Born in Houston, Texas in 1949, singer Loretta Devine also pursued a career in acting, eventually becoming a force on Broadway and having her big break with the hit musical Dreamgirls. She eventually focused almost solely on big and small screen work, thus becoming one of the most prolific actresses in the business, starring in a huge array of projects that include series like A Different World, Boston Public, State of Georgia and The Carmichael Show as well as films like Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher's Wife, Crash, For Colored Girls and Jumping the Broom.
Background and Education
Loretta Devine was born on August 21, 1949 in Houston, Texas. Having performed with church choirs growing up, Devine eventually turned to acting, performing in school productions. She also developed a passion for language, earning a degree in speech from the University of Houston in 1971 and going on to teach drama, English and Swahili at an African-American arts center. She later attended Brandeis University, graduating in 1976 with a theater MFA.
Big Break: 'Dreamgirls'
Devine eventually moved to New York and made a name for herself on the Broadway stage, starring as a member of the tribe in the 1977 revival of the iconic counterculture musical Hair. She next appeared in the productions A Broadway Musical (1978) and Comin’ Uptown (1979), the latter being a modern Christmas Carol update in which the actress/singer co-starred with Gregory Hines.
Yet Devine's big break appeared the following decade, when she landed the role of Lorrell Robinson in what would become the hit musical Dreamgirls (1981), co-starring Jennifer Holliday and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Loosely based on the story of the Supremes, the production followed the travails of three young women who become a superstar singing trio, with Devine’s character being seen as parallel to that of Mary Wilson. Devine’s next Broadway show was the 1986 musical Big Deal.
Prolific Screen Career
Having done a bit of screen work previously, by the mid-'80s Devine embarked on a TV and film career that would eventually be counted as among the most prolific in the business. She portrayed resident advisor Stevie Rallen for one season of a Different World starting in 1987, followed by a role in the 1988 Sidney Poitier/River Phoenix film Little Nikita.
A veritable array of screen work followed, with Devine memorably portraying hairdresser Gloria Matthews in the 1995 movie adaptation of the Terry McMillan novel Waiting to Exhale, with the film directed by Forest Whitaker. (She was reunited with Comin’ Uptown co-star Hines for the project as well.) Devine followed this winning turn with parts in The Preacher’s Wife (1996), The Price of Kissing (1997), Hoodlum (1997), Down in the Delta (1998), Punks (2000), I Am Sam (2001), Crash (2004), Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004), Death at a Funeral (2010) and Jumping the Broom (2011), among many other roles.
In 2006, Devine appeared as a veteran singer paying tribute to a fallen comrade in Dreamgirls the movie, starring Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Anika Noni Rose as Lorrell. Devine also portrayed the family matriarch in the dramedy This Christmas (2007) and worked with director/producer Tyler Perry in For Colored Girls (2010) and Madea’s Big Happy Family (2011).
Emmy for 'Grey's Anatomy'
Devine has been a formidable force on television, having earned guest spots on shows that include Amen, Murphy Brown, Cop Rock, Roc, Touched by an Angel, Moesha, Everybody Hates Chris, Boston Legal and Glee, among other series and television movies. (Devine notably portrayed the mom of Dorothy Dandridge, as played by Halle Berry, in HBO's 1999 biopic, the same year she co-starred with Alfre Woodard in the Julie Dash drama Funny Valentines.)
Having earned several NAACP Image Awards, Devine won the first Emmy of her career in 2011 for her recurring guest role on Grey’s Anatomy portraying Adele Webber, the physician’s wife who starts to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The previous year she had made her return to the stage in the Los Angeles-based one-woman show Pieces of Me, which featured poetry, music and monologues written by Devine.
Over the years, Devine has also been part of the permanent cast of several TV series: Sugar and Spice, The PJs, Boston Public, Wild Card, Eli Stone, The Client List and State of Georgia. And as of 2015, she has starred opposite David Alan Grier in the NBC sitcom The Carmichael Show.
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