The award, which is presented by bosses at the American educational institution's Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, honours those who have made significant contributions to African and African American history and culture.

This year's (16) other recipients of the medal, named after revered civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, are opera singer Jessye Norman, The Wire creator David Simon, businesswoman Ursula M. Burns, educator David L. Evans and the 1966 Texas Western Miners men's basketball team.

The sports team was the first with an all-black starting lineup to win a U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

Previous winners of the award since its founding in 2000 include Muhammad Ali, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, the rapper Nas and poet Maya Angelou.

Grier rose to fame in the 1970s by starring in a series of so-called 'blaxploitation' films aimed at an urban black audience, including Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba Baby. The 67-year-old enjoyed a career renaissance after being cast as the title character in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 crime thriller Jackie Brown.

MC Lyte, 45, real name Lana Michelle Moorer, was the first solo female rapper to release a full album, 1988's Lyte as a Rock.

Recipients will be presented with their medal in a ceremony at the Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 6 October (16).