1914 - 2018
Ms. Gertrude Jeannette, Mother Gertrude as she was addressed in the community, was a member of the 1940's American Negro Theatre (ANT) in Harlem, co-founded by Abram Hill and Frederick O'Neal. Other members in ANT included Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Clarice Taylor, Earl Hyman, Rosetta Lenoire, Roger Furman and others. The training and experience she received as a member of ANT gave her the motivation and commitment to open theaters in Harlem in the 1950's. In 1979 she founded The H.A.D.L.E.Y. PLAYERS (Harlem Artists' De¬vel¬op¬ment League Es¬pe¬cially for You) in answer to the need for emerging and professional artists, playwrights and directors of color to develop their skills in the theatre, and to enrich the cultural life in the Harlem community.
Ms. Jeannette, a veteran actress in Radio, Stage, Film and TV garnered a string of Historical, firsts: In 1935, Ms. Jeannette became the first woman licensed to drive a motorcycle in New York City; In 1942, because of the shortage of male taxi drivers, caused by the war she became the first woman to get her license to drive a Taxi Cab in New York City; And in1950, CBS' General Electric Hour produced James Weldon Johnson's Gods Trombones. Ms. Jeannette replaced Pearl Bailey who was originally cast in that role and as a result, she along with Fred O'Neil, became the first Black actors to appear on National Television - Three Historical Firsts.
Among Ms. Jeannette's honors and awards are: 1984 Outstanding Pioneer Award for AULDECO; the AT&T and Black America Recognition Award for the National Council of Negro Women, Manhattan Section; the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, NC in August 1991 for the "Living Legend Award"; inducted into the Hatch - Billops Oral History Collection at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; the 1998 Lionel Hampton Legacy Award; the Stand on Our Shoulders Award from Delta Sigma Theta, Bronx Chapter; was inducted into the Bushfire Theatre Walk of Fame in Philadelphia, PA; was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame on October 16, 1999. On Oct. 4th, 2002, she received the prestigious "Paul Robeson Award" from the Actors' Equity Association. She received three AUDELCO Nomination for the 2010 Best Play Revival for her play "Gladys' Dilemma".
Ms. Jeannette continued to actively work as an Actress into her 80's and retired from directing at the age of 98. In 2012, Ms. Jeannette and Ruby Dee selected Voza Rivers to provide leadership and direction to Gertrude Jeannette's The H.A.D.L.E.Y. PLAYER.
She is survived by a legacy of cousins, nieces, nephews, and an extended family of friends.
Published by New York Times from Apr. 14 to Apr. 15, 2018.