Childhood & Early Life
Jacqueline Yvonne Harry was born on August 14, 1956, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S., to an Afro-Trinidadian mother, Flossie, and an African–American father, Warren Harry. She grew up in Harlem, New York, and was trained in acting at the 'High School of the Performing Arts' in New York City.
She attended school at the 'Henry Street Settlement' on the Lower East Side. She then graduated with a BA in education from the 'Long Island University.'
Harry harbored a passion for acting since childhood. She was an active participant in all of her school plays. Harry was just 14 when she was cast in the lead role of the 'King' in her school play 'The King and I.'
Harry later took up a teaching job at the 'Brooklyn Technical High School' and taught history for 2 years there. However, she eventually left the job to pursue acting.
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Harry made her professional acting debut as a stage actor in 1973. She played a nurse in the 'Billie Holiday Theatre' production of 'Going Through Changes'/'Two Plays by Ricard Wesley.' In 1978, she appeared as 'Melinda Bernard' in her ‘Broadway’ debut, 'A Broadway Musical,' staged at the 'Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.' She appeared as 'Alice' in 'I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road' at the 'Circle In The Square Theatre.'
The following year, she appeared in the stage plays 'The Good Ship Credit' at 'The Richard Allen Center' and 'Second Thoughts' at the 'Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.' In August that year, Harry began her national tour with the stage play 'Eubie!'
Subsequently, Harry appeared in several ‘Off-Broadway’ and ‘Broadway’ productions and toured with many of them, too. She toured with 'One Mo Time,' playing 'Ma Reed.' She was also seen as 'Cassie' in 'Child of the Sun,' staged at the 'Louis Abrons Arts for Living Center.' She appeared in 'Colored People's Time' at the 'Cherry Lane Theatre' and in 'Rhinestone' at the 'Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art.' She was seen as 'Rachel Watts Adam' in 'A Musical Drama About Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.' at the 'Henry Street Playhouse.'
In 1983, Harry made her TV debut with the recurring role of 'Lily Mason' in the ‘NBC’ daytime soap opera 'Another World.' A year later, she made her film debut with a brief role in the 1984 crime drama 'The Cotton Club.' However. prior to that, she had played an uncredited character role in the American romantic comedy film ‘Moscow on the Hudson,’ the same year. Subsequently, Harry was seen in a string of TV movies, such as 'Alvin Goes Back to School' (as 'Gina Lipman'), 'Alf Loves a Mystery,' 'The Incredible Ida Early' (as 'Ida Early'), 'Crash Course' (as 'Edna Savage'), 'The Cheech Show' (as 'Sheila'), and 'Double Your Pleasure' (as 'Linda Cavanaugh'/'Sharlene Cavanaugh').
In 1985, Harry began playing 'Sandra Clark,' one of her most popular TV roles, in the ‘NBC’ sitcom '227.' Unfortunately, she could not share the joy of watching the show with her mother, as she lost her before the show started airing.
The show featured her along with her acting mentor, Marla Gibbs. She often had issues with Marla, over the casting. They, however, reconciled eventually. They even worked together in several subsequent projects.
The sitcom's makers planned a TV pilot for Harry, titled 'Jackée,' but it was not picked up for a full-length show. The pilot episode was later aired as a '227' episode. Harry is the first African–American to win an 'Emmy Award' for a comedy performance (for '227’). She quit the show in 1989.
Toward the end of '227,' Harry briefly adopted her first name, ''Jackée,'' as her professional name.
Harry and Oprah Winfrey shared screen space in the critically acclaimed 1989 ‘ABC’ miniseries 'The Women of Brewster Place.' In 1991, she played the main role of 'Ruth ''CoCo'' Royal' in eight episodes of the ‘CBS’ sitcom 'The Royal Family.'
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She played 'Julie Benson' in the 1992 sports-themed comedy film 'Ladybugs.' From 1994, she began another popular stint, appearing in the ‘ABC’/‘WB’ sitcom 'Sister, Sister,' in which she played 'Lisa Landry,' a foster mother. Her outstanding performance earned her the 'NAACP Image Award' for 'Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series' in 1999 and 2000. Harry also directed its episodes 'Summer Bummer' (1996), 'Slime Party' (1997), and 'Ladies' Choice' (1998). In 2014, she reprised the role for a guest appearance in an episode of the sitcom 'Instant Mom,’ titled 'Not Your Mother's Day.'
In between her run in 'Sister, Sister,' Harry made her return to theater in 1994 and appeared as 'Billie Holiday' in the play 'Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill.' This was followed by a stint in Ntozake Shange's play 'For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide' at the 'Ford Theatre' and 'The Vagina Monologues' at the 'Canon Theatre' in 2001.
She played a madam running a bordello in the ‘Broadway’ musical 'The Boys from Syracuse' at the 'American Airlines Theatre.' Harry was also part of J.D. Lawrence's 'The Cleanup Woman,' one of the highest-grossing gospel stage plays of all time, and played a lead role in the ‘Off-Broadway’ limited-run of 'NEWSical: The Musical.'
In 2003, she appeared as 'Cheryl Carter' in the play 'Urban Transitions: Loose Blossoms' at the 'Village Theater' and was seen in a rework of Tennessee Williams's play 'The Night of the Iguana' at 'the Ford Theatre.'
In 2004 and 2005, she toured around the country with the stage plays 'A Christmas Carol' (as 'Miss Fezziwig'), 'Not A Day Goes By' (as 'Ava'), 'Too Good to Let Go,' and 'The Man Of Her Dreams' (as 'Louise Smith').
From 2006 to 2009, Harry played the recurring role of 'Vanessa' in 26 episodes of the ‘CBS’ sitcom 'Everybody Hates Chris.'
In 2007, she began touring with her stage directorial venture 'U Got Me Bent & Twisted,' playing 'Mable.' She also appeared in the stage play 'Damn Yankees' at the 'Freud Playhouse.' The following year, she played a nurse in the 'Odyssey Theatre' production of 'The Sunshine Boys.’ She also toured with 'The Clean Up Woman,' playing 'Jasmine Jones.'
In 2010, 'The National Congress of Black Women' honored Harry with the 'Woman of Substance Award.'
In 2011, Harry played the recurring role of 'Delores Whitmore' in the ‘BET’ romantic comedy/drama 'Let's Stay Together.' She collaborated with Marla Gibbs again in the syndicated sitcom 'The First Family.' Harry played 'Pauletta Birdsong,' one of the leads of the sitcom, while Gibbs had a recurring role. The two also starred together in the 2013 film 'Forbidden Woman' (which featured Harry as 'Sheila').
Harry's subsequent stage credits included the national tours of 'Me & Mrs. Jones' (as 'Jasmine Jones'); 'I Need A Man' (as 'Aunt Ruth'); three 'Wilshire Ebell Theatre' productions, 'A Change Is Gonna Come,' 'The First Lady Of Zion,' and 'Let the Church Roll On'; and 'I'll Always Love My Momma' at the 'Warner Theater.'
Harry earned a 'Nollywood and African Film Critics Award' nomination for her role of 'Miss Bertha' in the 2015 mystery crime-thriller 'The Man in 3B.'
In 2018, she started playing 'JoAnn Payne' in the syndicated sitcom 'The Paynes,' which premiered in 2016. In 2020, she reprised the role in its sequel, 'Tyler Perry's House of Payne.'
Apart from being a fine actor, Harry is a prominent public motivational speaker and advocates healthy living, education, and philanthropy. She is the spokesperson for the 'Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund,' a global ambassador of the 'Women's International Center,' and a prominent supporter of the 'United Negro College Fund.'