Jonelle Ann Allen (born July 8, 1948, or 1950) (sources differ) is an American actress, singer, and dancer from Harlem, New York, United States. Beginning her career in the late–1960s, Allen has co-starred in films and Broadway productions. In 1972, Allen was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in the musical “Two Gentlemen of Verona”.
Early life, education, and career
Born in New York City, New York, Allen was raised in the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, New York (a neighborhood that included Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Hodges, and NAACP founder Walter White). The only child of Marion, a postal worker, and Robert Allen, an NYC transit worker, Allen began performing at age four. Allen attended the Professional Children’s School. Allen made her Broadway debut at the age of six in The Wisteria Trees, Joshua Logan’s Americanized adaptation of The Cherry Orchard starring Helen Hayes. As a child, she also made regular appearances on a local children’s television series, The Merry Mailman, hosted by Ray Heatherton.
Allen returned to Broadway for a revival of Finian’s Rainbow. She was in the cast of the original off-Broadway 1968 production of Hair at Joseph Papp’s Public Theater and also appeared in George M! before receiving critical acclaim and a Tony Award nomination for Two Gentlemen of Verona, which earned her New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Drama Desk, Theatre World, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her performance.Despite her success, it proved to be her last Broadway appearance to date. Allen’s film credits include Cotton Comes to Harlem, The Hotel New Hampshire, and The River Niger, for which she won an NAACP Image Award. Other television appearances include Match Game, Barney Miller, The Love Boat, All in the Family, Trapper John, M.D., Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacey, ER, and Girlfriends. Allen portrayed a lesbian prison inmate in the 1975 television movie Cage Without a Key, which starred Susan Dey.
Her most notable roles are Grace, the entrepreneurial cafe owner in the old west, that she played for seven years on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, as well as the flamboyant and outspoken Doreen Jackson on the NBC soap opera, Generations, and Lucinda Cavender, the vampire witch in the horror-comedy film The Midnight Hour. Before her role of Doreen on Generations, Jonelle played ambitious salesgirl turned boutique manager Stacey Russell, on the short-lived primetime soap, Berrenger’s. Allen appeared as the legendary Harlem Jazz Queen Florence Mills in Harlem Renaissance at the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Allen most recently headed up the New Works//Staged Reading Projects at Saddleback College and is also writing and directing new shows which Allen calls “plays with music’ which have been presented at Saddleback, notably an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and The Journey both with composer David Jayden Anthony. This year, Allen has a film The Divorce by Donald B. Welch, being released on Amazon, and this summer, Allen starred in Hello Dolly at Saddlebacks CLO. In 2017, Allen starred in Donald B. Welch’s Secret Garden and doing an updated version of her Florence Mills one-woman show, which Allen is writing with her collaborators, Stevi Meredith, and David Jayden Anthony.
Allen has been married three times. Her first marriage was to Raymond Sanders from 1969 until 1971. Allen later married John Sharpe on December 19, 1978, divorcing in 1992. Her most recent marriage was to Richard Grimmon from January 9, 1998, until 2001.