GENTRY, MINNIE LEE WATSON (2 Dec. 1915-11 May 1993), "The First Lady" of Karamu Theater (see KARAMU HOUSE), was an original member of The Gilpin Players who appeared in numerous dramatic, musical and operatic productions. A critically acclaimed artist, Gentry received a Tony nomination in 1972 and the Outstanding Pioneer Award for her contributions to Black theater in 1985.
Born to Taylor and Mincie Watson in Norfolk, Virginia, Minnie came to Cleveland's central area with her family at age 5. At 9 she studied piano in the Phyllis Wheatley School of Music. She sang in St. John's A.M.E. church choir and began acting at the Friendly Inn Settlement.
In 1931 Minnie met Lloyd Gentry who introduced her to Karamu. They married in 1932 and Minnie joined the Gilpin players. Later she worked on the Federal Theater project at Karamu and sang in Tom Tom, one of four operas performed at Cleveland Stadium.
Moving to New York in 1946, Gentry performed in her first Broadway production, Lysistrata. Gentry returned to Karamu, performing in numerous productions between 1949-1960. In 1961 Gentry returned to Broadway for Genet's production of The Blacks.
In 1982 Gentry was the guest artist in Karamu's production of A Raisin in the Sun. (She had appeared in Karamu's original 1961 production). Her last Karamu appearance was in 1990 in Dreams of Callahan.
Gentry appeared in over fifteen movies including School Daze and Jungle Fever. Her television credits include The Cosby Show and All My Children.
The Gentry's (divorced) had one daughter, Marjorie Hawkins. Gentry died in Manhattan and is buried in Evergreen Memorial Cemetery.
The Minnie Gentry Files, Karamu House, Inc.