Are you looking forward to returning to St. Louis for your upcoming performance in "Lift Every Voice"?
I'm so excited to be singing with the symphony. It's not every day you get to perform with the support of an orchestra and a choir. It's a wonderful opportunity.
And, of course, it's wonderful to be returning to my hometown. I visit St. Louis often. My family is still there as are many of my friends, so I come to St. Louis whenever possible. But this visit will be special. I'll have an opportunity to share my dreams with the audience and to show that with hard work you can be and do whatever you want. That's what I've been able to do.
You grew up in Kinloch and later attended Webster University. Did your experiences growing up in St. Louis help you in your journey as an actress and singer?
Oh my goodness, yes! Growing up in Kinloch, I was surrounded by family and friends and neighbors who believed in me from the very beginning and supported my dreams.
I was 5 years old when I sang my first solo in church, and I knew immediately what I wanted to do. I knew then and there that I wanted to be on the stage. I was fortunate to discover my passion so young, but I was equally fortunate to be raised in such a supportive community. I was blessed to be raised in Kinloch. Yes, there was poverty in the community, but we were a hard-working, fun-loving and exceptional people. From a very early age, the community believed in my gift, and I've tried to honor that gift all of my life.
What are the things you miss most about St. Louis?
I really miss my family when I'm away. It's my family that draws me back home, and I'm always received so warmly when I return to St. Louis.
I miss going shopping with my sisters, so we always build in time for that when I'm home. I also love to go to the Saint Louis Zoo, which I absolutely adore. I went to the zoo last summer when I was home, and several people recognized me and said very kind things. It feels good to know that the that people in my hometown are proud of me. One year I went to a Rams game when I was home. That was fun. Of course, it was back when they were really hot. A while ago. And, of course, I love going to the top of the Arch. I try to do that whenever I'm home. I took some beautiful pictures there last time I was home.
You have a daughter, Charmaine (pictured with Lewis at right). Has she spent much time in St. Louis with you?
Oh, yes. I brought her home a lot when she was a kid. She spent a summer there with my sister. She loves St. Louis. She's 24 now, so she doesn't always travel with me, but she still enjoys coming to St. Louis to be with family.
You've been in more than 60 films and have more than 200 television appearances to your credit. Why do you think you've been able to stay so busy for so long in an industry as fickle as entertainment?
Because I love it and because I try to do it well. I work hard at it. I've been an entertainer since I was a kid. It really is a gift. But you have to honor that gift through hard work and dedication. I left St. Louis immediately after graduating from Webster University. I moved to New York, and two weeks later I got my first Broadway role in "Eubie!" I've been fortunate to stay busy ever since.
Of course, the way gets cloudy, but it's all about the dream sustaining you. It gets you through the day and puts you to sleep at night. We all have to decide: What do you want to do with this beautiful thing you call life?
When you started your career, did you ever imagine you would have a chance to work with actors like Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Meryl Streep?
I knew that the journey would be exciting. I just wanted to be the best I could be. Yes, I wanted to be famous, but as I've grown older, I know what that means now. Being famous is a vey big responsibility.
What I learned was this: The elevator to success is broken. Take the stairs. That's what I did. I took them all the way from Kinloch to Hollywood.
Jenifer Lewis returns to St. Louis this week as the vocalist in "Lift Every Voice: A Black History Month Celebration" with the St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.