Caribbean Roots: Cast of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

Go Lean Commentary

For the generation born between 1980 and 2000 – Millennials – this TV show is an icon of their generation:

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

It was a situation comedy (sit-com) with laughter, hip-hop music, urban cool lifestyle, family values and thought-provoking drama. This show was formative for all demographics of this generation – White and the Black-and-Brown –  but most people do not realize that a large number of the cast members had Caribbean roots.

We are so proud!

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The movement behind the book Go Lean … Caribbean recognizes the significance of this art-form: sit-com television. On a consistent basis, audiences tuned into this show for entertainment and walked away with enlightenment as well – average ratings were 13 – 14 million viewers. They were constantly exposed to an affluent African-American household with an intact family structure: father, mother, and compliant children navigating a changing world. That was a different perspective – see Image Awards details in the Appendix below – compared to the realities of Black America and the pervasive media portrayals.

The show was not a docu-drama of “Black versus White America”, though many times, plotlines covered these dynamics. In general the storylines addressed teenage angst, but many plotlines addressed the family’s affluence versus working class families; this exposes a familiar rift in the Black community with passionate advocates for a Talented Tenth versus a ‘Power to the People’ contingent. See these encyclopedic details and VIDEO of the show here:

Title: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

CU Blog - Caribbean Roots - Cast of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - Photo 0The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is an American sitcom that originally aired on NBC from September 10, 1990, to May 20, 1996. The show stars Will Smith as a fictionalized version of himself, a street-smart teenager from West Philadelphia who is sent to move in with his wealthy aunt and uncle in their Bel Air mansion after getting into a fight on a local basketball court. In the series, his lifestyle often clashes with the lifestyle of his relatives in Bel Air. The series ran for six seasons and aired 148 episodes.[1][2]

Starring Cast

Will Smith as Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith
James Avery as Philip Banks
Janet Hubert-Whitten as Vivian Banks (1st)
Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks
Karyn Parsons as Hilary Banks
Tatyana M. Ali as Ashley Banks
Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey The Butler
Daphne Maxwell Reid as Vivian Banks (2nd)
Ross Bagley as Nicholas “Nicky” Banks (Seasons 5 & 6 only)

In December 1989, NBC approached Will Smith, a popular rapper during the late 1980s.[3] The pilot episode began taping on May 1, 1990.[4] Season 1 aired in July 1990 and ended in March 1991. The series finale was taped on Thursday, March 21, 1996.[5][6]

The theme song was written and performed by Smith under his rap stage name, The Fresh Prince. The music was composed by QDIII (Quincy Jones III), who is credited with Smith at the end of each episode.

The music often used to bridge scenes together during the show is based on a similar chord structure. The full version of the theme song was used unedited in the first three episodes. The full length version, which is 2:52, was included on Will Smith’s Greatest Hits album and attributed to him only, as well as DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince in 1998. A 3:23 version was released in the Netherlands in 1992, reaching #3 on the charts.

In the second season, the kitchen and living room sets were rebuilt much larger with a more contemporary style (as opposed to the much more formal style of the first season), and were connected directly by an archway, allowing scenes to be shot continuously between the sets.

The theme song and opening sequence set the premise of the show. Will Smith is a street-smart teenager, born and raised in West Philadelphia. While playing basketball, Will misses a shot and the ball hits a group of people, causing a confrontation that frightens his mother, who sends him to live with his aunt and uncle in the town of Bel Air, Los Angeles.

He flies from Philadelphia to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket in first class. He then whistles for a taxi that has dice in the reflection screen and the word “FRESH” on its vanity plates. Will’s working class background ends up clashing in various humorous ways with the upper class, “bourgeois” world of the Banks family – Will’s uncle Phil and aunt Vivian and their children, Will’s cousins Hilary, Carlton, and Ashley.
Source: Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia – Retrieved February 24, 2017 from:


VIDEO – The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air Theme Song –

Published on Feb 3, 2013 – This was obviously the first episode.

The reference to The Fresh Prince refers to the hip-hop rapper Will Smith; the show revolved around him.

The Go Lean book identifies that music – even hip-hop – and the arts can greatly impact society; in addition to the entertainment value, there is also image and impression. People can override many false precepts with excellent deliveries and contributions from great role models.

The book Go Lean…Caribbean serves as a roadmap for the introduction and implementation of the Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). This CU strives to advance Caribbean image and culture in the region and throughout the world, with these 3 prime directives:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance.

This roadmap recognizes that a prerequisite for advancing society is a change in the Caribbean “community ethos”;  (the underlying attitude/spirit/sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices). Early in the book, the contributions that culture (music, television, film, theater and dance) can make is pronounced as an ethos for the entire region to embrace, (opening Declaration of Interdependence – DOI – Pages 15) with this statement:

xxxii. Whereas the cultural arts and music of the region are germane to the quality of Caribbean life, and the international appreciation of Caribbean life, the Federation must implement the support systems to teach, encourage, incentivize, monetize and promote the related industries for arts and music in domestic and foreign markets. These endeavors will make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play.

The Go Lean/CU asserts that change has now come to the Caribbean, collectively and for each of the 30 member-states. The people, institutions and governance of the region are all urged to “lean-in” to this roadmap for change. We know it is important to highlight the positive contributions of Caribbean people, even their descendants and legacies.

The great role models being considered here are the many cast members of this iconic TV show – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – who had Caribbean roots. We learn lessons from these great role models: lessons that are good, bad and ugly.

The cast members for consideration are:

  • Alfonso Ribeiro as Carlton Banks
    This American-born actor has displayed many talents, beginning his career at the age of eight but securing his first TV sit-com on the series Silver Spoons at the age of 13; he is also accomplished as a television director, dancer, and show host. He was born in New York City to Trinidadian parents Michael and Joy Ribeiro (née De Leon) of Portuguese, Spanish and Afro-Trinidadian descent from Trinidad and Tobago. His mother was the daughter of Trinidadian Calypsonian the Roaring Lion, Rafael de Leon.[2][3]
  • Tatyana M. Ali as Ashley Banks
    This artist has excelled in her roles as an actress, model and R&B singer. She was born in New York to a mother of Afro-Panamanian[2][3] heritage and a father who is Indo-Trinidadian.[3] She began her acting career at the young age of six, starting as a regular child performer on Sesame Street starting in 1985. She has not stopped working in the entertainment industry, featuring acting and singing roles right up to the present day.
  • Joseph Marcell as Geoffrey The Butler
    This Saint Lucian-born British actor moved to the United Kingdom at the age of nine, grew up in South London, and still lives in that metropolitan area. He studied theatre and science at college, then took courses in speech and dance. As a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he appeared in productions of Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He has also appeared often on British television and in feature films.[2]

These artists have placed their signatures on the entertainment world – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air show delivered 148 episodes – notwithstanding their Caribbean heritage. This is among the ‘Good‘ lessons.

What is ‘Bad and Ugly‘ is how they have excelled in their crafts in the US and the UK as opposed to their ancestral homelands. Their parents left the islands for greater opportunities 50 – 70 years ago and despite the passage of time we still do not have any manifestations that would have allowed their artistic expressions in the Caribbean region.

What is sad is that most of the Caribbean Diaspora left their beloved homelands with some aspirations of returning some day. This is depicted in the Go Lean book with this quotation (Page 118):

The Bottom Line for the Caribbean Diaspora
The Caribbean is the best address in the world. However for over 50 years many Caribbean citizens left their island homes to find greater opportunity in foreign lands: USA, Canada and Europe. Though the “man was taken out of the island, the island was never taken out of the man”, and as such many of the Diaspora live in pockets with other Caribbean expatriates in their foreign homelands (i.e. Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York, USA). What’s more, their children, legacies, are still raised and bred with Caribbean values and culture. Many left initially with the intention of returning someday, but life, loves and livelihoods got in the way of a successful return. Worse, many tried to return and found that they were targets of crime and terrorism, mandating that they abandon all hopes and dreams of a successful repatriation. The CU therefore must allow for the repatriation of peoples of the Diaspora, in all classes of society, “the good, the bad and the ugly”.

We salute these artists from the TV show ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’. Great job; great performances and great portrayals. We accept that these artists are great Americans and Britons; they may never be grouped with Caribbean artists.

This is our loss.

May we do better with our next generation. We can and have done some good in the past; Caribbean people have impacted the art world (music and culture) right from their Caribbean homeland. Consider Caribbean musical icon, Bob Marley; he set a pathway for success for other generations of talented, inspirational and influential artists to follow. More artists of Caribbean heritage are sure to emerge to “impact the world” with their artistry. The planners for a new more opportunistic Caribbean – the Go Lean movement – are preparing for it, as specified in the same DOI – Page 13:

xxi. Whereas the preparation of our labor force can foster opportunities and dictate economic progress for current and future generations, the Federation must ensure that educational and job training opportunities are fully optimized for all residents of all member-states, with no partiality towards any gender or ethnic group. The Federation must recognize and facilitate excellence in many different fields of endeavor, including sciences, languages, arts, music and sports. This responsibility should be executed without incurring the risks of further human flight, as has been the past history.

The foregoing three artists should be proud of their executions; we are proud of their heritage and thusly have an affinity for their works. We acknowledge those ones from our past who left their Caribbean homelands for better opportunities in the world of entertainment and we know that there are “new” artists who are just waiting to be fostered throughout the Caribbean member-states. We salute these ones as our future, and pledge to do better. The following list details the community ethos, strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster future entertainment options in the Caribbean:

Community Ethos – Ways to Foster Genius – All Artists Page 27
Community Ethos – Promote Intellectual Property Page 29
Community Ethos – Ways to Promote Happiness Page 36
Community Ethos – Impact the Greater Good Page 37
Strategy – Caribbean Vision Page 45
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Patents & Copyrights Page 78
Tactical – Separation of Powers – Culture Administration Page 81
Implementation – Ways to Impact Social Media Page 111
Advocacy – Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Advocacy – Ways to Impact Hollywood Page 203
Advocacy – Ways to Impact the Diaspora Page 217
Advocacy – Ways to Preserve Caribbean Heritage Page 218
Advocacy – Ways to Improve the Arts Page 230
Advocacy – Ways to Promote Music Page 231

These foregoing artists – all good people in their own rite – have been impactful for their communities:

  • Alfonso Ribeiro has been front-and-center in charitable endeavors, exerting much time and resources in helping with children’s medical needs through his Shriners Hospital association.
  • Tatyana Ali has been very active politically, campaigning for “hope and change” with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.[10][11] In 2012, she continued showing her support for the re-election campaign and other Democratic Party causes.[12]
  • Joseph Marcell devotes a lot of time, talent and treasuries to educational causes within the theater community.
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These examples continue the theme of the impact of good role models in their community. We need, want and deserve more of this in the Caribbean. This thought has been presented many times in this commentary; consider these previous Go Lean blogs that identified other role models, from many cultures, with these submissions: Esther Rolle – Caribbean Roots Sammy Davis, Jr. – Caribbean Roots Remembering Marcus Garvey: A Role Model; Still Relevant Today Clive Campbell – Jamaican Innovation for Hip Hop NBA Greatness and Caribbean Roots: Tim Duncan Retires YouTube Role Model with Caribbean Roots: ‘Tipsy Bartender’ Frederick Douglass: Role Model for a Single Cause Dr. Mobley – Role Model as a Business School Dean Caribbean Role Model – Oscar De La Renta – RIP The Black Contrast: Booker T Washington versus W.E.B. Du Bois Role Model and Humanities Advocate – Maya Angelou – R.I.P. Caribbean Musical Icon and Role Model: Bob Marley

The world is a better place, arts-wise, because of Caribbean contributions. Thank you to all past, present and future artists.

Just one more thing: Let’s make these contributions at home, from home; let’s prosper where we are planted.

This helps us to make our Caribbean homeland a better place to live, work and play. 🙂

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!


Appendix Title: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s NAACP Image Awards

Outstanding Comedy Series


Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series


Alfonso Ribeiro 1996
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series


Will Smith 1997
Outstanding Youth Actor/Actress


Tatyana M. Ali 1997
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series


Janet Hubert-Whitten 1991
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series


Nia Long 1996
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series


Daphne Maxwell Reid 1996
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