- Category: Spotlight
- Created on 01 January 2019
- Written by Greta Wheeler
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On May 6, 1953, Valerian Smith and Jean Butler Smith presented to the world their firstborn, Lynn Butler-Smith.
Today, she is famously known as Lynn Whitfield; a living legend, Hollywood icon and royalty to both stage and screen.
The eldest of four children, the Louisiana southern star, hails from a noble family. Her father, Valerian Smith, was a dentist and her mother Jean, was a financial officer. Whitfield, however, traveled a different career path than that of her successful parents and began a journey of her own. She was introduced to dramatic arts due to her father’s role in forming the community theater in her native home, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her start with the local theater eventually led her to the Black Repertory Company in Washington, D.C. and New York City; ultimately leading on the path from starlet to stardom. “My dad, who wrote music, came to Baton Rouge, Louisiana from West Virginia and identified a void in the community at that time in the 50s and 60s. There weren’t a lot of cultural opportunities for African American audiences to be apart of so he started something called the Baton Community Chorus doing plays….” She shared with T2T.
Whitfield continued to fuel her love for theater, earning her bachelor’s degree from Howard University. Upon graduation, she relocated to New York City where she further trained, ultimately landing roles in off-Broadway productions such as the musical, The Great MacDaddy, Showdown, and For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. In 2013, Whitfield delivered a powerful performance as Alberta Gaye, in My Brother Marvin, a stage play depicting the life of iconic R&B recording artist, Marvin Gaye.
The legendary actress has starred in countless television series’ and made for television movies, portraying strong supporting characters as well as leading roles in shows such as Johnnie Mae Gibson, FBI, The Slugger’s Wife, Women of Brewster’s Place, Stepmom, and the George McKenna Story, Confessions, A Girl Thing, The Color of Courage, Gone Fishin’; just a small extraction from her extensive list of television appearances.
The pivotal moment of Whitfield’s career that made her a national Phenom came in 1991 when she reduced herself and resurrected the spirit of Josephine Baker in the HBO biopic film, The Josephine Baker Story. The performance led her to a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress and Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a mini-series or movie and she won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special. During the making of the Josephine Baker story, Whitfield became the leading lady for a second time to the director of the feature, Brian Gibson. The two grew attracted to each other and became husband and wife in June of 1990, shortly after the completion of filming. The marriage only lasted a little over a year but, during their union, the two celebrated a precious gift on August 2, 1991, when they gave birth to their daughter, Grace.
Since the highly acclaimed performance as Josephine Baker, Whitfield continues to move forward; evolving as an artist and consistently demonstrating versatility with an effortless and flawless ability to transform into any role that’s laid before her. Whether portraying the role such as the pretentious, conceited mother, Victoria, in ‘Madea’s Family Reunion’ or Brandy, a woman scorned and a force to be reckoned with in ‘A Thin Line Between Love and Hate’, Whitfield is armed and ready for the task. “I think that there’s so much more that I can do. I don’t believe in any of the hype. I just feel so young in my spirit that I don’t want to be put in a box.” She affirms.
There are many facets to the thespian gem apart from her artistry. Whitfield enjoys being involved with [campaign] surrogates work, advocating on behalf of candidates or elected officials. “I love surrogates work for people I believe in.” She expressed. “One of the best things in the world for me was working for both of the elections for President Obama where they flew many people around and I happened to be one of the surrogates… That kind of work takes me out of myself; takes me out of this whole world [Artistry] because that’s real life.”
With an immeasurable list of achievements behind her, Lynn jubilantly admits that her greatest achievement is her daughter, rising recording artist and actress, Grace Gibson, who recently landed the role of Faith Evans in the biopic feature film about the life of Tupac Shakur, ‘All Eyez On Me.’ Grace landed her first role as the Virgin Mary in Black Nativity Whitfield shared that she and daughter, Grace, are and always have been a team who supports and encourages one another. “My daughter is my muse. She’s my encourager… She’s the best project I ever did.” She shared.
Currently, the five time NAACP Image Award winner can be seen delivering yet another powerful performance on OWN Networks prime time television series, Greenleaf, as the imperious, Lady Mae. The iconic Hollywood beauty shares her continued love and passion for the art form and has no intentions of slowing down and hopes to undertake future projects of her own as a producer. “As you mature in the business, there’s a lot you can’t do, but maybe there’s a lot more that I can do… I look forward to taking on roles that I’ve never ever done before.”