As It Happens

Story by Chuck Tackett

“Oh honey, I lay it on the line. Ain’t no shame in my game. It ain’t never been. Raw as I am, you can’t care what people think about you. All that sex in the book, yeah I did it. I was around when the AIDS epidemic was at its height. So, when Walter Cronkite said, “Everybody you slept with, you slept with everybody they slept with in the last 7 years.” I told my girlfriend to book me a trip around the world because I’m a dead bitch.”

– Jenifer Lewis

If you are familiar with the ABC TV hit sitcom “Blackish”, you know actress Jenifer Lewis who plays Ruby Johnson the mother-in-law/grandmother who is notorious for calling on “Black Jesus” in coping with shocking news or accepting moments in life she finds difficult to accept.

Born Jenifer Jeanette Lewis in St. Louis, Missouri, she remained in the state of Missouri until she graduated from college. To focus on enhancing her career in performing arts, she moved to New York City.

Soon after she relocated to New York City, Ms. Lewis debuted on Broadway in a small role in 1979’s ” Eubie”. “Eubie” was a musical based on the works of Eubie Blake. Jenifer next landed the role of Effie White in an off-Broadway workshop production of “Dreamgirls.” When the show moved to Broadway, Jenifer was replaced by a then unknown singer named Jennifer Holiday.

Shortly afterward, Jenifer accepted a position as a “Harlette”, a backup singer for Bette Midler, which led to her first TV appearances on Bette Midler’s HBO specials. This led to Ms. Lewis’s 1st screen role as a backup singer for Bette Midler’s character in the movie “Beaches.” At the same time, she was developing her nightclub act “The Diva is Dismissed,” an autobiographical comedy and music piece making the rounds in New York City Cabarets.

In the early 1990’s, Jenifer relocated to Los Angeles, where she starred in numerous TV shows. Her most famous were Dean Davenport in the last season of “A Different World,” and Will Smith’s character’s Aunt Helen on NBC’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”

In 1992, Jenifer met Whoopi Goldberg in the movie “Sister Act” She was cast as one of the backup singers in Whoopi’s movie character in Las Vegas.

In the following year, Jenifer’s movie career took off like it was on steroids. She played Tupac Shakur’s mother in the movie, “Poetic Justice,” along with Janet Jackson. She then landed the role of Tina Turner’s mother in the movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” For that role, Ms. Lewis received an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress In a Motion Picture.

In the 2000’s and 2010’s, Jenifer starred in numerous movies and TV shows, too numerous to mention here in this article, usually playing the role of someone’s mother.

In 2015, Jenifer landed the TV role on the sitcom, “Blackish.” In 2017, she published her autobiography about her life and career in the book, “The Mother of Black Hollywood” Jenifer Lewis, a symbol of Black excellence.

Chuck’s Chat operates under an open authority. Opinions and comments are welcome. Send them to

Leave a comment