layer of depth to her work. Known for her rich, fully-realized renditions of a range of characters, Turpin's talents especially shine when she is working on a work with a lot of heart, like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Telling the story of a young girl caught between two racialized worlds, Turpin expertly embodies Starr's conflicted, moving inner thoughts.
Prentice Onayemi's acting career is extensive and varied—he’s done it all, from voicing English language learning programs to performing in various theatrical works, including roles on Broadway. To put it mildly, Onayemi—who is also a member of the prestigious Narrator Hall of Fame—definitely knows what he's doing, and it shows in each and every narration. Among his many stellar performances: his reading of Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers. Telling a triumphant tale of immigrants in America, Onayemi expertly switches between accents, dialects, and voices, crafting a listen that feels like a full-cast production.
Adenrele Ojo is an Audie Award-winning narrator who reads with great compassion. Based in Los Angeles and with a theater background, she’s known for giving each performance the understanding and care it deserves. From literary fiction (The Mothers) to self-development (More Than Enough), from romance (Let Me Hold You) to blockbuster nonfiction (The Premonition), Ojo understands that every story deserves a narrator who delivers the material to listeners with nuance and depth. Thriller fans should not miss one of her standout performances of 2021: Stacey Abrams’s complex courtroom thriller, While Justice Sleeps.
Tony Award nominee Joe Morton’s narrative style stands out because he has a voice you won’t forget. It’s thick and soft, yet a little rough around the edges. While you might know him from TV and film (Scandal, Terminator 2), his work as a narrator is equally esteemed, and he’s voiced such towering literary works as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer. Morton’s voice conveys strength and vulnerability all at once, which makes him the perfect narrator for many different types of stories. His latest performance, Cornelius Eady’s Brutal Imagination, is based on the author’s National Book Award-nominated poetry book and stars Morton alongside Sally Murphy.
One might think there's no way for N. K. Jemisin's award-winning The Fifth Season to become any more immersive, but with narrator Robin Miles at the helm, the story is elevated to new, outstanding heights. The Fifth Season is a work that changed the game for many Black authors in science fiction and fantasy, and Miles only adds to the power behind it with her skillful voice acting, bringing the characters off the page. And her magical performance of Jemisin’s novel is only the tip of the iceberg. A member of the Narrator Hall of Fame who has performed works including Barracoon and The Warmth of Other Suns, Miles has demonstrated her inimitable talents time and time again.
Like many on our list, Adjoa Andoh is not only an audiobook narrator but also a film, television, and stage actress. Her crystal-clear, lilting English is the heart behind a variety of audio hits, including the much-adored Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This novel chronicles the adventures of confident and witty Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to America to escape instability. Andoh captures Ifemelu's conflicted, fiery nature along with the many voices and accents of her fellow characters. It’s a superb performance that underscores Andoh's deft grasp of rhythm and tone as well as her ability to bring new meanings and depth to the written word.
In addition to working as an audiobook narrator, Kevin R. Free is an actor, playwright, director, and producer. He’s beloved by listeners for his performance of Martha Wells's Murderbot Diaries series—a work that fully demonstrates his excellent capabilities. Free brings Murderbot, a snarky, sentient robot that hacked itself in order to think and act freely, to life with a heartfelt yet robotic inner monologue. Beyond crafting tangible characters in tongue-in-cheek sci-fi, Free demonstrates his range in other performances, including his gorgeous rendition of Anthony Ray Hinton’s extraordinary memoir, The Sun Does Shine.
Winner of the 2020 Audie Fantasy Award for her work on Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, January LaVoy has expertly narrated a large variety of audiobooks, from thrillers to nonfiction to sci-fi. With deft skill, she embodies each unique character, switching between different accents and personalities in the span of a breath. Her modulated voice stays steady and calming throughout her performance, evidence of her experience in television, film, and the stage. Her chilling work on Brian Freeman’s The Deep, Deep Snow and John Grisham’s Camino Island are among our favorite performances, but we would be remiss not to mention her fantastic work on a number of Star Wars titles, including Phasma and Bloodline.
An actor who has appeared in films including Malcolm X and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Dion Graham brings substance, skill, and depth to every audiobook he narrates. His smooth, mesmerizing voice flows through works ranging from children’s classics like Charlotte’s Web to the latest Walter Mosley mystery, alternating between voices so distinct they sound as if they’re performed by different narrators. Named an AudioFile Golden Voice and a member of the Narrator Hall of Fame, Graham is an undeniable talent. If you’re looking for a brilliant title to start listening to his work, try Marlon James’s fantasy epic, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, a stunning 24-hour-long performance of life and vibrancy.
A-list actor Gabrielle Union has racked up some incredible accomplishments since she began gracing our screens in classic comedies like Bring It On and She’s All That. In addition to her pioneering work in activism, she’s written and narrated a best-selling memoir, We’re Going to Need More Wine, and two kids’ books, Welcome to the Party and Shady Baby, the latter of which she coauthored with her husband, NBA superstar Dwayne Wade. She also lends her recognizable voice to Tayari Jones’s audio-exclusive novella Dispossession, a provocative family drama that explores a relationship between a Black mother and her son.
J.D. Jackson is an audiobook narrator and a professor, so he infuses each performance with both a skilled voice and a strong command of the material. In the works he chooses, which often directly explore the Black lived experience, he gracefully wades through the text with a measured tone and a smooth baritone. Take, for example, his work on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic Why We Can’t Wait. Jackson voices one of the most important speakers, thinkers, and activists in American history with authority, melody, and heart, providing this seminal work the treatment it so rightly deserves.
You may know Dominic Hoffman from his role as Dr. Jeff Russell on Grey’s Anatomy, but this TV star is also a prolific and talented audiobook narrator. One of his most powerful performances is his rendition of Audie Award-winning Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, the epic saga of two half-sisters and their descendants across time and continents. Hoffman’s fluid and lively narration guides listeners through centuries of story, keeping the narrative threads connected and their attention focused. It’s a skillset he’s shown time and time again in other works as well, including The Book of Lost Friends, Deacon King Kong, and Higher Is Waiting.
It’d be an oversight not to shed some light on a remarkable up-and-coming talent in the world of audio. Shvorne Marks’s debut arrived when she voiced the runaway hit Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, infusing the snarky yet lovable Queenie with an audible, charming personality. As Queenie navigates gender, race, sexuality, mental health, and more, Marks allows the listener right inside her head, embodying her inner thoughts with immense skill. We can’t wait to see where Marks goes from here—but we’re positive that, whatever it may be, it’s going to be a title well worth listening to.
Listening to an audiobook read by Karen Chilton is like snuggling up to a good story under a blanket next to the fireplace. While Chilton can change her voice to fit the mood of the text, one thing remains the same throughout all of her narrations: her warmth. The books Chilton narrates are often nonfiction about the Black American experience—her performance of the criminal justice reform classic The New Jim Crow is required listening. She also gravitates towards novels written by Black authors. For a dazzling example of her work in fiction, listen to Robert Jones Jr.’s The Prophets, in which Chilton leans into a gentle southern accent that grounds the story to its specific setting and era.
LeVar Burton—icon of Reading Rainbow, Roots, and Star Trek: The Next Generation—recently made waves as the most requested guest-host in Jeopardy! history (the people got their way). But Burton’s long association with reading and learning extends to his output in audio as well; his warm and familiar voice can be heard narrating Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Fred Rogers's bio The Good Neighbor, the music history Jazz, and The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., among other favorites. His debut novel, Aftermath, an alternate history sci-fi that imagines a war-torn US after the assassination of a Black president-elect, releases this summer. Burton will narrate, of course.
Allyson Johnson is an actress and singer who began performing in her hometown of Chicago. At age 12, she co-anchored a weekly children’s TV news program, for which she won an Emmy. Johnson’s voice has been heard on countless commercials and audiobooks, garnering her AudioFile Earphones Awards for both fiction and nonfiction titles, as well as multiple Audie Award nominations. Her narration of Ntozake Shange’s Lost in Language & Sound becomes one with the writer’s meditation on how and what inspires her. In her narration of new author Yvonne Durant’s memoir, Quite the Contrary, Johnson brings her knack for seamlessly delivering a variety of voices in one performance.