A Pioneer in the Theater Celebrates her 100th Birthday

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The founder of the H.A.D.L.E.Y Players, Gertrude Jeannette, who was born November 28, 1914, celebrated her 100th birthday at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem on Sunday, November 30th where theater people, friends, press and community folks came out to honor Gertrude and remember her birthday.

A playwright, actress, director and producer in her own right, Gertrude has appeared on both stage and screen.   She appeared on radio and performed on Broadway in Tennessee Williams “Vieux Carre.”  Also in “The Skin of our Teeth,” “The Great White Hope,” “Lost in the Stars.” “Amen Corner,”  “Nobody Loves an Albatross “and “The Great White Hope,” et al.

In film, Ms. Jeanette was memorable in “The Legend of Nigger Charlie,” “Black Girl,” and appeared in “Shaft,” “and “Cotton Comes to Harlem.”   She has lent her talents to both film shorts and documentaries.  A playwright in her own right, Gertrude wrote plays like:  A Bolt from the Blue, Light in the Cellar, Glady’s Dilemma, This Way Forward, and Who’s Mama’s Baby, Who’s Daddy’s Child?  She has also featured and directed the works of other playwrights.  

Born in Urbana, Arkansas, Gertrude made Harlem, NY, her home.  An innovator, in 1935 she became the first woman to get a license to operate a motor cycle and later became the first female cab driver in New York City.  Jeannette received the Harlem Business Recognition Award from the National Council of Negro Women.  She was honored as a Living Legend by the National Black Theater Festival in Winston Salem, NC .  She received the Outstanding Pioneer Award from AUDELCO in 1984.  She also received the AT&T and Black American Newspaper 1987 Personality of the Year Award.  She was inducted into the Hatch-Billops Oral History Collection by the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture.  As well as inducted into Philadelphia’s Bush­fire Theatre Walk of Fame.  The Giving Back Corporation endowed her with their 2004 Giving Back Award, and Gertrude was given the 2006 Professional Women’s Award from the Riverside Club/National Negro Business and Professional Women organization.  She received the Standing on Our Shoulders Award from the Delta Sigma Theta, Bronx Chapter, and the Lionel Hampton Legacy Award for her outstanding work in the Harlem community.   In 2002, Gertrude Jeannette received the prestigious Paul Robeson Award from Actor’s Equity.  She was also honored by Harlem Is…Living History, an educational project by Community Works.

Letters wishing Ms. Jeannette “Happy Birthday” came from Congressman Charles Rangel, Assemblyman Keith Wright, State Senator Bill Perkins and Councilwoman Inez Dickens.  The Master of Ceremony was producer Voza Rivers.  Ebony Jo-Ann sang “You Will Never Grow Old.”  The Classical Productions led by Patricia Hancock Rogers sang a medley of Gertrude’s favorite songs.  The invocation was done by actress, comedian and reverend Dorothy Fox.  Among the guests were former HADLEY Players Artistic Director Ward Nixon, actors Albert Eggleston, Ralph McCain, photographer Ronnie Wright, Don Thomas (NY Beacon), Woodie King (New Federal Theater), Patricia White, Elizabeth Van Dyke, David Downing,  Hazel Smith,  Vinie Burrows,  organizer Margaret Jackson, Sirlouis Jones, Shirley Scott, Micki Grant, Mary B. Davis, Johnnie Mae, Joe B. Hunt,  Barbara Horowitz, Larry Thorp, June Terry, Janice Jenkins,  Louise Mike,  Dee Dixon, director Eric Coleman, Margery Johnson, Kimberly Monroe, playwrights Roger Parris and J.E. Franklin.

 Many of the attendees have presented their plays and/or appeared in some of the Hadley Productions.  Others were supporters and long time friends.  People such as actress Joan Valentina, Cherryl Thomas, Ms. Bobbi Willis, Kim Weston-Moran, journalists Joan Allen, Peter Cooper and Michael J. Feeney, actress Johnnie Mae, Tommie Thompson, Kelly Marie Berry, costumer Kathy Roberson, Ed Lawrence, Debbie McIntire, Ajene Washington, Alice Garcia, Michelle Wilson (Ms Jeannette’s great niece), Alvin Alexis, Juanita Howard, Loretta Abbott, and Lillian Harrison came out to celebrate Gertrude’s 100th birthday milestone. 

Ms. Jeannette appeared to have a lovely time and invited all her guests back to her 110th birthday party to do it all over again.  God willing Gertrude, we’ll all be there.

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