Jasmine Guy is beloved for her portrayal of the dainty, pretty, bougie Southern belle Whitley Gilbert on the NBC hit comedy A Different World from 1987 to 1993. And with credits in films and shows such as Harlem Nights, School Daze, Fame, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Living Single, The Vampire Diaries and Grey’s Anatomy, few would believe that the 61-year-old star hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy Award until this year.
In March of 2023, Jasmine walked the red carpet as one of the Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for her work as Barbara Baldwin on the Tubi series The Chronicles of Jessica Wu. While the prize ultimately went to Patricia Clarkson, it was a big nod for Jasmine after more than four decades of acting.
But anyone who has followed Jasmine over the years knows there’s much more to her than her performances on the small screen. She moved between being a professional dancer and choreographer, to singer and director, who got her start performing in New York at Alvin Ailey. And she has even released her own self-titled R&B album, which garnered three hit singles.
“I kind of looked at life like graduating from high school. Once you did one thing, you move to the next level — and that ain’t always the case,” Jasmine said in an interview for Oprah.com’s web series, Who Am I? Here, we catch up with the multifaceted actress and find out what Jasmine has up her sleeve next.
How Jasmine Guy got into acting
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Jasmine Chanel Guy moved with her parents to Atlanta, where she was raised in the historic neighborhood of Collier Heights and attended Northside Performing Arts High School. School was no walk in the park for her — Jasmine has revealed she was bullied by classmates and got into fights as a child because of the color of her skin.
But by the age of 17, Jasmine felt inspired to pursue her talent at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in New York City. She received a scholarship after completing high school and spent several years working on her performance arts skills, which helped her prepare for parts in the musical and television roles that were to come for her.
Jasmine Guy on A Different World
Under the direction of actress Debbie Allen, Jasmine made her television debut as a dancer in a non-speaking part on the 1982 series Fame. But it was her starring role as Whitley Gilbert in A Different World — a spin-off of The Cosby Show that follows Denise Huxtable to college — that brought true fame and recognition.
Jasmine was such a talent that in addition to appearing in every episode, she wrote three and even directed a couple. Starting off as a co-star, she ended up replacing the show’s original lead, Lisa Bonet, who had left the series. For her exceptional efforts, Jasmine won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
“Not until the show was over did I realize just how powerful the show was, and it cut across the board. Young people. Kids going to college, and that families were able to watch the show together,” Jasmine told Amsterdam News. “On this show, we addressed a lot of important issues, and it gave parents and people a lot to talk about. Things that were not easy to talk about. It was a great vehicle for people to talk about those heavier issues.”
Looking back on her Different World years, Jasmine became reflective on an appearance on the Uncensored podcast with Ryan Cameron. “When I first got to A Different World, I had a contract and got $6,000 a week and I had a limited contract for seven episodes, me and Kadeem (Hardison). So when we came on to the show, by episode six, he was like, ‘What do you think?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know. I didn’t give up my apartment.’”
Jasmine went on to explain she didn’t have any part of ownership in the show, but still gets paid residuals, “but not much. I didn’t have any position to ask for nothing.” She continued, “I was like making $6,000. I’d never seen that before.”
Her other movies and TV shows
As years went on, Jasmine appeared in numerous television shows, including Stompin at the Savoy alongside Vanessa Williams and working again with director Debbie Allen. She played the mom of Halle Berry’s character in Alex Hailey’s Queen. Melrose Place, Touched By An Angel, Drop Dead Diva and The Vampire Diaries are just a few of the other works she took part in. One of her favorite roles was that of Roxy, the grim reaper meter maid on Showtime’s hit series Dead Like Me.
After her film debut, Jasmine appeared as Dominique La Rue in Harlem Nights (1989), starring Eddie Murphy, where the two developed a close relationship.
Other film projects came her way, as did stage work. She has performed in several Broadway productions and national tours, making her Broadway debut in The Wiz revival in 1984. In 2010, Jasmine directed the world premiere of the opera I Dream, celebrating the life and journey of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“My biggest lesson in my life has been learning how to live in between the gigs,” Jasmine told Oprah. “I understand my own fragility, and I don’t take that for granted anymore.”
Jasmine Guy’s loved ones
A chance meet-up during Tupac Shakur’s guest appearance on A Different World in 1993 developed into a close friendship. In fact, the rapper recuperated at Jasmine’s home after he was shot in 1994.
Jasmine became so close with Tupac’s mother that she penned the biography Evolution of a Revolutionary, which tells the life and journey of the slain rapper’s mom, Black Panther and activist Afeni Shakur.
In 1998, Jasmine married Terrence Duckett, and they had one child together, Imani. Thirty-five years after playing the role of Whitley Gilbert, one of the biggest roles Jasmine took on was that of proud mother to her daughter. “I started to pray, ‘God please just don’t let me get in the way of who she is supposed to be,'” Jasmine said in an interview on Oprah’s network, OWN. After her divorce in 2008, Jasmine and Imani moved to Jasmine’s former neighborhood in Atlanta.
What Jasmine Guy is up to today + will there be a reboot?
Jasmine’s career is flourishing. During the 75th annual Emmy Awards nominations program, she received a nod for Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series for her role in Chronicles of Jessica Wu. Fans and the actress were thrilled she was finally receiving the recognition she deserved. Jasmine is also seen in the TV series Harlem, as Patricia, as well as in the upcoming comedy Not Another Church Movie.
Taking time away from the bright lights and cameras, Jasmine is also a sought-after motivational speaker. Traveling coast to coast, she shares her story, as blending “balance and discipline with ambition and service continues to fuel her passion for the arts.”
The Woman King director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who started out as a writer on A Different World, has teased some recent discussions that surround bringing back the beloved series. But while there hasn’t been more than talk about reviving the show, fans still have hope.
Either way, we’d love to see Jasmine reprise her role as Whitley, but as a true renaissance woman, she is an entertainer through and through, and there are no limits to what she can do!
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Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years. Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living. She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for Women, Elle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva. Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content. She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.