Guy, Jasmine 1964(?)–
Jasmine Guy 1964(?)–
Actress, dancer, singer
Jasmine Guy has made a name for herself playing snobby Whitley Gilbert on the highly rated television show A Different World. The part has made Guy a star, but it demonstrates only a small facet of her talent—she can dance, sing, and pull off a tense dramatic role with equal finesse. As Whitley, Guy fairly seethes with prissiness and propriety. As a would-be pop singer, however, the former Alvin Ailey dancer radiates erotic heat and moves flawlessly from jazz to hip hop to new jack-swing. The actress told Essence magazine that her success has not come on easy terms. “I’ve been so driven that whole chunks of my life are blurs,” she said. “I’m trying to live in the present, trying to enjoy reaping the benefits of eight years of perseverance.… I’ve worked hard and, having achieved a little, I find it hard not to want to work harder to achieve even more.”
The gifts of beauty and talent, however, were not enough to assure Guy a happy childhood. She was born in Boston but raised in Atlanta. Her father, a minister and college professor, is black. Her mother, a high school English teacher, is white. Guy told People that she was often the target of criticism from darker-skinned classmates in the Atlanta public schools. “I remember getting into several fights in grade school because black kids would think I thought I was pretty because I had light skin and long hair,” she recalled. “They said I always tried to talk properly. But I wasn’t trying to seem better. I just wanted to be me.”
Even now Guy often finds herself addressing the issue of her skin color. “I’m tired of hearing about the plight of the mulatto,” she told Essence. “It’s old news. Sure, it’s caused me pain. Just the other day, a dark-skinned friend was saying how she’d always envied me. Well, I told her I’d always been envious of the shade of her skin. It’s important that chocolate women of the world know they’re beautiful.” She added: “I spent years worrying about these things, crying in my diary. But I finally stopped myself, stopped finding fault with my big eyes or my blemishes. Like so many other people, I had to fight feeling ugly. We’re all different, yet we’re all the same. Why as women are we always feeling bad about ourselves?”
Guy helped bolster her self-image by singing in her father’s church choir and by performing in stage musicals. “I always sang in church,” she told Jet magazine. “I was the loud alto in the back.” Her talents landed her a
Born c. 1964 in Boston, MA; daughter of William (a minister and college professor) and Jaye (a high school English teacher; maiden name, Rudolph) Guy. Education: Graduated from Northside High School of the Arts, Atlanta, GA; studied dance with Alvin Ailey’s American Dance Theater, New York City.
American Dance Theater, artist with second and third companies, c. 1981-83; performer in stage musicals, including The Wiz, Bubbling Brown Sugar, Leader of the Pack, and Dancin’ in the Streets, c. 1983-87.
Principal television work includes lead in comedy series A Different World, NBC, 1987—, and made-for-television movie A Killer Among Us, 1991. Principal film work includes roles in School Daze, 1988, and Harlem Nights, 1989.
With group Full Force, cut debut album, Jasmine Guy, for Warner Brothers, 1991.
spot in Atlanta’s prestigious Northside High School of the Arts, where she studied dance, drama, and voice. “I was Anita in West Side Story when I was 13 and that really opened my eyes to what was out there and what I was capable of doing,” she said.
Guy’s parents were rather dismayed when she won the opportunity to study dance with the Alvin Ailey company in New York City. At the tender age of seventeen, Guy left Atlanta to make her own way in the world—on $75 a week. She performed with Ailey’s second and third companies and auditioned frequently for Broadway and Off-Broadway dancing roles. “New York was a rude awakening,” she told Essence. “It was lonely and scary, but I just couldn’t afford those big-city fears.… I was pursuing my dream of becoming a dancer. So I put my paranoia in my pocket, fought the smelly ol’ subway and just kept training.”
Frustrated with her poverty wage and with the fact that she was refused black-actress roles because she was too light-skinned, Guy went to Los Angeles to work as a dancer on the television show Fame. That too proved disappointing. “They treated us like scenery,” she said of Fame’s producers, “and I knew in my heart I could do better. Besides, I missed the discipline of dance training. So I quit. I tucked my tail between my legs and returned to Ailey. I went from making $750 a week to making $75.” Eventually Guy landed small parts in musicals and variety shows such as The Wiz, Bubbling Brown Sugar, and Leader of the Pack. Her touring schedule took her all over Europe and the United States, sometimes leaving her near exhaustion.
Guy’s first movie role was in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze, about life in an all-black college. Ironically, Guy was cast as a light-skinned black woman who is shunned by her dark-skinned classmates. “The role was difficult for me because it brought back ugly memories,” she told People. “Again I had to face the reality of how the world sometimes views people only on outward appearances. I don’t like being prejudged.” Painful as the role was for her, Guy drew notice for her portrayal of a “Wannabee,” the vain, spoiled beauty queen.
Even after the film was shot, Guy still had trouble getting cast in any sort of substantial role. “When you’re light skinned you get it coming and going,” she said. “How black do I have to be to play a black woman?” She read for a part on a new television comedy, A Different World, and was turned down. Discouraged, she took a position in a 1960s-style review in Paris for six months. “That nearly did me in,” she further revealed to Essence. “I was so burned out I couldn’t stop crying.” To her surprise, she was called back to the set of A Different World, this time to read for a new character. “When I got to California to read for the show the second time, there was a roomful of people, including the head of the network,” she remembered. “I swallowed hard, gave it all I had, and 15 minutes later was told to start working.”
The role Guy won was that of Whitley Gilbert, a prim and spoiled Southern belle at Hillman College, a fictitious all-black school. A Different World originally starred Lisa Bonet and was a spin-off of The Cosby Show based on Bonet’s character, Denise Huxtable. Bonet left the show in the second season, and Guy slowly emerged as the series’ principal female character. A Different World has never garnered good reviews from the critics, but by virtue of its placement behind the popular Cosby Show, it has enjoyed high ratings almost since it first aired.
Guy admits that she fought hard to win the role of Whitley. She told Essence: “At first I worried that all she had were drop-dead lines—funny lines, for sure, but I knew there was more to her than humor. Gradually the writers have let her develop. And I’ve been able to give her more colors; I’ve tried to shade her personality. I worried whether Black women would accept or despise her, and I’ve been gratified to learn that sisters seem to like her. Maybe that’s because she’s so funny, or maybe it’s because her preoccupation with femininity is universal. Deep down, Whitley’s not a bad person—she’s egotistical, but good-hearted.”
Comic roles can be very confining, especially extreme ones like Whitley Gilbert. Fans expect Jasmine Guy to have a strong Southern accent, and they expect her to be a terrible singer, because Whitley is. At every opportunity Guy counters her Whitley image by appearing in projects that accent another side of her nature. In 1989 she took a movie role in the Eddie Murphy vehicle Harlem Nights that allowed her to play a sultry Creole conniver named Dominique Larue, and in 1991 she played a housewife-turned-detective in a chilling television movie, A Killer Among Us. Guy told Glamour that her other dramatic roles leave her far more vulnerable. “Whitley is definitely not me, so I’ve always felt removed from any criticism or compliments,” she said. “Right now, she’s stronger than I am. More people know her than me.”
That state of affairs may change any day. In 1991 Guy released her debut album, Jasmine Guy, with the Warner Brothers label. Intended for the pop market, the work blends jazz and hip hop styles in danceable, upbeat numbers. The first single, “Try Me,” did well in heavy rotation on MTV, where Guy’s dance training helped her turn in an electrifying music video. A Jet reviewer noted that Guy’s album, above all, “has proven she’s not the pretentious, pampered princess she portrays but a serious, steadfast singer on the rise.”
Commenting on the young performer’s versatility, Betsy Burns theorized in Mademoiselle: “Whether [Jasmine Guy] is a singer, dancer or actress is becoming more and more unclear. What is clear is that with all these talents lies the promise of many more projects.” Guy is very likely to forge a path for herself that will lead to top-level stardom—she has the proven qualities of determination, discipline, and talent. The actress told Essence: “I want to do something commercial, but something of indisputable quality.… I’m fanatical about high standards in every aspect of my work.”
Ebony, June 1988.
Essence, August 1988.
Glamour, February 1991.
Jet, December 17, 1990.
Mademoiselle, December 1989.
People, November 9, 1987.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Guy, Jasmine 1964-
Guy, Jasmine 1964-
Born March 10, 1964, in Boston, MA; daughter of William (a Baptist minister and college instructor in religion and philosophy) and Jaye (a high school English teacher; maiden name, Rudolph) Guy; married Terrence Duckette (an investment broker), August 22, 1998; children: Imani. Education: Studied at Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, New York, NY.
Actress, dancer, singer, songwriter, writer, and director. American Dance Theatre, artist with second and third companies, c. 1981-83; also performed with Atlanta Ballet Junior Company and Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. Taught dance to underprivileged children.
Image Awards, outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, all for A Different World; Image Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, 1996, for Melrose Place; Image Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a television movie, miniseries, or drama special, 1997, for America's Dream; Imagination Award nomination, outstanding supporting actress in a drama series, 2005, for Dead Like Me.
Dina, School Daze, Columbia, 1988.
Biao cheng (also known as Runaway, Runaway Blues, and Slake's Limbo), 1989.
Dominique LaRue, Harlem Nights, Paramount, 1989.
Herself, Time Out: The Truth About HIV, AIDS, and You (short), Paramount, 1992.
Lena, Boy Meets Girl, 1993.
Blossom, Kla$h (also known as Klash), 1995.
Voice of Sawyer (speaking), Cats Don't Dance, Warner Bros., 1997.
Madeline, Columbia TriStar, 1998.
Linda, Guinevere, Miramax, 1999.
Sylvia, Lillie, Universal, 1999.
Tina, Diamond Men, 2000.
The Law of Enclosures, 2000.
Nikki, Dying on the Edge, 2001.
Reader, Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (documentary), 2002.
Herself, Tupac: Resurrection (documentary), Paramount, 2003.
Herself, TV in Black: The First Fifty Years (documentary), 2004.
Herself, College Daze (documentary short), Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2005.
Herself, Birth of a Nation: The Making of "School Daze" (documentary short), Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2005.
Herself, Dead Like Me … Again (documentary short), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Home Entertainment, 2005.
Voice of Ephigenie Mukanyandwi, Rwanda Rising, 2007.
Herself, Angels Can't Help But Laugh (documentary), 2007.
Cynthia, Tru Loved, 2007.
Also appeared in The Altoona Riding Club.
Television Appearances; Series:
Dancer, Fame, 1982.
Whitley Marion Gilbert Wayne A Different World, NBC, 1987-93.
Roxy Harris, Dead Like Me, Showtime, 2003-2004.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Bank teller, At Mother's Request, CBS, 1987.
Easter, Queen (also known as Alex Haley's "Queen"), CBS, 1993.
Family member, A Century of Women, CNN, 1994.
Juliet Mercier, Feast of All Saints (also known as Anne Rice's "The Feast of All Saints"), Showtime, 2001.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Teresa Hopkins, A Killer Among Us, NBC, 1990.
Alice Nichols, Stompin at the Savoy, CBS, 1992.
Elna Du Vaul, "The Boy Who Painted Christ Black," America's Dream, HBO, 1996.
Darnell Russell, Perfect Crime, USA Network, 1997.
Ruby Moore, Carrie, NBC, 2002.
Television Appearances; Specials:
(Uncredited) Herself, Uptown Comedy Express, 1987.
Charlie, "Runaway," WonderWorks, PBS, 1989.
Best Catches, CBS, 1989.
Funny Women of Television: A Museum of Television & Radio Tribute (also known as The Funny Women of Television), NBC, 1991.
Gladys Knight's Holiday Family Reunion Concert, 1991.
Host, Six Comics in Search of a Generation, 1992.
Addicted to Fame, NBC, 1994.
Voice, Going, Going, Almost Gone! Animals in Danger (also known as The World Wildlife Fund Presents: "Going, Going, Almost Gone! Animals in Danger"), HBO, 1994.
Great American Music: A Salute to Fast Cars, Family Channel, 1994.
Growing Up Funny, Lifetime, 1994.
The Soul Train 25th Anniversary Hall of Fame Special, CBS, 1995.
Intimate Portrait: Queen Latifah, Lifetime, 1996.
Live Broadway USA, syndicated, 1998.
Bob Fosse: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 1999.
Host, An Evening of Stars: A Celebration of Educational Excellence Benefiting the United Negro College Fund, Black Entertainment Television and syndicated, 1999.
Voice of Frog Princess Lylah, Frog Princess: An Animated Special from the "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child" Series (animated), HBO, 2000.
It's Black Entertainment, Showtime, 2000.
Broadway on Broadway, NBC, 2000.
Just Cause, Oxygen, 2001.
Intimate Portrait: Jasmine Guy, Lifetime, 2001.
Inside TV Land: Taboo TV, TV Land, 2002.
Intimate Portrait: Tisha Campbell-Martin, Lifetime, 2002.
Intimate Portrait: Isabel Sanford, Lifetime, 2003.
Dorothy Dandridge: An American Beauty, 2003.
TV's Most Memorable Weddings, NBC, 2003.
50 Most Wicked Women of Primetime, E! Entertainment Television, 2004.
I Was a Network Star, 2006.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
16th Annual Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, syndicated, 1989.
The 21st Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1989.
The 3rd Annual Soul Train Music Awards, syndicated, 1989.
The 41st Annual Emmy Awards, Fox, 1989.
The 3rd Annual American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1989.
The 22nd Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1990.
The Fifth Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards, syndicated, 1990.
The 63rd Annual Academy Awards Presentation, ABC, 1991.
Presenter, The 3rd Annual International Rock Awards, 1991.
Soul Train Comedy Awards, 1992.
Presenter, The 14th Annual CableACE Awards, 1993.
Presenter, The 25th NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1993.
The 26th Annual NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1994.
Presenter, The Fourth Annual Trumpet Awards, 1996.
The 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC, 2004.
The 2005 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2005.
The 2007 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2007.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Lena, Boy Meets Girl, NBC, 1993.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Gloria, "Out of the Past, The Equalizer, CBS, 1986.
Kayla Samuels, "Love at First Fight," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NBC, 1991.
Caitlin Mills, "Bye, Bye, Baby," Melrose Place, Fox, 1995.
Caitlin Mills, "They Shoot Mothers, Don't They? Parts 1 & 2," Melrose Place, Fox, 1995.
Kathleen, "Sympathy for the Devil," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 1995.
LaVonna Runnels, "Leavin' Can Wait," NYPD Blue, ABC, 1995.
Voice, "Rumpelstiltskin," Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (animated), HBO, 1995.
Attorney Angela Winters, "The People vs. Lois Lane: Parts 1 & 2," Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, ABC, 1996.
Dr. Jessica Bryce, "Shrink to Fit," Living Single (also known as My Girls), Fox, 1996.
Kathleen, "Lost and Found," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 1996.
Washington, "The Heist," The Outer Limits (also known as The New Outer Limits), syndicated and Showtime, 1996.
Kathleen, "Clipped Wings," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 1997.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1997.
Paige, "Two Men and a Baby," Malcolm & Eddie, UPN, 1998.
Blue, Any Day Now, 1999.
Allegra, "Boys Can't Help It," Ladies Man, CBS, 1999.
Allegra, "Jimmy's Song," Ladies Man, CBS, 1999.
Allegra, "Neutered Jimmy," Ladies Man, CBS, 1999.
Amanda, "A Beautiful Day," Partners, 1999.
Courtney Goode, estranged wife of Johnnie B. Goode, "The Music in Me," Linc, Showtime, 2000.
Herself, "Humph! Humph! Humph!," Between the Lions, PBS, 2001.
Voice of Ava, Queen of Symmetria, "Secrets of Symmetria," Cyberchase (animated), PBS, 2002.
Delilah, "Lights, Camera, Action," The Parkers, UPN, 2002.
The Wayne Brady Show, syndicated, 2004.
Tavis Smiley, PBS, 2004.
Dennis Miller, CNBC, 2005.
"Network Notes," TV Land Confidential, TV Land, 2005.
"Being Bad Behind the Scenes," TV Land Confidential, TV Land, 2005.
In the Mix (also known as In the Cutz), Urban America, 2006.
Pistache, "Checkin' Out," That's So Raven (also known as That's So Raven!), Disney Channel, 2006.
Also appeared in Loving, ABC; Ryan's Hope, ABC; Hollywood Squares; Win, Lose, or Draw; as herself, "Diahann Carroll," Celebrity Profile, E! Entertainment Television.
Television Director; Episodic:
A Different World, NBC, 1992.
A crow, a Kalidah, and a citizen of the Emerald City, The Wiz, Majestic Theatre, New York City, 1975, later Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City, 1984.
Mickey, waitress, and Annie (understudy), Leader of the Pack, Ambassador Theatre, New York City, 1985.
Betty Rizzo, Grease, Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City, 1997.
Velma Kelly, Chicago, Las Vegas, NV, 1999.
Velma Kelly, Chicago, Shubert Theatre, New York City, 2000.
Jessie Brewster, The Violet Hour, Biltmore Theatre, New York City, 2003.
Agnes, The Fourposter, Wilmington, DE, 2005.
Also appeared in Dancin' in the Street, Boston, MA.
Betty Rizzo, Grease, 1996-97.
Velma Kelly, Chicago, U.S. cities, 1997.
Also toured as in The Wiz, United States and Japan; and Bubbling Brown Sugar, Europe.
Jasmine Guy, Warner Bros., 1990.
Also recorded Leader of the Pack (original cast recording), Elektra.
"Liberian Girl," Michael Jackson: HIStory on Film—Volume II, Sony Music, 1997.
Also appeared in Melba Moore's "Lift Every Voice."
"The Power of the Pen," A Different World, NBC, 1990.
"War and Peace," A Different World, NBC, 1991.
"Baby, It's Cold Outside," A Different World, NBC, 1992.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch, 1990.
Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, Pocket, 2004.
Also writer of short stories and poems.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 2, Gale Research, 1992.
Notable Black American Women, Book 3, Gale Group, 2002.
Ebony, June, 1988.
Ebony Man, May, 1989.
Essence, March, 1997, p. 71; October, 2003, p. 152.
Faces International, Fall, 1991.
Gavin Report, April 26, 1991.
Jet, August 23, 1999, p. 45.
Today's Black Woman, June, 1995.
Jasmine Guy Website,http://www.jasmineguy.org, September 10, 2007.