Valarie Pettiford: A Multifaceted Talent in Show Business

Valarie Pettiford

The legacy of Black actresses, like Valarie Pettiford, is an incredible constellation of hard work, drive, determination, and sheer raw talent. From up-and-coming Black starlets to iconic legends, there’s no shortage of Black talent on stage and screen.

Today, we’re going to talk about the incredible Ms. Pettiford, an actress who can do it all. Her decades-spanning career has seen her play serious and comedic roles in more than 40 movies, dozens of TV shows, and 24 plays and musicals on Broadway and beyond. She has also released two albums and has produced her own one-woman shows that have sold out across the country.

Who Is Valarie Pettiford?

Valarie Pettiford is a renowned Black actress who got her start on the stage. She is an accomplished actress, dancer, and singer known for her versatility and talent across multiple entertainment genres. Born on July 8, 1960, in Queens, New York, Valarie discovered her passion for the performing arts at a young age– according to her, she knew from the age of 2 that she wanted to be a ballerina. Her dance career began with the Gloria Jackson Dance Company, then the Bernice Johnson School of the Art Dance Company at age 11. She attended the High School of Performing Arts in New York City; while a student there, she nabbed her first film role as a dancer in a little movie called “The Wiz.” Afterwards, she became a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Valarie’s dedication and artistry as a dancer laid the foundation for her future success.

While Valarie Pettiford had many appearances in film and on tv before 1999, the stage role that she may be best known for was in the Tony-award winning “Fosse.” The revue– a highlight of the works of Bob Fosse– won Best Musical, and Valarie was nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress. Prior to this star-making turn, she had played the role of Anita in the 30th anniversary revival of “West Side Story” and starred as Julie in the 1995 revival of “Show Boat.”

Valarie Pettiford’s incredible dancing ability plays into her long history of working with Fosse. She appeared in the first national tour of Fosse’s “Dancin’,” as well as his last original musical, “Big Deal.” Valarie was part of the original cast of “Sophisticated Ladies,” as well as the previously-mentioned “Show Boat” revival. She was the first American (and first Black woman) to portray Velma Kelly in “Chicago” on the West End.

Valarie Pettiford’s career is marked by versatility, spanning various artistic disciplines. While many stage actors struggle to pivot to the screen (and vice versa!), that has never been true of Valarie Pettiford. Whether she’s captivating audiences with her dance moves, delivering powerful performances on stage, or bringing characters to life on screen, Pettiford continues to leave an indelible mark on the entertainment world.

In addition to her professional accomplishments, Valarie is an inspiration to many aspiring artists, particularly Black women, who look up to her as a trailblazer in the industry. She is the recipient of both the NAACP Theatre Award and Garland Award for Best Actress for her appearance in the 2005 revival of “The Wild Party.” She was honored with NAACP, Robby and Reader’s Choice Awards for her role in “Show Boat.” She has also been nominated twice for  Ovation Awards. She has also been recognized by the Drama League for “Fosse” and nominated for Outer Critics Circle, Dora Mavor Moore and Tony Awards. Her dedication to her craft, coupled with her charismatic presence, has made Valarie Pettiford a respected and beloved figure in the world of entertainment.

What Is Valarie Pettiford Doing Today?

Not one to rest on her laurels, Valarie Pettiford is still actively performing and working on various projects. She has recurring roles in two major TV series (“The Blacklist” on NBC/Netflix and “The Family Business” on BET). She is also a dance instructor with the Verdon/Fosse legacy, offering exclusive master classes at top dance schools like the Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway. In this role, she teaches a new generation of performers how to reconstruct and perform Fosse’s choreography, keeping many important Broadway traditions alive.

Pettiford doesn’t just recreate choreography, though– she also is a choreographer herself! In an interview with AMC, she noted how much she enjoyed doing the hand and body choreography for her character Em in “A Discovery of Witches.” When designing the movements for the powerful witch she plays, her Broadway background comes to life– which you can see as she casts her spells!

Where To See Her Today…

If you’re interested in the fantastic Ms. Pettiford’s cinematic career, you’re in luck– she’s been in dozens of TV shows and movies! In addition to her breakout role as Big Dee Dee on the UPN sitcom “Half and Half,” Valarie Pettiford has had recurring small screen roles in “Fame LA,” “Another World,” “One Life to Live,” “The District,” “Golden Boy,” “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Valor,” and “A Discovery of Witches.” She is currently starring in the BET series “The Family Business” and has a recurring role on “The Blacklist.”  

Additionally, eagle-eyed viewers can spot a teenage Pettiford as a chorus member in the movie version of “The Wiz,” her first media appearance. You should also keep an eye out for as well in guest appearances in classic shows like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Frasier,” “The West Wing,” and more recent shows like “Black-ish,” “BlackAF,” “NCIS,” “True Blood,” and “First Wives Club” among many others.

Her movie career is no less impressive. Valarie Pettiford has appeared in over 40 movies, including films like “Glitter,” “Like Mike,” “Stomp the Yard,” “Anatomy of Hope,” “Why Did I Get Married Too,” “The Preacher’s Son,” “The Choir Director,” “Love is Love is Love,” “Senior Moment, and “If Not Now, When?” Her role as Aunt Geneva in “Jumping the Broom” is widely considered to be one of her best.

You can also hear her velvety voice on a number of albums. She’s released two of her own: “Hear My Soul,” a jazz album, and “Velvet Sky,” a collection of original lullabies. Valarie can also be heard on several original cast recordings of the musicals she performed in, including “Fosse” and “Weird Romance.”  

Valarie Pettiford’s decades-spanning career is a success story on every level. To find out more about Black actresses like her and see the work they’re featured in, join us at BlackOak.Tv, the best streaming service for Black entertainment!

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