“Forget these women. What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy” strong words voiced by the brillantly-talented, outspoken, multi-award winning actress Phylicia Rashad who spoke out amidst allegations involving her former co-star Bill Cosby in 2015. She has won multiple awards for her work in film, television, and on stage, with a career spanding over 4 decades. She is also the first African American Actress to win a Tony Award for “Best Actress” in a play.
Phylicia Rashad was born on June 19, 1948 in Houston, Texas. Her father, Andrew Arthur Allen was an orthodontist. Her mother, Vivian Elizabeth (Ayers), was a poet, art directer, playwright, and publisher who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
Phylicia’s siblings are jazz-musician brother Tex (Andrew Arthur Allen, Jr., born 1945), sister Debbie Allen (born 1950), an actress, choreographer, and director, and brother Hugh Allen, a real estate banker in North Carolina. Phylicia’s parents divorced when she was the age of six.
Growing up as a young African-American girl in 1950’s Texas was a hostile experience due to segregation. “It wasn’t like people loved the color of your skin,” Phylicia tells “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” ― but Phylicia’s mother made a conscious choice to protect her two daughters as much as possible from the harsh reality. “My mother was determined that her children would not be scarred by this ignorance,” Phylicia says. “So, when there was someplace we wanted to go and we couldn’t go because of segregation, she would say, ‘We won’t be able to go there because it’s a private club and we’re not members of that club.”
In 1961, her mother moved her three children to Mexico City, Mexico. Their mother decided to live in Mexico to give the Allen children a brief experience of not having to endure the chronic racism and segregation which was prevalent in America. Whereas many Americans looked down upon Phylicia and her family for the color of their skin, the locals in Mexico reacted differently. “Mexican people would look at me and they’d say, ‘Aye, negrita,’” Phylicia says. “I didn’t understand that was a compliment. They loved the color of my skin.” As a result of living in Mexico, Phylicia speaks spanish fluently.
In 1966, Phylicia returned to the United States to attend Howard University and earned her B.F.A. degree in 1970. She later taught drama there.
In 1975, Phylicia performed in her first role in a major production. She portrayed a Munchkin in the Broadway production of The Wiz. The production won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The following year she portrayed Ventita Ray in Delvecchio. She later released her album, Josephine Superstar in 1978 with the Casablanca.
In 1983, she was cast in a role on the ABC soap opera, One Life to Live. The following year, she received her big break when she cast as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show where she played the role of the sophisticated, quick-witted mother and attorney Clair Huxtable. The role landed her great fame. Phylicia remained on The Cosby Show until 1992, when the show came to an end.
She has performed in numerous Broadway and off-Broadway shows throughout her career, including Jelly’s Last Jam and Dreamgirls. In 2003, she won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, becoming the first black woman to win the coveted honor for a dramatic lead role. In 2008, she revisited the role in a television adaption for which she earned the 2009 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special.
Phylicia has starred in films as well, in addition to her work on Broadway and television. She has appeared in the films For Colored Girls in 2010, Good Deeds and Steel Magnolias in 2012, and Creed in 2015. She has also proven herself as a stage director, having directed Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 2013, Fences in 2014, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2016.
Phylicia has won multiple awards for her work in television, film, and on stage. In 1985, she won the People’s Choice Award for Favorite female Performer in a New TV Program. Rashad even won two NAACP Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in 1988 and 1989. She has also received two Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Play for A Raisin in the Sun in 2004 and for Gem of the Ocean in 2005. She was inducted into the 2016 American Theatre Hall of Fame.
Like her dad, her first husband, William Lancelot Bowles Jr., was a dentist. The couple married in 1971 and divorced in 1975. Phylicia’s second ex-husband, Victor Willis, was the lead singer of The Village People. They divorced in 1982. She was also married to Minnesota Viking and sports announcer Ahmad Rashad from 1985 to 2001.
Phylicia Rashad is the face of the African American Cultural Heritage fund, a $25 million dollar initiative to preserve the legacy of African-American contributions. With younger sister Debbie Allen, she has a production company, D.A.D., which stood for Doctor Allen’s Daughters. She is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated.
Recreate Model: Jasmine Y. Mallory
Recreate Photographer: Kimberly Staples, Photos by KBS