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Berry, Bertice

Bertice Berry

1960–

Sociologist, entertainer

The halls of academia are not usually considered a breeding ground for comedians, but the intellectual environment of a major university inspired Bertice Berry and served as the first stage for her performing talents. Berry, who has done turns as a stand-up comedian, talk-show host, sociology lecturer, novelist, and gallery owner has devoted her talents to helping people solve common, everyday problems.

Built Reputation with Wit and Brains

Berry's sturdy academic credentials—a Ph.D. in sociology from Kent State University—and her hip, stylish appearance—dreadlocks and designer suits—have helped her to establish a rapport that runs across racial, economic, and social lines. "One of the things I've learned is that I can be zany and serious and scholarly," Berry told a reporter for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. "There's always a cultural lag between an idea or an invention and when people catch onto them in everyday life. If I'm trying to get across something people consider a new idea, I know that I really have to go in the back door."

Berry moved into national prominence in the fall of 1993, when Twentieth Television syndicated her talk-format program, The Bertice Berry Show. One of a host of new talk shows hoping to cash in on the popularity of the format, The Bertice Berry Show sold to 100 markets on the strength of its test episodes alone. The daily "gabfest," as Essence magazine dubbed it, allowed Berry to exercise her sardonic humor, while tackling both frivolous and intensely serious topics. When asked about her rather strange blend of career choices by the Akron Beacon Journal, Berry said: "After a while, all talk-show hosts become sociologists as they interact with their guests and the audience." She added: "Everybody should be a multi-career person. It makes life more interesting."

Knew the Meaning of Hardship

The sixth of seven children, Bertice Berry grew up in a single parent home in Wilmington, Delaware. "We were poor. Real poor," she recalled in a Knight Ridder wire story. "I didn't realize how poor we were at the time, and now it's tough to think about what we all went through. There were times with no electricity and no heat…. Today, when I see homeless and poor people, I literally connect with them." Although Berry has described herself in some interviews as an angry, bitter, and disillusioned child, her friends and teachers remember her as warm, caring, and cheerful. Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent Roy H. Campbell wrote in a Knight Ridder wire story: "At P.S. du Pont High School, Bertice had a rapport with everyone. On the way to class, she would talk to the janitors, cafeteria workers, teachers, and students of all ages. To me, she always seemed to be happy. She showed no sign of minding that, like many in our predominantly black high schools, we did not have all the material goods that the white students in suburban schools possessed, or that our books were often in poor condition, or even that many of us received our lunches free, courtesy of government programs."

Berry's mother furnished the family home with items that other people had left out for trash collection. The youngster grew up in hand-me-down clothing, dreaming of being a popular entertainer. No one in her family had ever attended college, but she decided to apply anyway, just to see if she might be accepted. As luck would have it, her application to Jacksonville University arrived the same day the university officials received a letter from a wealthy philanthropist who wished to sponsor a student. Not only was Berry accepted at Jacksonville, she was given a full scholarship from her anonymous benefactor.

At Jacksonville, Berry studied sociology and tested her knowledge in the field as a part-time social worker. The results were sobering. "I worked at shelters for battered women and rape victims," she told the Knight Ridder wire, "and that's important, but for me, it was like just trying to put a Band-Aid on cancer. So I decided I wanted to get into the research side of things, why things are the way they are."

Berry graduated from Jacksonville University magna cum laude and was accepted to graduate school at Kent State University. At her college commencement Berry finally met her benefactor. He was Terry Evenson, an executive who had made a fortune with Hallmark stores and real estate transactions. Evenson gladly offered to help her finance her graduate work. In more recent years, Berry has paid him back in his own hard times by employing him as her business manager.

Used Comic Talent to Teach

Berry's talents for comedy first became evident at Kent State. Many universities employ graduate students as teaching assistants either to teach courses or to provide assistance to undergraduates. While she pursued her advanced degrees in sociology, Berry worked as a teaching assistant. She began trying to inject a bit of humor into her classes, and the results were encouraging. Soon her lectures were standing room only as students responded to her enthusiasm and wit. Berry's humor did not mask her serious intentions, however. She hoped to impart meaningful information on social issues in a manner that younger students would appreciate—and remember—in the years to come. One day a stand-up comedian attended Berry's class. Afterwards, the comic suggested that Berry should try stand-up comedy herself. The scholarly Berry was skeptical. The comic insisted she was funny. So, on a whim, she entered an amateur night contest at a local pub and won the $50 prize. After that she began to moonlight as a comedian in clubs near the university; all the while, she was finishing her course work for master's and doctorate degrees. She earned her Ph.D. in 1988, with a thesis entitled Black-on-Black Discrimination: The Phenomenon of Colorism Among African Americans. This original research studied the historical reasons why African Americans tend to assign greater status to light-skinned blacks than to dark-skinned blacks.

With her Ph.D. as a credential, Berry might have drifted into academia as a sociology professor at one of the nation's universities. Instead she hit the road as an entertainer, sometimes delivering a serious lecture on social issues in the morning and a one-woman comedy show the same night. Berry most often performed on college campuses, and her busy schedule found her traveling as many as 250 nights each year. Her popularity grew year by year, and in 1992, she was named "Lecturer of the Year" by the National Association of Campus Activities.

At a Glance …

Born in 1960, in Wilmington, DE. Education: Jacksonville University, BA (magna cum laude), 1982; Kent State University, MA, 1986, PhD, 1988.

Career: Social worker at shelters for battered women and rape victims, 1980–82; teaching assistant at Kent State University, 1982–88; lecturer and stand-up comedian, 1986–; co-producer and host of The Bertice Berry Show, 1993–94; author, 1996–; co-owner, Iona's Gallery and Great Finds, Savannah, GA, 199(?)–.

Awards: Jacksonville University, President's Cup, 1982; National Association of Campus Activities, Campus Comedian of the Year, 1991, 1992, and Campus Entertainer of the Year, 1992, Lecturer of the Year, 1992; honorary doctorate from Jacksonville University, 1994; Kent State University, President's Social Responsibility Award, 1997.

Addresses: Office—Bertice Berry Productions, 31 Abercorn St., Savannah, GA 31401; Web—www.berticeberry.com.

Berry told the Knight Ridder news service that the years spent on the campus circuit began taking their toll. "I liked being out there, touring, and talking to, and reaching people," she said. "People treat you as if you're a goddess, but it's really taxing on your body…. Being home, I cry a lot less." Fortunately, Berry's success as a stand-up comedian had brought her several offers that looked promising. One was a television situation comedy. Another was her own talk show, on which she could also serve as co-producer. The talk show won because Berry felt she would face less competition in that format than she would in the situation comedy format.

Tuned in to Television

With former Hour Magazine producer Steve Clemens, Berry made the rounds of television syndication companies, looking for a deal. In all, eight companies were interested, but Twentieth Television offered the best contract. The show began airing in the autumn of 1993. True to her academic background, Berry wanted to make sure her program offered serious topics and common sense solutions to everyday problems. She was not interested in the sensational—and often silly—themes that other talk shows pursued. "I want to bridge some gaps," Berry commented in a Knight Ridder wire story. "[Phil Donohue and Oprah Winfrey] brought to the forefront problems that people thought they were having individually. I want them to know that, not only are they not alone, but they can make connections to others and find some solutions."

As her first season progressed and ratings lagged, Berry did introduce some sensational topics—such as "Women Who Love Bad Boys" and "Michael Jackson: Guilty or Innocent?" Berry clearly preferred issues-oriented shows, however, and her program tackled such pressing problems as teenage misbehavior, self esteem, and race relations. Reflecting on her stint as a talk show host, Berry told Roy Campbell: "It's combining everything that I have been doing for the last 10 years. What I find fascinating is the power of the media, the reach of the show."

From the beginning Berry injected her own dynamic personality into The Bertice Berry Show. When the studio executives suggested that she trim her dreadlocks, she threatened to shave her head. The dreadlocks stayed. She also steadfastly maintained her commitment to serious subject matter, even as the show's ratings slipped early in 1994. Twentieth Television ceased production of The Bertice Berry Show that summer.

Became a Bestselling Author

Bertice Berry did not fade quietly from the scene, however. She plunged into new opportunities with her typical energy. Her ambition drove her forward; she often put in 17-hour days that began at five o'clock in the morning with a brisk workout. For a time she hosted a variety of interview programs on the USA Network and was featured on several talk shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show. But in the mid-1990s Berry began churning out a string of bestselling books. Although she had never dreamed of being a writer, Berry noted in Essence that she "discovered that writing is the best way to connect with my feelings." Her first book was an autobiography, followed by some wildly funny accounts of life in the ghetto.

Berry switched to writing novels starting with the publication of Redemption Song in 2000. Redemption Song tells the love story of two slave Iona and Joe and became a Blackboard bestseller. She filled her following novels with her characteristic wit as well as a serious message about family, love, relationships, and the joy of ordinary life. In a review of Berry's novel Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy, Jennifer Bihm of the Los Angeles, California, Sentinel described Berry's writing style as "folksy," but noted that "it doesn't take away from the intelligent message she is trying to send."

The idea for Berry's fourth novel, When Love Calls, You Better Answer, came to her while she was writing a different story. She started writing about a character she called Aunt Babe. "What's really spooky is that my mother was reading it and she said, 'I can't believe you remember your Aunt Babe, you were two when she died,'" Berry told the Michigan Chronicle. "I said, 'I never had an Aunt Babe.' My mother says, 'Yes, you did, and she is exactly like the woman you described.'" Berry's story uses the ghost of Aunt Babe to help her living niece navigate the intricacies of finding love. Reviewing the book in Black Issues Book Review, Nicole Sealey assured that the book would "make readers laugh uncontrollably and reevaluate honesty."

In addition to her continued lecturing and writing, Berry co-founded Iona's Gallery and Great Finds in Savannah, Georgia. The storefront offers a medley of African and African-American art and crafts, as well as a venue for lectures, seminars, and storytimes for the community. Berry noted on her Web site that it's just a front for being able to connect with and to funnel money into the community. In addition to this community work, Berry also donates the proceeds from her writing to charity.

Berry expresses few regrets about her unorthodox career and her business decisions. In fact, she told Essence, she welcomes an uncertain future. "My life has turned out beyond my wildest dreams," she said. "I never could have predicted what has happened to me. I haven't a clue as to what will happen next, but I'm sure it will be interesting."

Selected writings

Nonfiction

Bertice: The World According to Me, 1996.
I'm On My Way, But Your Foot Is On My Head, Scribner, 1996.
(With Joan Coker) Sckraight From the Ghetto, St. Martin's Press, 1996.
You STILL Ghetto, St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Novels

Redemption Song, Doubleday, 2000.
The Haunting of Hip Hop, 2001.
Jim & Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy, Harlem Moon, 2002.
When Love Calls, You Better Answer, Random House, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Akron Beacon Journal, September 30, 1993, p. D-1; June 9, 1994, p. B-9.

Black Issues Book Review, July-August 2005, p. 44.

Dollars & Sense, March 1994, pp. 15-22.

Ebony, April 1992, pp. 70-71.

Essence, April 1994, p. 51; August 2003, p. 114.

Knight Ridder wire stories, October 5, 1993; October 19, 1993; November 18, 1993; March 9, 1994.

Michigan Chronicle, August 3-9, 2005, p. C2.

Parade, February 6, 1994, p. 2.

Sentinel, September 19, 2002, p. B4.

USA Today, January 25, 1993, p. D-3.

On-line

Bertice Berry, www.berticeberry.com (January 4, 2006).

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Berry, Bertice 1960–

Bertice Berry 1960

Sociologist, entertainer

At a Glance

A Comic Spin on Serious Issues

Television the Next Stop

Sources

The halls of academia are not usually considered a breeding ground for comedians, but the intellectual environment of a major university inspired Bertice Berry and served as the first stage for her performing talents. Berry, who has done turns as a stand-up comedian, talk-show host, and sociology lecturer, has devoted her talents to helping people solve common, everyday problems.

Berrys sturdy academic credentialsa Ph.D. in sociology from Kent State Universityand her hip, stylish appearancedreadlocks and designer suitshave helped her to establish a rapport that runs across racial, economic, and social lines. One of the things Ive learned is that I can be zany and serious and scholarly, Berry told a reporter for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain. Theres always a cultural lag between an idea or an invention and when people catch onto them in everyday life. If Im trying to get across something people consider a new idea, I know that I really have to go in the back door.

Berry moved into national prominence in the fall of 1993, when Twentieth Television syndicated her talk-format program, The Bertice Berry Show. One of a host of new talk shows hoping to cash in on the popularity of the format, The Bertice Berry Show sold to 100 markets on the strength of its test episodes alone. The daily gab-fest, as Essence magazine dubbed it, allowed Berry to exercise her sardonic humor, while tackling both frivolous and intensely serious topics. When asked about her rather strange blend of career choices by the Akron Beacon Journal, Berry said: After a while, all talk-show hosts become sociologists as they interact with their guests and the audience. She added: Everybody should be a multicareer person. It makes life more interesting.

The sixth of seven children, Bertice Berry grew up in a single parent home in Wilmington, Delaware. We were poor. Real poor, she recalled in a Knight Ridder wire story. I didnt realize how poor we were at the time, and now its tough to think about what we all went through. There were times with no electricity and no heat. Today, when I see homeless and poor people, I literally connect with them. Although Berry has described herself in some interviews as an angry, bitter, and disillusioned child, her friends and teachers remember her as warm, caring, and cheerful.

Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent Roy H. Campbell

At a Glance

Born in 1960, In Wilmington, DE. Education: Jacksonville University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1982; Kent State University, M.A., 1986, Ph.D., 1988.

Social worker at shelters for battered women and rape victims, 1980-82; teaching assistant at Kent State University, 1982-88; lecturer and stand-up comedian, 1986-92; coproducer and host of The Bertice Berry Show, 1993.

Awards: Named campus comedian of the year by National Association of Campus Activities, 1992; honorary doctorate from Jacksonville University, 1994.

Address: Office WTTW-TV, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave., Chicago, 11 60625.

wrote in a Knight Ridder wire story: At P.S. du Pont High School, Bertice had a rapport with everyone. On the way to class, she would talk to the janitors, cafeteria workers, teachers, and students of all ages. To me, she always seemed to be happy. She showed no sign of minding that, like many in our predominantly black high schools, we did not have all the material goods that the white students in suburban schools possessed, or that our books were often in poor condition, or even that many of us received our lunches free, courtesy of government programs.

Berrys mother furnished the family home with items that other people had left out for trash collection. The youngster grew up in hand-me-down clothing, dreaming of being a popular entertainer. No one in her family had ever attended college, but she decided to apply anyway, just to see if she might be accepted. As luck would have it, her application to Jacksonville University arrived the same day the university officials received a letter from a wealthy philanthropist who wished to sponsor a student. Not only was Berry accepted at Jacksonville, she was given a full scholarship from her anonymous benefactor.

At Jacksonville, Berry studied sociology and tested her knowledge in the field as a part-time social worker. The results were sobering. I worked at shelters for battered women and rape victims, she told the Knight Ridder wire, and thats important, but for me, it was like just trying to put a Band-Aid on cancer. So I decided I wanted to get into the research side of things, why things are the way they are.

Berry graduated from Jacksonville University magna cum laude and was accepted to graduate school at Kent State University. At her college commencement Berry finally met her benefactor. He was Terry Evenson, an executive who had made a fortune with Hallmark stores and real estate transactions. Evenson gladly offered to help her finance her graduate work. In more recent years, Berry has paid him back in his own hard times by employing him as her business manager.

A Comic Spin on Serious Issues

Berrys talents for comedy first became evident at Kent State. Many universities employ graduate students as teaching assistants either to teach courses or to provide assistance to undergraduates. While she pursued her advanced degrees in sociology, Berry worked as a teaching assistant. She began trying to inject a bit of humor into her classes, and the results were encouraging. Soon her lectures were standing room only as students responded to her enthusiasm and wit. Berrys humor did not mask her serious intentions, however. She hoped to impart meaningful information on social issues in a manner that younger students would appreciateand rememberin the years to come.

One day a stand-up comedian attended Berrys class. Afterwards, the comic suggested that Berry should try stand-up comedy herself. The scholarly Berry was skeptical. The comic insisted she was funny. So, on a whim, she entered an amateur night contest at a local pub and won the $50 prize. After that she began to moonlight as a comedian in clubs near the university; all the while, she was finishing her course work for masters and doctorate degrees. She earned her Ph.D. in 1988, with a thesis entitled Bhck-on-Black Discrimination: The Phenomenon of Cohrism Among African Americans. This original research studied the historical reasons why African Americans tend to assign greater status to light-skinned blacks than to dark-skinned blacks.

With her Ph.D. as a credential, Berry might have drifted into academia as a sociology professor at one of the nations universities. Instead she hit the road as an entertainer, sometimes delivering a serious lecture on social issues in the morning and a one-woman comedy show the same night. Berry most often performed on college campuses, and her busy schedule found her traveling as many as 250 nights each year. Her popularity grew year by year, and in 1992, she was named campus comedian of the year by the National Association of Campus Activities.

Television the Next Stop

Berry told the Knight Ridder news service that the years spent on the campus circuit began taking their toll. I liked being out there, touring, and talking to, and reaching people, she said. People treat you as if youre a goddess, but its really taxing on your body. Being home, I cry a lot less. Fortunately, Berrys success as a stand-up comedian had brought her several offers that looked promising. One was a television situation comedy. Another was her own talk show, on which she could also serve as co-producer. The talk show won because Berry felt she would face less competition in that format than she would in the situation comedy format.

With former Hour Magazine producer Steve Clemens, Berry made the rounds of television syndication companies, looking for a deal. In all, eight companies were interested, but Twentieth Television offered the best contract. The show began airing in the autumn of 1993. True to her academic background, Berry wanted to make sure her program offered serious topics and common sense solutions to everyday problems. She was not interested in the sensationaland often sillythemes that other talk shows pursued. I want to bridge some gaps, Berry commented in a Knight Ridder wire story. [Phil Donohue and Oprah Winfrey] brought to the forefront problems that people thought they were having individually. I want them to know that, not only are they not alone, but they can make connections to others and find some solutions.

As her first season progressed and ratings lagged, Berry did introduce some sensational topicssuch as Women Who Love Bad Boys and Michael Jackson: Guilty or Innocent? Berry clearly preferred issues-oriented shows, however, and her program tackled such pressing problems as teenage misbehavior, self-esteem, and race relations.

Reflecting on her stint as a talk show host, Berry told Roy Campbell: Its combining everything that I have been doing for the last 10 years. What I find fascinating is the power of the media, the reach of the show.

From the beginning Berry injected her own dynamic personality into The Bertice Berry Show. When the studio executives suggested that she trim her dreadlocks, she threatened to shave her head. The dreadlocks stayed. She also steadfastly maintained her commitment to serious subject matter, even as the shows ratings slipped early in 1994. Twentieth Television ceased production of The Bertice Berry Show that summer.

Bertice Berry is not likely to fade quietly from the scene. Young and ambitious, she does not shrink from 17-hour days that begin at five oclock in the morning with a brisk workout. Although single herself, the Chicago-based Berry has custody of three of her sisters children, one of them a baby. She cares for them with the assistance of another sister. Berry expresses few regrets about her unorthodox career and her business decisions. In fact, she told Essence, she welcomes an uncertain future. My life has turned out beyond my wildest dreams, she said. I never could have predicted what has happened to me. I havent a clue as to what will happen next, but Im sure it will be interesting.

Sources

Akron Beacon Journal, September 30, 1993, p. D-l; June 9, 1994, p. B-9.

Dollars & Sense, March 1994, pp. 15-22.

Ebony, April 1992, pp. 70-71.

Essence, April 1994, p. 51.

Knight Ridder wire stories, October 5, 1993; October 19, 1993; November 18, 1993; March 9, 1994.

Parade, February 6, 1994, p. 2.

USA Today, January 25, 1993, p. D-3.

Anne Janette Johnson

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"Berry, Bertice 1960–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Oct. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Berry, Bertice 1960–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/berry-bertice-1960

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Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

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Berry, Bertice 1960–

Berry, Bertice 1960–

PERSONAL: Born 1960, in Wilmington, DE; daughter of Beatrice Berry; children: three. Ethnicity: "African American.r" Education: Jacksonville University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1982; Kent State University, M.A., 1986, Ph.D., 1988. Religion: "Non-denominational."

ADDRESSES: Home—Savannah, GA. OfficeBertice Berry Productions, 31 Abercorn St., Savannah, GA 31401. Agent—Keppler Speakers, 4350 N. Fairfax Dr., Ste. 700, Arlington, VA 22203. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Author, comedian, lecturer, inspirational speaker. Social worker, 1980–82; Kent State University, Kent, OH, began as teaching assistant, 1982; co-producer and host of The Bertice Berry Show, 1993–94; host, USA Live, USA Cable Network; host of four-part series Video Tapes in Education, Films for the Humanities and Sciences; co-owner, Iona's Gallery & Great Finds.

AWARDS, HONORS: Campus Comedian of the Year award, National Association of Campus Activities, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1994; D.H.L., Jacksonville University, 1994; Campus Lecturer of the Year and Campus Entertainer of the Year awards.

WRITINGS:

(With Joan Coker) Sckraight from the Ghetto: You Know You're Ghetto If—, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1996.

Bertice: The World According to Me, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.

I'm on My Way but Your Foot Is on My Head: A Black Woman's Story of Getting over Life's Hurdles, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.

You Still Ghetto: You Know You're Still Ghetto If—, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1998.

Redemption Song (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.

The Haunting of Hip-Hop (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.

When Love Calls, You Better Answer (novel), Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2005.

ADAPTATIONS: The Haunting of Hip-Hop was adapted for audiobook, Recorded Books, 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Bertice Berry is a successful black comedian, author, and motivational speaker who grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, one of seven children of a single mother. Berry, the first in her family to graduate from college, found her way out of poverty through education, first at Florida State University with the help of a wealthy benefactor, then earning her Ph.D. at Kent State University while doing social work. As a sociology instructor at Kent State, she used comedy in her popular lectures, and her classes overflowed with students. A colleague suggested that she consider a career in comedy, and she was soon appearing in clubs and as a speaker on campuses, where she combined her academic and comedic talent in order to address issues of concern to her. Ebony contributor Douglas C. Lyons wrote: "Doing stand-up may be a different world from teaching, but Berry isn't moved by the distinctions. 'Sociology looks at the everyday mundane and points out the obvious,' she says. 'Comedians do the same thing, only they make light of it.'"

Berry injected her comedy into a series of four educational video tapes that explore video technology in the classroom. Segments include "Broadcast," "Disc," "Videocassette," and "Satellite." Booklist reviewer Nancy McCray called the tapes "humorously delivered, concise resources for teachers and administrators."

In the early 1990s Berry hosted a Chicago-based talk show on the Twentieth Domestic Television network. According to Mike Freeman in Broadcasting, Peter Marino, executive vice president of program development at Twentieth, stated that Berry "brings to television her own unique presence, a tremendous charisma and a well-versed understanding of societal issues." When Freeman asked Berry to describe her show, she explained: "What sets it apart from other shows—the same thing that sets them all apart—is the personality. So I bring my personality and my life experience to the issues. We take something that you would think of one way and we kick in another perspective that brings in my personality and my ability to use humor to get issues across."

Essence contributor Deborah Gregory pointed out that Berry "had already wowed audiences while touring the country as a stand-up comic. That explains why the sister leaves you in stitches on every episode." Gregory added that Berry "considers being able to give back to her family her greatest success." When Berry and a sibling took custody of the three children of another sister who was having difficulties, Berry said: "I want them to grow up in a world of choices so they can become whoever they want to be."

Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper called Berry's memoir, Bertice: The World According to Me, "eminently readable." In the book Berry reveals what it was like to finally learn her father's identity: he was Otis Redding (1941–1967), the singer/songwriter known for dozens of hit records, including "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," prior to his death in a plane crash. Berry also recalls other aspects of her life, including her childhood, education, male role models, career, and failed marriage, and talks about life in general, discussing issues such as the effects of poverty and racism. Library Journal contributor Janice E. Braun wrote: "Berry's achievements, [her] pride, and the strength of her voice are certainly commendable," and deemed the biography both instructional and inspirational for readers.

Library Journal reviewers Ann Burns and Emily J. Jones called Berry's first novel, Redemption Song, a "simple love story." Fina Chambers, an advertising executive, and Ross Buchanan, an anthropology professor who studies urban myths, both want to buy a journal that is for sale at Miss Cozy's bookstore, which celebrates the work of black authors. Each has a reason for wanting the journal. Fina, who is grieving her father's death, has thrown herself into her work and is unsuccessful with personal relationships. Ross, whose past is troubled, is seeking a story about lasting love. Rather than sell Children of Grace to one or the other, Miss Cozy convinces them to read it aloud together in the shop. The journal is written by a woman named Iona, a literate slave who suffered torture and rape and who was also in love with another slave named Joe. As the reading progresses, Fina and Ross become close. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that their "rapid intimacy … strains credulity, as do the frequent coincidences that advance the plot. Readers of inspirational fiction many enjoy this combination of sentimental love story and black history, however." The novel was characterized as a "smooth-as-silk paean to black love," by Library Journal reviewer Michele Leber.

Berry's next three novels—The Haunting of Hip-Hop, Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy, and When Love Calls, You Better Answer,—all involve the spirit world, in one way or another, as well as the power of love. In the first title, a hip-hop artist named Harry "Freedom" Hudson becomes interested in a house that is haunted by various black people from the past, dating all the way back to Ngozi, a slave who was captured in Africa before being allowed to celebrate his son's birth by making a new drum to play. Ngozi wants to pass along his musical beat to Freedom, especially as it is filled with the kind of love the author implies is missing from modern-day music. Other spirits inhabit the house, too, including those who were brutally murdered and can pose a danger to Freedom. Although Black Issues Book Review critic Samiya A. Bashir felt that the last third of the book seemed rushed, the reviewer nevertheless wrote that the novel is "one of the most beautifully begun books I've read in recent memory" and is "a shrewd take on our ties with our ancestors." A Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly observed that "Berry's writing is infused with an aching nostalgia for an earlier time."

Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy features an aging couple who are told by spirits how to dramatically improve their sex life. They share the secret with their friends, and the novel consequently features some very erotic scenes. Interestingly, Jim and Louella also gain psychic abilities that allow them to communicate mentally with each other, as well as give helpful advice to people. A Publishers Weekly writer concluded that the story is not about the obvious sex, but rather is "about how cultivating a spiritual life improves … all aspects of human existence." The reviewer added: "Berry's lack of pretension and focus on the humorous side of redemption make her daring premise work."

Another love story, When Love Calls, You Better Answer, has Bernita Brown suffering from repeated problems with men. Her memories of her cruel grandfather and her many failed romantic relationships, including marriage to a man who turned out to be gay, send Bernita looking for help at a church, which turns out to be corrupt. She gets a helping hand from the spirit of her dead Aunt Babe, who is trying to make up for a misspent life by helping her niece. Meanwhile, Douglas Ford is likewise being helped by his dead father, who did not know about his illegitimate son until after he died. The spirits manage to get these two troubled souls together, and Bernita and Douglas prove perfect for each other in what Nicole Sealey described in Black Issues Book Review as a "funny, heady and inspiring novel." Similarly calling the book a "feel-good little novel," a Publishers Weekly contributor commented: "This episodic story can feel … didactic. But Babe is a winning narrator."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Berry, Bertice, Bertice: The World According to Me, Scribner, 1996.

Berry, Bertice, I'm on My Way but Your Foot Is on My Head: A Black Woman's Story of Getting over Life's Hurdles, Simon & Schuster, 1997.

PERIODICALS

Black Issues Book Review, July, 2000, Debbie A. Officer, review of Redemption Song, p. 23; March, 2001, Samiya A. Bashir, review of The Haunting of Hip-Hop, p. 24; July-August, 2005, Nicole Sealey, review of When Love Calls, You Better Answer, p. 44.

Booklist, January 1, 1994, Nancy McCray, "Touch That Dial: Using Video in the Classroom," p. 840; February 15, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Bertice, p. 978; June 1, 2005, Vanessa Bush, review of When Love Calls, You Better Answer, p. 1749.

Broadcasting, October 12, 1992, Mike Freeman, "Twentieth Selling 'Berry,'" p. 22; January 25, 1993, Mike Freeman, "Doing It Her Way," p. 50.

Ebony, April, 1992, Douglas C. Lyons, "Dr. Comic," p. 70.

Essence, April, 1994, Deborah Gregory, "Bertice Berry," p. 51; August, 2003, review of Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy, p. 114.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy, p. 971; April 1, 2005, review of When Love Calls, You Better Answer, p. 367.

Library Journal, November 1, 1995, review of Bertice, p. 78; March 15, 1996, Janice E. Braun, review of Bertice, p. 76; November 1, 1999, Ann Burns and Emily J. Jones, "55 Books for Black History Month and Beyond: African Americans into the Millennium," review of Redemption Song, p. 102; February 15, 2000, Michele Leber, review of Redemption Song, p. 194; November 1, 2000, Ann Burns and Emily Joy Jones, review of The Haunting of Hip-Hop, p. 101.

Publishers Weekly, January 15, 1996, review of Bertice, p. 456; January 3, 2000, review of Redemption Song, p. 58; January 22, 2001, review of The Haunting of Hip-Hop, p. 304; August 5, 2002, review of Jim and Louella's Homemade Heart-Fix Remedy, p. 54; May 2, 2005, review of When Love Calls, You Better Answer, p. 177.

Variety, September 28, 1992, "Berry Ready," p. 26.

Vegetarian Times, February, 1995, Roz Warren, "A Seriously Funny Vegetarian: Bertice Berry Inspires Others Using the Lighter Side of a Meatless Diet," p. 120.

ONLINE

Bertice Berry Home Page, http://www.berticeberry.com (October 4, 2006).

Keppler Speakers, http://www.kepplerspeakers.com/ (October 4, 2006), brief biography of Bertice Berry.

Premiere Speakers Bureau, http://premierespeakers.com/ (October 4, 2006), brief biography of Bertice Berry.

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