Henrietta Harris
Henrietta Harris at her 100th birthday celebration. Photo: Leslie Bialik

By Erika Shaver-Nelson

Henrietta Harris celebrated her 100th birthday June 15 with a leisurely morning. She had breakfast in bed and then got her hair and make-up done to get ready for her day. She and her close friends had a picnic in the back garden at Chaparral House, where she lives, with fried chicken, potato salad, carrot salad, fruit salad and lemonade. Residents, staff, family and volunteers of Chaparral House gathered to celebrate with chocolate cake.

Everyone really enjoyed R&B/Soul vocalist Kymi, who sang at Henrietta’s party. Kymi and Henrietta sang “Summertime” together and Henrietta danced with her guests. Henrietta received numerous birthday cards, wishes, gifts and flowers. She received a very special birthday letter from the current president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano. Kris Welch sang happy birthday to Henrietta at the beginning of her show, The Talkies on KPFA. The archived link to her announcement can be found here

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Photo: Leslie Bialik
Letter from the White House to Henrietta. Photo: Erika Shaver-Nelson
Letter from the White House to Henrietta. Photo: Erika Shaver-Nelson

Through this announcement, Henrietta was able to connect with some old friends that she had not seen in many years. Henrietta had a wonderful day. She could not believe that it was her 100th birthday. When asked how old she felt, she said, “About 50.”

President Obama and his wife Michelle sent Henrietta a letter wishing her a happy birthday.

Henrietta was born in San Jose and later lived in North Beach in San Francisco. Her grandparents traveled by covered wagon from Kentucky and settled in San Jose. Henrietta attended San Jose State University and later received a master’s degree from Stanford. A formally trained classical singer and performer, she toured Europe and the United States, performing a repertoire of German lieder, art songs and spirituals, as well as in theater productions.

She taught courses in UC Berkeley’s drama department from 1954-1969. In 1964, she founded the Aldridge Players West, a pioneering black theater ensemble that performed in San Francisco to give black actors the opportunity to do a broad spectrum of theater and to become familiar with all aspects of the theater.

Henrietta Harris at the piano
Henrietta Harris at the piano
Henrietta Harris
Henrietta Harris

UC Berkeley sponsored the Aldridge Players West to tour the South and perform at historically black colleges. A sought-after teacher for the speaking voice, she is devoted to, and much loved, by her students. Henrietta still very much enjoys singing, dancing, and meeting new people, as well as attending parties and special events. She is an active member of her community at Chaparral House.

If you would like to get a message to Henrietta, please email the Chaparral House activities director, Erika at esnelson@chaparralhouse.org and she will be sure to get the message to Henrietta.

The UC Berkeley Oral History Center did an interview with Harris in 2005. You can read it here.

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