Minnie Gentry

(1915–1993) Cleveland actress and Karamu alumna who appeared during the

1940s in a number of Broadway productions and later in several films and TV shows. including School DazeDef by Temptation and Jungle Fever, and TV’s All My Children and The Cosby Show.

Born Minnie Lee Watson in Norfolk, Virginia, she soon found herself in Cleveland, where she began studying piano at the age of nine at the Phyllis Wheatley School of Music and acting at the Friendly Inn Settlement. “Through Lloyd Gentry, whom she later married,” says her New York Times obituary, “she joined the Gilpin Players, one of the first [African American] acting companies, at the Karamu Playhouse in Cleveland, where she was a featured performer in dramatic, musical and operatic roles for 30 years.”

In 1946, says the Times, Gentry “was cast in a Broadway production of Lysistrata with Sidney Poitier. She returned to Karamu three years later and performed there until 1961, when she returned to New York, where she appeared in The Blacks and Amen Corner, among other plays with racial themes.

“In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Gentry appeared in several plays that dealt with race relations, notably Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, Black Girl, Georgia, Georgia, and The Gentleman Caller, one of the four plays in A Black Quartet. She also appeared in The Sunshine Boys, All God’s Chillun Got Wings and in the title role of an Off-Broadway production of Medea. In 1979, she won critical praise for her performance as Lena Younger in a revival of Raisin in the Sun at the Henry Street Settlement.

Her many television roles included Aunt Bessie on the soap opera All My Children and Gram Tee on The Cosby Show.” She also appeared in small roles in movies, including Come Back Charleston Blue (1972) and The Brother From Another Planet (1984).

Minnie Gentry with Calvin Thomas and George Gould. Photo Courtesy Karamu House.