DANITRA VANCE Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Danitra Vance                                                                   
Born: 13 July 1959, Chicago, Illinois, United States                                 
Died: 21 August 1994 Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United States                 
Danitra Vance (July 13, 1959 - August 21, 1994) was an NAACP Image Award winning     
actress best known as a cast member on Saturday Night Live during the 1985-86         
Born in Chicago, Danitra graduated from nearby Thornton Township High School in       
1972. In high school she was active in Theater and was a member of the debate         
Vance was the first African American woman to become a SNL repertory player. She     
is best remembered for the sketch "That Black Girl", (a spoof of the 1960s           
sitcom That Girl), and for her character Cabrini Green Harlem Watts Jackson, a       
teenage mother who dispensed advice on the do's and don'ts of being pregnant.         
Both were recurring characters during her time on SNL.                               
Vance appeared on SNL during a time of great transition for the show; Vance           
herself became frustrated because her roles in sketches were limited both in         
visibility and in range - she was often cast in a skit as a secretary, a nurse,       
a waitress, a young unwed mother earning money through welfare (her recurring         
character, Cabrini Green Jackson, easily fell into this category), or a maid.         
This was made evident during the episode hosted by Oprah Winfrey in spring of         
1986 where in the cold opening, Vance played Lorne Michaels' personal slave who       
convinces him to force Oprah into performing stereotypically black roles (only       
to have Oprah strangle him in a headlock before shouting the show's opening line)     
and, in a short musical sketch on the same episode, sang "I Play The Maids" (a       
spin on the Barry Manilow song, "I Write The Songs"), a satirical song that           
expressed frustration over black actresses (and herself) being typecast as maids     
in films and on television shows. Ironically, one of Danitra Vance's celebrity       
impersonations was Cicely Tyson on The Pee Wee Herman Thanksgiving Special           
sketch, who never played film or TV roles that stereotyped black women.               
Perhaps adding to her frustration was her dyslexia, which according to an SNL         
Trivial Pursuit question and testimony from Al Franken for the book Live From         
New York: The Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, made it hard for her to     
read from cue cards and memorize lines.                                               
Vance ultimately chose to leave SNL at the end of the season (along with many         
other cast members from that season who were fired, including Joan Cusack,           
Robert Downey, Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall.)                                         
That Black Girl, a black actress looking to hit the big time (parody of the           
Marlo Thomas sitcom That Girl)                                                       
Cabrini Green Jackson, a professional teenage mother who gives advice on             
She was awarded an NAACP Image Award in 1986 and later won an Obie Award for her     
performance in the theatrical adaptation of Spunk, a collection of short stories     
written by Zora Neale Hurston.                                                       
Vance was the second female lead in "Limit Up" where she played a guardian angel     
on assignment for God being played by Ray Charles. She had small roles in The         
War of the Roses and Little Man Tate and a more significant role in Jumpin' at       
the Boneyard, for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.           
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, Vance underwent a single mastectomy and         
incorporated the experience into a solo skit, "The Radical Girl's Guide to           
Radical Mastectomy." Unfortunately, the cancer recurred in 1993 and she died the     
following year at the age of 40.