A Different World
American actress Dawnn Lewis is probably most famous to television viewers for playing Jaleesa Vinson Taylor on the sitcom “A Different World” (1987-1992), in which she also composed the show’s theme song and won three BMI TV Music Awards, sharing with Bill Cosby and Stu Gardner. She left “A Different World” to star in “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” (1992-1993), portraying Robin Dumars.
Since then, Lewis has appeared in guest roles in a number of television series like “Girlfriend,” “NYPD Blue” and “Sliders,” and has done voiceovers for such shows as “Grim & Evil,” “Futurama,” “Spider Man” and “C-Bear and Jamal.” Other credits include the films Bad Day on the Block (1997), The Wood (1999) and Dreamgirls (2006).
“I feel blessed to be able to lead a life where I love my work, and I can help bring some light and joy into people's lives.” Dawn Lewis
In addition to acting, Lewis has donated much of her time doing a string of motivational speaking engagements and concerts for such organizations as the American Cancer Society and the H.E.L.P. Group. Additionally, she participates as a board member for the national youth groups, Campfire Boys and Girls, Little Angel Bunny Foundation, Youth Entertainment Studios (Y.E.S.) and is the Director of the Speakers Bureau for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Inner City Games. As a passionate sports admirer, Lewis has been involved in many NFL, MLB & NBA charities and events like the NBA’s Stay In School Jam!, and some of their players private foundations.
Magna Cum Laude
Childhood and Family:
Dawnn Lewis was born on August 13, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. Raised in Brooklyn with strong traditional Caribbean family principles, she enrolled at the High School of Music & Art and graduated at age 16. After high school, she attended the University of Miami, from which she graduated Magna Cum Laude. As a college freshman, the active girl secretly added so many classes that she was eventually invited to start an experimental pilot project, acting as student guinea pig, which escorted to the first musical theatre degree at the University of Miami.
In December 2004, Dawnn tied the knot with former NBA player Johnny Newman, but they are now separated.
Brooklyn native Dawnn Lewis made her television debut at age 17 when she landed a regular role in the comedy show “A Different World,” about a group of students at a historically Black university fight to make it through college. She portrayed Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor for the first five of the six-season run from 1987 until 1992, a role that made Lewis popular. Aside from acting, a 1986 graduate of the High School of Music & Art, Lewis also wrote the theme song with Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby that was used for the series. For her efforts, she picked up BMI TV Music in three consecutive years from 1990 to 1993.
Lewis departed “A Different World” to join the cast of the sitcom “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” starring the popular comedian Mark Curry. She stayed with her role of Robin Dumars for a season. For the next three years, she maintained a career in acting, appearing mostly as a voice-over artist with gigs in such projects as Yuletide in television film A Cool Like That Christmas (1994) and TV shows “Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child” (1995), “Spider-Man” (1995-1997, as Lt. Terri Lee) and “C-Bear and Jamal” (1996). A string of guest spots in television series followed, including in “The Steve Harvey Show,” “Sliders” and “The Parent ‘Hood” (all 1997), before Lewis landed a supporting role opposite Charlie Sheen in the thriller film Bad Day on the Block (1997). Next, the multifaceted Lewis found herself co-writing the made-for-television film Black Jaq (1998), staring Nia Long and Dyan Cannon, and appearing in various television series until returning to film in 1999 with Omar Epps’s drama/comedy The Wood, where she was featured as woman in cleaners.
Entering the new millennium, Lewis acted in the miniseries “The 10th Kingdom” (2000), television film The Poof Point (2001), films Nicolas (2001) and Before Now (2002). Meanwhile, she also made her return to TV as a regular in the drama series “Any Day Now” (2000-2002), as Gail Williams. This was followed by a recurring role in “Girlfriends” (2003, as Linda Dent), guest roles in “NYPD Blue” and “Medical Investigation” (both 2004) as well as voice-overs in TV series “Futurama” (2003) and “Grim & Evil” (2005).
Lewis recently appeared with Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover in the musical film Dreamgirls (2006), directed by Bill Condon, playing Melba Early. In a more recent time, she was discovered on stage starring as the singing nun Deloris Van Cartier in the world premiere musical “Sister Act,” based on the 1992 film of the same name, at the Pasadena Playhouse on October 2006. Under the direction of Peter Schneider, she is scheduled to reprise the role at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in early 2007.
- BMI Film & TV: BMI TV Music, “A Different World,” sharing with Bill Cosby, Stu Gardner, Arthur Lisi, 1990-1992