The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Irma P. Hall: She Makes Us Wanna Hippety-Hop

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 3, 2005 3:07PM

2005_06_03_irma.jpgIn honor of her 70th birthday, the Chicago City Council has declared today Irma P. Hall Day in Chicago. Shame on you if you just said "Who?"

Best known for smacking you upside your head because she's "trying to hep you, boy!", Ms. Hall has been the go-to actress in recent years when filmmakers need someone to symbolize the themes of a picture (Soul Food), provide comic relief (The Ladykillers), or ground a picture that might get carried away by empty emotion or fantastic events (Patch Adams, Collateral). In a movie industry that often caricatures its elderly (and African-American) characters, Ms. Hall's work gives us characters that seem real--rather than a collection of one-liners coupled with some mugging for the camera.

Born in Dallas where she worked as a teacher, Ms. Hall has called Chicago her home for many years. She began acting at the age of 36 when she was cast in a film after being “discovered” at a poetry reading. She worked mainly in TV throughout the 1980s before breaking into mainstream movies with a role in Backdraft. Her performance as Big Mama in Soul Food afforded her “Hey, It’s That Guy!” status. In 2004, the previous recipient of the Chicagoan of the Year award was injured in a car accident just before the premiere of The Ladykillers, but appears to be recovering well.

The festivities start at 11:30 AM this morning with the dedication of “Irma P. Hall Way” --‘cause you ain’t nobody in Chicago unless you got yourself a brown street sign with your name on it. The street in question is 95th St. between Normal Avenue and Halsted St. The dedication will be followed by a screening of her film A Lesson Before Dying at Carter G. Woodson Regional Library at 9525 S. Halsted. On Saturday, Ms. Hall will perform a poetry reading (it all comes full circle!) at the library at 2 PM followed by a screening there of The Ladykillers.

Our favorite fact about Ms. Hall? The “P” stands for Player. No shit!