The Versatile Jasmine Guy
Jasmine Guy can do almost anything, whether it is in front of the camera, onstage or in other aspects; she has had a very diverse career in entertainment. She is best known for her role on the hit television show A Different World, as Whitley Gilbert. Ms. Guy has also appeared in a number of other shows including NYPD Blue, Drop Dead Diva, Dead Like Me and Vampire Diaries. She is also the host of television show American’s Ballroom Challenge. Movie credits include the film version of Dead Like Me: Life After Death, That’s How Strong My Love Is, A Century of Women, America’s Dream with Wesley Snipes, School Daze with Laurence Fishburne, Alex Haley’s Queen and Harlem Nights with Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Her onstage work is extensive, with numerous appearances on and off Broadway. Some of her more notable contributions include Miss Evers’ Boys, Chicago, Grease and The Nacirema Society. Ms. Guy has also lent her voice to the animation Cats Don’t Dance and the educational video Between the Lions. She has also produced a self-titled music album. Ms. Guy has published several written works, including one on the life of Afeni Shakur, the mother of Tupac Shakur. When not working on stage or in front of the camera, Ms. Guy also gets involved with schools and organizations. Her contributions to the African American community have been recognized, garnering six consecutive NAACP awards among others.
Jasmine Guy’s Background and Introduction to Performing Arts
Born in March 10, 1962, Jasmine Guy comes from a mixed race background. Her father is of African American descent and her mother, Jaye Rudolph, is Portuguese American. Although Jasmine was born in Boston, Massachusetts, she grew up in Atlanta Georgia. Her father, Rev. William Guy, was a pastor for the Friendship Baptist church in Atlanta.
Dancing was the first skill that Ms. Guy developed, taking up ballet lessons by the age of 5. Until age 12, Jasmine Guy studied dance at the Spelman College Dance School. In high school, she attended Northside Performing Arts. By age 17, she had won a scholarship to continue dancing at New York’s prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She spent a total of three years performing as a concert dancer before leaving to play a minor role on the television adaptation of Fame. This would be her first exposure to performing on camera.
Starring Roles and Guest Appearances on Television Shows
In 1982, Jasmine Guy appeared on NBC’s television series Fame, a revival of the musical of the same name. Jasmine Guy played the role of a dancer in its opening season. This is where she would be introduced to the multitalented Debbie Allen, Ms. Guy’s inspiration for developing her own series of skills and talents. The next collaboration between Guy and Allen would be for the series A Different World, in which Ms. Guy played the role of Whitley Gilbert. This came as an offshoot of The Cosby Show. A Different World was best appreciated for its ability to tackle difficult topics such as date rape, AIDS and other issues which affected the African American community. Its success allowed the series to stay on the airways for six seasons and garnering Ms. Guy six NAACP awards for her role on the show.
Her role on A Different World placed Ms. Guy on the media spotlight. Ms. Guy made numerous appearances including guest roles on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NYPD Blue, Living Single and Drop Dead Diva. She also played a major role in the mini-series Queen: The Story of an American Family. Guy is also remembered for her starring role on the show Dead Like Me, as the frank and sassy Roxy. In addition to playing fictional roles on television, Ms. Guy also hosts America’s Ballroom Challenge. Ms. Guy feels ecstatic with hosting this competitive show as it allows her to be around other fine dancers.
Starring Roles in Movies and Documentaries
Over the years, Guy appeared in a number of movies and films. One of her first starring roles was for Spike Lee’s School Daze. Although released in 1988, taping and production for the film occurred before the series A Different World was first put on-air. At the time, the movie was seen as controversial for depicting the issues between light-skinned and dark-skinned individuals in the African American community. Other notable actors include Spike Lee, Laurence Fishburne, Tisha Campbell-Martin and Giancarlo Esposito. Another star-studded movie Ms. Guy was involved in was Harlem Nights. Eddie Murphy starred and directed this action packed comical movie which included other comedians such as Richard Pryor and Arsenio Hall.
Ms. Guy is better known for her roles in movies and documentaries that tackle deeper issues. That’s How Strong My Love Is presents reenactments of stories told by kids on issues that affect them the most, such as bullying and suicides. Interviews were conducted with the children and instructors involved. There are also video clips of the filming process to demonstrate the show’s efforts in recreating the segments as true to the interviews as possible. Carolyn MacDonald, the film’s director collaborated with Jasmine Guy for this project. The two have worked together numerous times since the production of America’s Dream.
America’s Dream is a compilation of stories written by prominent black writers, such as Maya Angelou, John Henrik Clarke and Richard Wright. Jasmine Guy is featured in the segment “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black.” The story is set in the late 1950s and revolves around a principal who reevaluates his life after one of his pupils painted Christ as a black man.
Ms. Guy has frequently participated in movies that deal with controversial issues. Tru Loved, for instance, deals with topics involving the gay and lesbian society. HBO’s Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives is a documentary on the history of the African Americans in American history. A Century of Women combines fictional stories of women intertwined with actual events in American history.
Music Album Releases
Ms. Guy produced a single album, self-titled Jasmine Guy. From this album emerged three hits under the R&B genre including “Try Me”, “Just Want to Hold You” and “Another Like My Lover”. The debut single “Try Me” was featured and aired in one episode of the series A Different World. In 2006, Ms. Guy revealed her plans to produce a second album. Unlike the first one, the second album will be sold online using a marketing strategy utilized by Prince.
Cartoons, Animated Movies and Educational Videos for Children
In addition to singing, Ms. Guy has also lent her voice to a number of animated shorts, movies and videos aimed for children. She was involved with the animation Cats Don’t Dance as the voice of Sawyer. Ms. Guy has also appeared in a few educational videos produced by PBS. Between the Lions features a series of videos aimed at primary school children, teaching them how to formulate words. Ms. Guy is also a guest voice for the PBS animated series Cyberchase.
Plays and Musicals On and Off Broadway
On stage, Guy is a triple threat performer: she can sing, dance and act. Her name has become a fixture in stage plays both on and off Broadway. When it comes to her Broadway acts, she played the Crow on The Wiz, Mickey on the show Leader of the Pack and Velma Kelly on Chicago. Off Broadway, Jasmine Guy appeared on Beehive. Other plays include Miss Evers’ Boys, Raisin’ Cane and Blues for an Alabama Sky among others.
Actress her role in the musical Chicago gave Guy a chance to demonstrate to a wider audience her prowess when it comes to musical theatre and dancing. Her portrayal of Velma Kelly helped establish her place in Broadway. During that time, she shared the media spotlight with Charlotte d’Ambroise who played the lead character Roxie Hart. In 1997, Jasmine Guy won the Andre’ DeShields Award for her performance on Chicago.
Becoming involved with the play Miss Evers’ Boys allowed Guy to find happiness even with the gravest of situations. She has compared this experience to laughing at a funeral. Each character in the play provided a different layer and level of sophistication to the piece. The play deals with a forgotten time in the America’s past wherein a number of African American men were subjected to humiliating tests by the US Public Health Service.
Raisin’ Cane has a unique interplay of dialogue, poetry and jazz music. The musical gives tribute to the Harlem Resistance back in the 1920s. It is derived from Jean Toomer’s short novel Cane. Additional insights are taken from celebrated African American writers during this era of artistic expression. Guy’s performance and role in this play is to express these thoughts and emotions on stage. An original score performed by the Avery Sharpe Jazz Trio creates the feel and foundation for the stage play.
Projects Taken as a Director
Directors that were actors first before they accepted directorial projects have a greater understanding of how to get the most out of an actor. Being an active actress herself enabled Jasmine Guy to better communicate her vision to the actors. Her first project as a director was for overseeing the stage project entitled For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf in 2009. This production is under the theatre company True Colors. Two years later, Ms. Guy officially went on board as a producing director. Other than For Colored Girls, Ms. Guy has also produced The Colored Museum for the same company. For the Theatrical Outfit stage group, Ms. Guy produced Brownie Points.
For Colored Girls is Jasmine Guy’s first directorial project. The script by Ntozake Shange has won an Obie Award for its intriguing play of narrative, poetry and dance. Its story centers on the lives of seven African American women. The play is a celebration of their joys, struggles and pains.
The Colored Museum is another play directed by Ms. Guy under the theatrical group True Colors. It features a collection of stories written by George C. Wolfe, which showcases race relations in the United States. The stories revolve around the lives of different African American men and women, unfolding over a span of more than 200 years. Using satire and parody, the actors under the direction of Ms. Guy poke fun at the different stereotypes while not losing respect for those that lived during harder times.
Brownie Points is one project which Ms. Guy directed for a different stage group known as the Theatrical Outfit. The story revolves around five mothers and their daughters that get stranded while exploring the great outdoors. The playwright, Janece Shaffer, delves into the issues of being a woman and a mother. A clash between their varied social backgrounds and upbringing forces them to reevaluate each other’s lives and their own.
It was Toni Morrison’s novel which became the basis for the stage play The Bluest Eye. The story explores and delves into issues of love, beauty and race during the 1940s for African American women. The Bluest Eye is a story told through the eyes of an 11 year old looking for love and acceptance from her family and the community. Jasmine Guy chose to direct this play at Spelman College. She remains to have deep ties with the school, studying dance in the same institution until the age of 12. In addition, rehearsals for the play For Colored Girls were conducted in Spelman.
Published Books and Articles
Author is another vocation that Jasmine Guy can add to her list of achievements. To date, Jasmine Guy has published one book and written for a compilation of essays. “Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary” was written in collaboration with the subject and her friend Afeni Shakur regarding Ms. Shakur’s life. “The Last to Know” is an essay she wrote, which was included in the compilation Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community. This book deals with the real facts and effects of the disease in the black community.
Afeni Shakur, the subject for the book Evolution of a Revolutionary, is a close friend of Jasmine Guy for several years. She is the mother of the slain rapper Tupac Shakur. The book written by Ms. Guy shows that there is more to Ms. Shakur besides being the mother of a famous rapper. Prior to her involvement with the Black Panther Movement, she was known as Alice Faye Williams. The book dealt with her participation in the movement and feelings of disenfranchisement that plagued her throughout her life.
Speaking Engagements and Involvement in Humanitarian Organizations and Programs
When she’s not on stage, in front of a camera or writing, Jasmine Guy is known for her involvement with various groups and programs. She loves getting involved and making a difference, whether it is by teaching or helping raise awareness for a particular cause. Some of her avenues for mentoring younger aspiring performers include directing at Spelman College, teaching ballet at the center A Place Called Home (APCH) or speaking in schools. Ms. Guy is also well known for her efforts in getting involved with the Lupus Foundation, Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Women at Risk Foundation, among others. Her participation can be as simple as a guest appearance during an event, becoming the speaker or host or organizing a tribute for the Women’s History Month.
A Place Called Home is a center aimed at gang prevention located in South Central Los Angeles. The center provides its young residents, food, shelter, security, educational avenues and entertainment. Ms. Guy founded the center. She volunteers on a weekly basis, teaching ballet to both girls and boys staying at the center. Other than Ms. Guy and her sister, other celebrities that have volunteered their time and efforts to the center and the cause include Mark Wahlberg, Penny Marshall and Will and Jada Smith.
Awards, Honors and Tributes Received
Young and actively involved in several different industries, her achievements and contributions are continuously being recognized by numerous groups. She is most remembered for receiving a total of six National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Awards over six consecutive years for her role in A Different World. After the final season ended, she moved on to showcase her other skills. Some of the awards she has received over the years include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gulf Coast Film and Video Festival and one from the Black Women Film Network.
- 32nd Annual Drum Major for Justice Awards Honoree
- Black Women Film Network 2010 Winner
- Awarded Best Performance in a Play or Music/Dance Concert
- Two Nominations for the Suzi Bass Awards
- Guest Speaker and Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient during the Student Image Awards
The NAACP Image Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to individuals that have made great contributions to changing the world and helping people. Other than being a performer, Jasmine Guy was also the national representative for Perspectives on African American Art. She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Old Dominion University. Ms. Guy was also a guest speaker for the event.
Jasmine Guy’s Private Life
There is little information regarding Jasmine Guy’s life outside her background, work and contributions to society. Ms. Guy married Terrence Duckett in 1998. The couple had a child a year later, who they named Imani; her name was taken from a character on the show A Different World.