Actress and producer Sheila Elaine Frazier was born on November 13, 1948 in the Bronx, New York to Dorothy Dennis and Eugene Cole Frazier. Frazier grew up on the Lower East Side of New York City until the age of ten, when she moved with her mother to Englewood, New Jersey.
There, her neighbors included stars and future stars like Clyde McPhatter, Van McCoy, The Isley Brothers and Dolly and Jackie McClean. Frazier attended P.S. 97 in New York City and Liberty School in New Jersey. At Englewood’s Dwight Morrow High School, her classmates were Margaret Travolta and Hazel Smith.
Inspired by Susan Hayward’s performance in the film, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Frazier longed to be an actress, but was hampered by a speech impediment. Graduating in 1966, Frazier moved to New York City where she served in various clerical positions with Allied Stores, Boutique magazine and the United Negro College Fund.
Recruited by the noted Negro Ensemble Company photographer Bert Andrews, Frazier became acquainted with the New York arts community. She studied acting at HB (Herbert Berkoff) Studios in New York under the direction of Bill Hickey and Uta Hagen. Then, actor Richard Roundtree encouraged her to take actinglessons from Gilbert Moses at the Negro Ensemble Company which led to additional training with Dick Anthony Williams at the New Federal Theatre. Frazier, then working for a real estate company, had done some industrial films and commercials before Roundtree helped her get anauditionwith Gordon Parks, who was casting for a new film, Super Fly. In the film, Frazier plays the sultry girlfriend, “Georgia,” of the hustler, “Priest,” portrayed by Ron O’Neal. The tremendous box office success of Super Fly and her instant street recognition surprised Frazier, as she was and still is admired as an iconic beauty in the black community. She appeared in Super Fly T.N.T., the sequel to Super Fly and other black genre films of the 1970s including Three The Hard Way with Jim Brown and The Super Cops.
Frazier appeared in a number of film but by 1980, Frazier was hosting a community affairs show on KNXT-TV in Los Angeles. In 1982, she was hired as a story editor by Richard Pryor’s Indigo Productions. She was coordinating producer for Essence magazine’s television series in 1985 and produced BET’s Live from L.A. with Tonya Hart. Frazier worked with the talent on BET’s Screen Scene from 1992 to 1999 and headed up the Talent Department for BET for thirteen years.
As founding director of Frazier Multimedia Group in 2003, Frazier provides talent grooming and field production. Her 2008 documentary film on African American intergenerational wisdom transmission is entitled You Don’t Get Old by Being A Fool.
Frazier lives in Los Angeles. She is married to John Atchison and has two sons. Her oldest son is music producer, Derek McKeith.
New York Times Interview 2007
Did you plan to be an actress from a young age?
Sheila Frazier: I always loved acting, but I grew up as a stutterer. I never enjoyed standing up in front of people saying anything, because I could barely speak. In elementary school, a teacher said he would help me. He made me get up and recite a story I wrote in front of sixth-grade assembly. He made an announcement: “I don’t want any laughter. Sheila’s a stutterer. I don’t want any laughter.” It was the most painful thing I ever went through in my life. I didn’t want to go to college. The idea of having to speak publicly in any classroom just horrified me.
[At 17, she left her home in Englewood, N.J., and moved to New York, where she lived with her godmother and worked as a secretary.]
How did you end up in movies?
S.F. One day I was on the train going home, and this guy approached me saying: “Have you ever thought about modeling? I would really like to take some photographs of you.”
And you trusted him?
S.F. I was naïve. Something struck me as legitimate. I went to his studio, and his boss was a well-known photographer, Bert Andrews. Bert chronicled black theater on Broadway and became a lifelong friend of mine. We took pictures, and I did some runway modeling. But I never liked it. Also did some print work. Never really liked that either. Too much focus of attention on me. As a stutterer, it becomes difficult if there is that intensive focus on you. Then I met Richard Roundtree. He had just come off the road doing “The Great White Hope.” I said I always wanted to act, but I had this stutter.
[Mr. Roundtree suggested she audition to study at the Negro Ensemble Company.]
S.F. I prepared this monologue. I remember standing there. I was petrified. I was talking to myself like “What are you doing?” But I remembered Richard said to focus on the piece. When I started the piece a part of me stood outside of myself, and I didn’t stutter. I didn’t stutter once. It amazed me. I realized there’s something in the brain you can switch off. You can choose to be somebody else. I chose not to be a stutterer.
Five months after being with the Negro Ensemble Company I read that Gordon Parks Jr. was directing his first film, called “Super Fly.” I ran into Richard and asked if he could help me get an audition.[And he did.]
S.F. All these great stars I had seen on television and in movies were there. I remember thinking they’re not even going to look at me. Richard said, “Sheila, when you walk in there, you have to have the attitude that no one else can do the job but you.” I put my feet up on the director’s desk and said, “You can send everyone else home, because no one else can do this job but me.”
As a religious woman, how did you handle working in the film industry?
S.F. When I first came to Hollywood I kept that very private. I thought if anyone saw me reading the Bible on the set they would tease me. I didn’t want to be teased.
I was working on a film with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson, and I was in the makeup trailer and I was reading my Bible. The makeup artist came in, and I tried to hide it. She said “Why are you hiding it?” She taught me never to hide it. But I wasn’t there preaching. I wasn’t trying to influence anyone on what was right or wrong for their lives. This is just where I got strength.
“Super Fly” (1972)
“Super Fly T.N.T.” (1973)
“Three the Hard Way” (1974)
“California Suite” (1978)
“The Hitter” (1979)
“Two of a Kind” (1983)
“All About You” (2001)
“The Last Stand” (2006)
Television Guest Appearances:
“Starsky and Hutch” (1977)
“King” (1978) television mini-series
“Lou Grant” (1981)
“The Love Boat” (1982)
“Gimme a Break!”(1985)
“Magnum, P.I.” (1985)
“Cagney & Lacey” (1986)
“The West Wing” (1999)
“The District” (2000)
“Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service” (2004)
My Son – An interview with Kam Williams
Superfly’s girlfriend in the 1972 film is none other than the beautiful and talented Sheila Frazier. She came out recently to NYC’s Sweet Rhythm with her son Derek McKeith, to help congratulate him and spread the word about his new release.
In an interview with Kam Williams she spoke of her son saying, “Talk about talent! I’m really proud of Derek. He’s a music performer, writer and producer. He has a band with a unique sound. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to see him perform I can only think, ‘Wow, he’s better than I could have ever been.’ It seems that his audiences think so, too.”
Sources: The New York Times, Bean Soup Times and Ask.com