Jenifer Lewis

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For other people named Jennifer Lewis, see Jennifer Lewis (disambiguation).
Jenifer Lewis
Jenifer Lewis.jpg
Born Jenifer Jeanette Lewis
(1957-01-25) January 25, 1957 (age 58)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Kinloch High School
Webster University
Occupation Actress, Comedian, Singer
Years active 1979–present
Spouse(s) Arnold Byrd (m. 2012)

Jenifer Jeanette Lewis (born January 25, 1957) is an American film, theatre, and television actress, comedian, and singer.

Early life[edit]

Lewis was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a nurse's aide mother and a factory worker father.[1] She attended Kinloch High School and then college at Webster University in Webster Groves, Missouri. Soon after, she arrived in New York City, Lewis debuted on Broadway in a small role in Eubie (1979), the musical based on the work of Eubie Blake. She next landed the role of Effie White in the workshop of the Michael Bennett-directed musical Dreamgirls, but when the show moved to Broadway, Bennett chose Jennifer Holliday for the role.

Lewis accepted a position as a Harlette, a back-up singer for Bette Midler which led to Lewis' first TV appearances on Midler's HBO specials. She also landed her first screen role as a result, appearing as one of the buxom chorines in the 'Otto Titsling' production number in the Midler vehicle Beaches (1988). At the same time, Lewis was developing her nightclub act, The Diva Is Dismissed, an autobiographical comedy and music show in New York City cabarets. She performed the show off-Broadway at the Public Theater.


In 1987, Lewis was hired as the Pre-Show announcer on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. In 1988, Lewis relocated to Los Angeles. In 1992, she was cast as one of the back-up singers to Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. Goldberg sponsored several performances of The Diva Is Dismissed as a possible HBO series. In 1992 to 1993, she played Dean Davenport in the sixth and final season of A Different World. She also had a recurring role as Will Smith's Aunt Helen on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as stints on a few episodes of In Living Color, reprising several of her characters from her nightclub act. Also in 1993, she played the mother of Tupac Shakur's character in Poetic Justice.

In 1993, she played the role of Tina Turner’s mother in the biopic What's Love Got to Do With It. In 1994, she followed with other supporting roles, including Mrs. Coleman the Unemployment Office lady in Renaissance Man and as Whoopi Goldberg's sister in Corrina, Corrina. In 1995, she was cast in maternal roles to Kadeem Hardison in Panther and to Larenz Tate in Dead Presidents before she accepted the role of a lesbian judge on the short-lived CBS series Courthouse. Lewis returned to the big screen as Theresa Randle's telephone sex line boss in Spike Lee's Girl 6. She then played Whitney Houston's character's mother in Penny Marshall's The Preacher's Wife.[2]

In 1999, she starred in the made-for-TV film Jackie's Back, a mockumentary about the struggling comeback of a diva in turmoil. She recently appeared in The Cookout, Nora's Hair Salon, Shark Tale and Cars. She was in a few episodes of Friends as Monica Geller's co-worker. Beginning in 2000, she played Lana Hawkins on the Lifetime television medical drama Strong Medicine, until the show ended in February 2006. She also had a recurring role as Veretta Childs (Toni's mother) in the sitcom Girlfriends. In 2006, she had a featured role as the wedding planner in Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion, and also appeared in the film Meet the Browns.

In one episode of That's So Raven she played the titular character's maternal grandmother, who has psychic powers. She recently starred as a judge in Boston Legal and appeared in the 2008 film Meet the Browns. On April 22, 2008, Lewis replaced Darlene Love as Motormouth Maybelle in Broadway's Hairspray, a role that was originally written for her.[citation needed]

In June 2010, Lewis' distinctive voice was in fine form as she told The Jazz Joy and Roy syndicated radio show, "I just did a production of 'Hello Dolly' at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle and it had to be one of the greatest productions that I have ever done, because I got to just do a character, Dolly Levi, and it was just great."[3]

In 2012 Lewis began working with Shangela on the online reality show parody, "Jenifer Lewis and Shangela," where she acts as herself alongside Shangela, a "drag queen living in her basement." She later appeared in Shangela's music video for "Werqin Girl (Professional)."


Lewis has performed for many years on Broadway and has lent her vocals to many of the television and film projects that she has been a part of including performing the theme song and costarring in her most recognizable role as Lana Hawkins on the cable TV series, Strong Medicine.[4]

Lewis' most recent singing role came with her role in the movie musical The Princess and the Frog.



Year Film Role Notes
1988 Beaches Diva
Red Heat Judge Jenifer Lewis
1992 Sister Act Michelle
Frozen Assets Jomisha
1993 Poetic Justice Anne
Meteor Man Mrs. Williams
What's Love Got to Do With It Zelma Bullock
Undercover Blues Cab Driver
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit Michelle
1994 Renaissance Man Mrs. Coleman
Corrina, Corrina Jevina Washington
Deconstructing Sarah Betty TV movie
Shake, Rattle and Rock! Amanda
1995 Panther Rita
Dead Presidents Mrs. Curtis
1996 The Preacher's Wife Marguerite Coleman
Girl 6 Boss #1 — Lil
1998 The Temptations Mama Rose Franklin Miniseries
The Mighty Mrs. Addison
An Unexpected Life Camille TV movie
1999 Mystery Men Lucille
Get Bruce Herself
Blast From the Past Dr. Aron
Jackie's Back Jackie Washington
2000 Cast Away Becca Twig
Dancing in September Judge Warner
Partners Detective Lancy TV movie
Little Richard Muh Penniman Miniseries
2001 The Brothers Louise Smith
The Ponder Heart Narcissa Wingfield TV movie
2002 Antwone Fisher Aunt Uncredited
Juwanna Mann Aunt Ruby
2004 The Cookout Emma "Lady Em" Andersen
Shark Tale Motown Turtle Voice
Nora's Hair Salon Nora Harper
2006 Dirty Laundry Aunt Lettuce
Cars Flo Voice
Madea's Family Reunion Milay Jenay Lori
The Heart Specialist Nurse Jackson
2007 Who's Your Caddy? Mrs. Hawkins
Redrum Therapist
2008 Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns Vera Brown
2009 The Princess and the Frog Mama Odie Voice
Not Easily Broken Mary 'Mama' Clark
2010 Hereafter Candace
2011 Cars 2 Flo Voice
Five Maggie Nominated — Black Reel Awards for Best Actress in a Television Miniseries or Movie
Nominated — NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Nominated - NAMIC Vision Awards for Best Performance - Drama
2012 Think Like a Man Loretta Hanover
Zambezia Gogo Voice
2013 Baggage Claim Catherine Moore
Playin' for Love Alize Gates
2014 Think Like a Man Too Loretta Hanover
The Magic City Aunt Valerie
2015 The Wedding Ringer Doris Jenkins
TV Shows
Year Title Role Notes
1990-91 Murphy Brown Sales person "Jingle Hell, Jingle Hell, Jingle All the Way" (Season 3, Episode 11)
"Uh-Oh: Pt. 2" (Season 4, Episode 1)
1990-93 A Different World Dean Dorothy Dandridge Davenport Recurring role (9 episodes)
1991 Stat Felicia Brown "Psychosomatic" (Season 1, Episode 1)
1991-96 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Aunt Helen Smith Recurring role (8 episodes)
1992 Dream On Carolyn "To the Moon, Alex!" (Season 3, Episode 23)
1993 In Living Color Various characters "Bunny Clive" (Season 4, Episode 25)
"Calhoun Tubbs" (Season 4, Episode 30)
Roc Charlaine "Joey the Bartender" (Season 3, Episode 4)
Moon Over Miami Aurora Tyler "If You Only Knew" (Season 1, Episode 7)
1993-94 Hangin' With Mr. Cooper Georgia Rodman "Father Fairest" (Season 2, Episode 6)
"Double Cheeseburger, Hold the Diploma" (Season 2, Episode 20)
1994 Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman Mystique "All Shook Up" (Season 1, Episode 12)
Friends Paula "The One With the Thumb" (Season 1, Episode 3)
1995 New York Undercover Medina "Private Enemy No. 1" (Season 1, Episode 14)
Living Single Delia Deveaux "Talk Showdown" (Season 2, Episode 26)
Courthouse Judge Rosetta Reide Main role
1996 Cosby Bernice "Basketball Story" (Season 1, Episode 10)
1997 Touched by an Angel Queenie "Amazing Grace: Part 1" (Season 3, Episode 20)
Promised Land "Amazing Grace: Part 2" (Season 1, Episode 17)
1997-99 Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Hazel / Black Widow Spider "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" (Season 2, Episode 8)
"The Bremen Town Musicians" (Season 3, Episode 3)
1998 The Parent 'Hood Linda "Hurricane Linda" (Season 4, Episode 20)
1998-00 For Your Love Sylvia Ellis / Mel and Reggie's Mother "The Brother's Day" (Season 1, Episode 8)
"Father Fixture" (Season 3, Episode 11)
1999 The Jamie Foxx Show Josie "Always Follow Your Heart" (Season 3, Episode 20)
Moesha Mrs. Biggs "A Den Is a Terrible Thing to Waste" (Season 5, Episode 7)
Grown Ups Melissa's mother "Family Circus" (Season 1, Episode 7)
Time of Your Life Joss's mother "The Time They Had Not" (Season 1, Episode 7)
1999-08 The PJs Bebe Ho Main role
2000 Bette Inez "The Grammy Pre-Show" (Season 1, Episode 17)
2000-06 Strong Medicine Receptionist Lana Hawkins Main role
2002 Family Affair Mrs. Summers "Pilot: Part 1" (Season 1, Episode 1)
2002-06 Girlfriends Veretta Childs "My Mother, Myself" (Season 2, Episode 20)
"Blood Is Thicker Than Liquor" (Season 3, Episode 22)
"The Wedding" (Season 3, Episode 24)
"On the Couch" (Season 4, Episode 16)
"The Bridges of Fresno County" (Season 5, Episode 20)
"All God's Children" (Season 6, Episode 11)
"...Ain't Nothing Over There" (Season 6, Episode 22)
2003 The Proud Family Aunt Spice "Penny Potter" (Season 2, Episode 19)
2004 That's So Raven Vivian Baxter "To See or Not to See" (Season 1, Episode 21)
2007 Day Break Elizabeth Hopper "What If She's Lying?" (Season 1, Episode 8)
Shark Ellie Broussard "Backfire" (Season 1, Episode 17)
2007-08 Boston Legal Judge Isabel Fisher "No Brains Left Behind" (Season 4, Episode 9)
"Mad About You" (Season 4, Episode 11)
2009-10 Meet the Browns Vera Brown "Meet the Mom" (Season 3, Episode 4)
"Meet the Mom Again" (Season 3, Episode 10)
"Meet the Anniversary" (Season 3, Episode 25)
"Meet the Baby" (Season 3, Episode 36)
"Meet the Confession" (Season 4, Episode 25)
2011 The Cleveland Show Woman / Kevin Garnett's Mom / Receptionist / Middle-Aged Woman "A Short Story and a Tall Tale" (Season 2, Episode 13)
"The Way the Cookie Crumbles" (Season 2, Episode 16)
American Dad! Lessie "School Lies" (Season 6, Episode 14)
State of Georgia Patrice "Best Friends For-Never" (Season 1, Episode 3)
The Playboy Club Pearl Recurring role
2014 The Boondocks Boss Willona / Geraldine "Breaking Grandad" (Season 4, Episode 3)
"Early Bird Special" (Season 4, Episode 4)
2014-present Black-ish Ruby Johnson Recurring role
2015 The Exes Caren Dupree "Requiem for a Dream" (Season 4, Episode 8)
Instant Mom Delois "Not Full House" (Season 2, Episode 9)
Video Games
Year Title Role Notes
2006 Cars Flo Voice
2007 Cars Mater-National Championship


  1. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (1993-07-01). "JENIFER LEWIS: FROM `DIVA' TO `STAR'". Chicago Tribune (New York Times News Service). Retrieved 2011-01-03. 
  2. ^ Lane, Clay (January 7, 2009). "Jenifer Lewis: That's my mama!". Retrieved 20 February 2010. 
  3. ^
  4. ^

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