Virginia Capers, who won a Tony for her performance as the mother in the musical “Raisin,” died May 6 in Los Angeles of pneumonia. She was 78.
Born in Sumter, S.C., she was a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and began her career in 1950 on the Yiddish stage on the East Coast.
In 1974, Capers combined her singing and acting talents to land the role of Lena Younger in the musical version of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” which was simply named “Raisin.” She took home the Tony.
She had a recurring role as Grandma Hattie Banks in TV’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Frequently cast in mother and grandmother roles, Capers played Diana Ross’ mother in “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972) and was Tina Turner’s choirmistress “What’s Love Got to Do With It” (1993).
After moving from New York to Hollywood, Capers founded the Lafayette Players West, a performing arts repertory troupe that provided local stage work for many actors. Launched in 1984, the company produced plays such as “Zooman and the Sign.”
Just two weeks before her death, Capers was in rehearsal for a tribute to Juanita Moore, the Oscar-nommed actress from “Imitation of Life,” according to actress Lynn Hamilton, who performed in the tribute.
“Virginia was a very talented, very vital woman with a keep-going attitude, who worked to the end,” Hamilton said.
Capers’ long list of film credits includes “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling,” “Five on the Black Hand Side” and “The Great White Hope.”
Among her TV credits are “Frank’s Place,” “The Practice” and “The Rookies.”
Capers’ honors include the National Black Theater Festival Living Legend Award, the Paul Robeson Pioneer Award from the Black American Cinema Society and the NAACP’s first Image Award for theatrical excellence.
Donations may be made to the City of Angels Church of Religious Science or A Coracle Foundation.
She is survived by a son and a brother.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 12 at City of Angels Church, 5550 Grosvenor Blvd., Culver City.