Keke Palmer starred in the 2006 movie Akeelah and the Bee, an appealing underdog tale about a middle-schooler from a rough part of Los Angeles who dreams of winning the National Spelling Bee. Just thirteen years old when the movie was released, Palmer had already appeared in other noteworthy film and television projects and won rave reviews for her acting talent, but as Akeelah, she "turns in a career-making performance, one devoid of sentimentality or condescension," wrote Doris Toumarkine of the Film Journal International.
Palmer was born on August 26, 1993, in Robbins, Illinois, one of the numerous suburbs of Chicago's South Side. Both of her parents had acted professionally, but moved on to other careers. Her father, Lawrence, worked for a plastics manufacturing company and her mother, Sharon, worked with high-school students afflicted with autism. Palmer's given and middle names are Lauren Keyana, but her older sister, Loreal, dubbed her "Keke," and the nickname stuck. She attended St. Benedict School in Blue Island, but was already showing some show-business promise by the time she entered first grade: she delivered a stirring rendition of "Jesus Loves Me" at her church when she was just five years old after begging her mother to let her join the choir with her. "I probably wasn't really, really in the choir," she told Howard Berkes in an interview that aired on National Public Radio's Weekend All Things Considered. "Like I would just be sitting there dancing or singing or something, and I had a little robe, you know, they made me a little robe to fit in with the choir, and so that's why I knew that I wanted to do something. I knew I wanted to entertain."
Moved to California
Her first professional job came when she appeared in the stage show at the popular tourist destination American Girl Place in Chicago's Water Tower district, and in 2004 she made an impressive film debut in Barbershop 2: Back in Business, which was filmed in the Chicago area. She played the niece of Queen Latifah's character, and the film's producers suggested to Palmer's parents that they might consider moving to Los Angeles to increase her chances of landing more roles. After they met with a few casting directors who also seemed to think Palmer showed great promise, they put their suburban Chicago house on the market, gave notice at their jobs, and prepared to move the family of six—Palmer by then had a younger brother and sister who are twins—cross-country. The most reticent was older sibling Loreal, and as Palmer explained to USA Today's Anthony Breznican, "I didn't have anything to bribe her…. I knew she was excited about going to high school and I didn't want to take that away from her—but I really wanted my dream to come true. She said, ‘You're really talented, and I think this could be good for you.’"
The family settled in Duarte, on the far edge of the Los Angeles sprawl and the last suburban outpost before the San Gabriel Mountains, and she began auditioning for film, television, and even advertising jobs. She appeared in a commercial for Kmart, and in episodes of Cold Case and Strong Medicine in 2004. Her breakout role came in the Turner Network Television movie The Wool Cap, which premiered on the cable channel in November of that same year. Palmer was cast opposite William H. Macy, who played the building superintendent for a rundown New York City apartment house who has lost his voice in a long-ago car accident. One of his tenants, a drug addict, demands that he watch her young daughter Lou (Palmer) one day, and then never returns. Reluctantly, Macy's character begins to assume some responsibility over Lou and comes to terms with his own family issues while trying to find her a more permanent family setting. Palmer won critical praise for her role, especially because she had so many scenes with Macy's mute character; this meant that she had no cue lines, which are dialogue triggers that help actors remember their lines. The Screen Actors Guild nominated her for that year's Best Leading Actress award, making her the youngest nominee in that category in Guild history.
Palmer followed Wool Cap with several other projects, including another television movie, Knights of the South Bronx, guest roles on ER and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and a sitcom pilot for the Disney Channel titled Keke & Jamal. In February of 2006 she appeared in the Tyler Perry box-office hit Madea's Family Reunion as the title character's back talking new foster child. Two months later, she advanced to taking the title role herself in Akeelah and the Bee, which costarred her with Angela Bassett as her widowed mother and Laurence Fishburne as the reluctant professor who agrees to coach Akeelah on her quest to win the National Spelling Bee. Palmer won terrific reviews, including one that asserted she gave "a letter-perfect performance as a bright preteen who knows the costs schoolgirls can pay for being too smart but who discovers a talent and an appetite even her tired and resentful mother" cannot stifle, wrote Patrick McCormick of the U.S. Catholic.
Won "Real Roxanne" Role
Palmer is also an aspiring singer who sang "Definition of Love" for the Akeelah soundtrack, and another track, "Tonight," was used as the closing song for the film Night at the Museum. Atlantic Records released her debut album So Uncool in September of 2007, the same year she appeared as Samuel L. Jackson's onscreen daughter in the gritty drama Cleaner. In 2008 she had the lead in The Longshots, based on the true story of an Illinois teen who became the first female quarterback on a Pop Warner-league football team. She also won a highly coveted role as another real-life character, Lolita Shante Gooden, in the 2008 music movie Vapors. Gooden first gained fame as a fourteen-year-old in 1984 with the freestyle verse she recorded as "Roxanne Shante" in the early days of the New York City hip-hop scene, and she went on to earn a doctorate in psychology from Cornell University.
At a Glance …
Born Lauren Keyana Palmer on August 26, 1993, in Robbins, IL; daughter of Lawrence Palmer (a plastics company employee) and Sharon Palmer (a special education teacher).
Career: Television and movie actor, 2004—; signed to a recording contract with Atlantic Records, 2007.
Addresses: Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Palmer told Berkes that she learned a great deal from the fictional Akeelah. The most important lesson was "to not be afraid of anything, because I mean Akeelah, she was too busy like feeling bad for herself, you know, like, oh man, you know, nothing's going right with me, I live in this dumb neighborhood, I'm, you know, never going to amount to anything because this is this and that." She went on to say that she had to audition several times for the role, including a first cattle-call tryout where she recognized "girls in there that I had seen on TV before and I was like, man, I might as well just walk out of here now because I'm just a newcomer and this and that." She told Valerie Kuklenski of the Daily News that the lessons of the film resonated with her, though. "I was doubtful at first about doing some of the acting jobs because they were so big. But as I got to another level I kind of realized, well, I've gotten this far. Maybe I am good enough. And that's what Akeelah thought when she got to the regional bee."
Barbershop 2: Back in Business, 2004.
The Wool Cap (television movie), 2004.
Knights of the South Bronx (television movie), 2005.
Akeelah and the Bee, 2006.
Madea's Family Reunion, 2006.
The Longshots, 2008.
So Uncool, Atlantic, 2007.
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), April 27, 2006, p. U10.
Film Journal International, May 2006, p. 43.
USA Today, April 26, 2006, p. 5D.
U.S. Catholic, July 1, 2006, p. 44.
"Keke Palmer on Bee-ing ‘Akeelah,’" Weekend All Things Considered, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5388881 (accessed May 15, 2008).
"Palmer, Keke." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/palmer-keke
"Palmer, Keke." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/palmer-keke
Palmer, Keke 1993- (Lauren "Keke" Palmer)
Palmer, Keke 1993- (Lauren "Keke" Palmer)
Full name, Lauren Keyana Palmer; born August 26, 1993, in Harvey, IL.
Agent—William Morris Agency, One William Morris Pl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; Coast to Coast Talent, Inc., 3350 Barham Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068. Manager—Untitled Entertainment, 1801 Century Park East, Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Actress and singer. Appeared in television commercials, including K-Mart stores.
Young Artist Award nomination, best performance in a television movie, miniseries or special—leading young actress, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a female actor in a television movie or miniseries, Image Award nomination, outstanding actress in a television movie, miniseries or dramatic special, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 2005, all for The Wool Cap; Rising Star of the Year Award, ShoWest Convention, 2006; Black Movie Award, outstanding performance by an actress in a leading role, 2006, Young Artist Award, best performance in a feature film—leading young actress, Image Award, outstanding actress in a motion picture, NAACP, Chicago Film Critics Association Award nomination, most promising performer, Critics Choice Award nomination, Broadcast Film Critics Association, best young actress, Black Reel Award nomination, best breakthrough performance, Black Reel Award, best actress, 2007, all for Akeelah and the Bee; Young Artist Award nomination, best performance in a feature film—supporting young actress, 2008, for Cleaner.
(As Lauren "Keke" Palmer) Gina's niece, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2004.
Akeelah, Akeelah and the Bee, Lionsgate, 2006.
Nikki, Madea's Family Reunion (also known as Tyler Perry's "Madea's Family Reunion" and Tyler Perry's "Madea's Family Reunion: The Movie"), Lions Gate Films, 2006.
Rose Cutler, Cleaner, Screen Gems, 2007.
Voice of Crystal Tortoise, Unstable Fables: Tortoise vs. Hare (animated), Weinstein Company, 2008.
Jasmine, The Longshots, Dimension Films, 2008.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Lou, The Wool Cap, TNT, 2004.
Kenya Russell, Knights of the South Bronx, Arts and Entertainment, 2005.
Mary Thomas, Jump In!, The Disney Channel, 2007.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The 11th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, TNT, 2005.
Presenter, The 36th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2005.
The 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, 2005.
Presenter, The 2006 Black Movie Awards, 2006.
Host, New Year Sing-A-Long Bowl-A-Thon!, The Disney Channel, 2006.
Sing-Along Bowl-Athon, 2006.
The 38th NAACP Image Awards, Fox, 2007.
The Teen Choice Awards 2007, Fox, 2007.
Boscov's Thanksgiving Day Parade, ABC, 2007.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
True Jackson, True Fashion (also known as Mad Fashion), Nickelodeon, 2008.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Arlene Marion 1939, "The Letter," Cold Case, CBS, 2004.
Sarina, "Race for a Cure," Strong Medicine, Lifetime, 2004.
Sharlene, "Big Bank, Little Bank," Second Time Around, UPN, 2005.
Janell Parkerson, "The Show Must Go On," ER, NBC, 2005.
Tasha Wright, "Storm," Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (also known as Law & Order: SVU and Special Victims Unit), NBC, 2005.
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC, 2006.
The Oprah Winfrey Show (also known as Oprah), syndicated, 2006.
"Akeelah and the Bee Preview," 106 & Park Top 10 Live (also known as 106 & Park), Black Entertainment Television, 2006.
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, CBS, 2006.
The Early Show, CBS, 2006.
Bully, "Bully and the Beast," House of Payne (also known as Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"), TBS, 2007.
Just Jordan, Nickelodeon, 2007.
Akeelah and the Bee Original Soundtrack, Lionsgate, 2006.
(With others) Disneymania, Vol. 5, Walt Disney, 2007.
(EP) Keke Palmer, 2007.
So Uncool, Atlantic/WEA, 2007.
(With others) Jump In! Original, Walt Disney, 2007.
(With others) Disneymania, Vol. 6, Walt Disney, 2008.
Appeared in Ludacris' "Runaway Love."
USA Today, April 27, 2006, p. 5D; December 22, 2006, p. 1E.
Keke Palmer Website,http://www.kekepalmer.com, August 9, 2008.
"Palmer, Keke 1993- (Lauren "Keke" Palmer)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/palmer-keke-1993-lauren-keke-palmer
"Palmer, Keke 1993- (Lauren "Keke" Palmer)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/palmer-keke-1993-lauren-keke-palmer