RIP Gertrude Hadley Jeannette

bhm gertrudeA reader pointed out that the April 26, 2018, New York Times had an obituary for Gertrude Hadley Jeannette.  This native Arkansan (and inductee into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame) died at the age of 103.  Throughout her life she was a trailblazer in the arts but also was a trailblazer in other fields because of her race and her gender.

Here below is from a 2015 feature of her on this blog.

Playwright, producer, director, and actress of the stage and screen, Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, was born in Urbana, on November 28, 1914, to Willis Lawrence Hadley and Salley Gertrude Crawford Hadley. She attended Dunbar High School in Little Rock. Just before her high school graduation, Jeannette decided that she wanted to get married instead of attending Fisk University, as she had previously planned.  She and Joe Jeannette II, a prizefighter and the president of the Harlem Dusters, a motorcycle club, eloped to New York City in 1934.

In New York City, Jeannette learned to drive; in 1935 she became the first woman to get a license to drive a motorcycle. In 1942, because of the shortage of male taxicab drivers caused by the war, Jeannette became the first woman to drive a cab in New York City. During this time, Jeannette decided to further her education; she took bookkeeping classes in the basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church, and speech classes at the American Negro Theatre in order to remedy her speech impediments.

In 1950, she appeared on television in James Weldon Johnson’s Gods Trombone on CBS’s General Electric Hour; she had replaced Pearl Bailey, who was originally cast in that role. As a result, Jeannette continued to work both in the theatre and in film and television. Some of Jeannette’s film credits included ShaftBlack Girl, and Cotton Comes To Harlem.  Her Broadway credits include Lost in the Stars, The Long Dream, Nobody Loves an Albatross, The Amen Corner, Vieux Carre and a revival of The Skin of Our Teeth.  Off Broadway she starred in To Be Young, Gifted and Black.

In 1979, Jeannette founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You) in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The mission of the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players was to give artists a chance to develop their talents and skills in the theatre, and to enrich the cultural life in Harlem. Jeannette went on to direct, produce, and write her own plays, as well as the works of other playwrights.

Jeannette was presented with several awards for her work and accomplishments. In 1991, Jeannette was honored as a living legend at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in 1998, she was honored with the Lionel Hampton Legacy Award. Jeannette was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2002, she received the prestigious Paul Robeson Award from the Actor’s Equity Association. Jeanette, though retired, remained active and celebrated member of the New York theater scene well into her nineties.

For more on Gertrude Hadley Jeannette and other inductees into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, visit the permanent exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. That museum is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

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