Jenifer Jeanette Lewis (born January 25, 1957) is an American film, theatre, and television actress, comedian and singer.
Lewis was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a nurse's aide mother and a factory worker father. 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 Turnerâs 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.
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.
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."
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.
Lewis' most recent singing role came with her role in the movie musical The Princess and the Frog.
- Murphy Brown (1990â"1991)
- A Different World (1990â"93)
- Stat (1991)
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1991â"96)
- Dream On (1992)
- Roc (1993)
- Moon Over Miami (1993)
- Hangin' With Mr. Cooper (1993â"94)
- Friends (1994)
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1994)
- New York Undercover (1995)
- Courthouse (1995)
- Cosby (1996)
- Touched by an Angel (1997)
- Promised Land (1997)
- Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1997â"99)
- For Your Love (1998â"2000)
- Moesha (1999)
- Grown Ups (1999)
- The PJs (1999â"2008)
- The Jamie Foxx Show (1999)
- Bette (unknown year)
- Family Affair (2002)
- Strong Medicine (2000â"06)
- Girlfriends (2002â"06)
- The Proud Family (2003)
- That's So Raven (2004)
- Day Break (2007)
- Shark (2007)
- Meet the Browns (2009â"20) â" 4 episodes
- The Cleveland Show (2011) â" 1 episode
- State of Georgia (2011) - 1 episode
- The Playboy Club (2011) - 7 episodes (series regular)
- Five (2011) - Nominatedâ"Black Reel Awards for Best Actress in a Television Miniseries or Movie
Nominatedâ"NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
Nominated - NAMIC Vision Awards for Best Performance - Drama
- The Boondocks (2014) - 2 episodes
- Black-ish (2014 to present) as Ruby Johnson
- Cars (2006) - Flo
- Cars Mater-National Championship (2007) - Flo
- Jenifer Lewis at the Internet Movie Database
- Jenifer Lewis at the Internet Broadway Database
- Jenifer Lewis at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Jenifer Lewis at AllMovie
- May 05 A&U interview: Jenifer discusses AIDS Affecting Her and her psychotherapy since being diagnosed as bipolar in 1997