Virginia Capers

With plenty of heart and soul, actress Virginia Capers served up loads of music in a career that spanned several decades. Born in 1925, she attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., then studied voice at Juilliard in Manhattan. By happenstance, she was introduced to band leader Abe Lyman who hired her for his radio program and for on-the-road tours. In the late 50s, she had made it to Broadway with productions of “Jamaica” and “Saratoga.” She would cap things off with a Tony Award for her Lena Younger matriarch in the 1974 musical “Raisin”, the musical version of A Raisin in the Sun (1961). In 1979, she was given an opportunity to perform in a straight dramatic version of the Lorraine Hansberry play. A benevolent, heavyset African-American woman, Virginia worked diligently to fight off rigid Hollywood stereotypes and, on occasion, played judges, nurses and other professional types. Just the same, she found herself too often typecast, along with her peers Theresa Merritt and Mabel King, as poor, husband-less mothers or proud domestic help. Recognition on stage sparked a move to TV where she appeared generously from the 1960s on in both drama (“Daniel Boone,” “Mannix,” “Knot’s Landing,” “ER”) and comedy (“Evening Shade,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Hughleys”). Her best known roles in films were as Diana Ross’ mother, Mama Holliday, in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and as Nurse Sparrow in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Virginia died of pneumonia in 2004 at age 78.

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