Jenifer Lewis

Active - 1988 - 2019  |   Born - Jan 25, 1957 in Kinloch, Missouri, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Comedy Drama

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Best known for playing unapologetically mature, assertive, and intelligent adult women, African-American supporting actress Jenifer Lewis originally launched her career as a vocalist, singing in a church choir in Kinloch, MO. Lewis' passion (and gift) for singing carried her to the Great White Way, where she appeared in a number of sell-out Broadway musicals -- including Ain't Misbehavin' and Dreamgirls. She subsequently migrated to the West Coast for a string of appearances in TV programs such as Roc, A Different World, Murphy Brown, Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, Touched by an Angel, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and graduated to features in 1992. The films in which Lewis has appeared run the gamut of quality, from outstanding (What's Love Got to Do With It?, 1993) to satisfactory (Sister Act, 1992; The Preacher's Wife, 1996) to downright abominable (Frozen Assets, 1992); many, however, demonstrated her fine gifts.

More recently, Lewis attained some much-deserved recognition (and ascended to higher than usual billing) with her multi-season portrayal of Lana Hawkins in the prime-time medical drama Strong Medicine (2000).

Movie Highlights

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  • Began singing in her hometown church and performed her first solo there at the age of 5.
  • Was president of her senior class in high school.
  • Helped developed and originally performed the role of Effie in Dreamgirls before the part was ultimately given to Jennifer Holliday when the show went to Broadway.
  • In 1979, made her Broadway debut in a small role in Eubie.
  • Was one of Bette Midler's back-up singers, the Harlettes, which eventually led to her first appearance on television in Midler's HBO special.
  • In 1994, wrote and headlined an autobiographical cabaret act entitled The Diva Is Dismissed, which earned her two NAACP Theater Awards.
  • Adopted her daughter, Charmaine, through the Los Angeles chapter of the Big Brother/Big Sister program.
  • Received her Doctorate of Humane Letters from Webster University for her career accomplishments and international philanthropic efforts.
  • In 2015, was the headline performer at Webster University's Centennial Gala, which raised $1.2 million for the college's Next Century Leaders Scholarship Fund.
  • Is an avid activist for AIDS research and a Human Rights Campaign Ally for Equality.