“I have learned not to allow rejection to move me, ” prolific words spoken by the incomparable, iconic, legendary actress Cicely Tyson. The multi-talented Hollywood pioneer had an illustrious career which spanned over 7 decades. As one of the most acclaimed and groundbreaking actresses of her generation, she is known for her portrayals of determined, elegant and dignified female characters and has appeared in film, television and theatre. She is the recipient of countless honors and accolades, including an honorary Academy Award, three Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award.
Born on December 19, 1924, in Harlem, New York City, she was raised by her parents who were from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her father, William Tyson, was a carpenter and a painter. Her mother, Thedosia, was a housekeeper. Cicely grew up in a deeply religious environment. At an early age, she sang in the church choir and attended prayer meetings at an Episcopal church in East Harlem.
After graduating from high school she worked as a secretary for the American Red Cross before becoming a model. She was discovered by a photographer at Ebony magazine. With her stunning looks, she quickly rose to the top of the modeling industry.
In 1957, she began acting in Off-Broadway productions. She had small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Four years later, Cicely was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her sensational performance in the film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), which earned her two Emmy Awards. She also appeared in the television miniseries Roots (1977), King (1978) and A Woman Called Moses (1978). While Cicely has not appeared steadily onscreen as her counterparts because of her loyalty to only portray strong, positive images of Black women, she remained one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen.
At the top of her game she appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She studied at the Actors Studio and with Lloyd Richards and Vinnette Carroll, who featured Tyson as Barbara Allen in a 1959 Off Broadway revival of the musical “The Dark of the Moon.” She segued into the variety show “Talent ’59” on Broadway and appeared in a production of “Jolly’s Progress” in which she also understudied Eartha Kitt, before a role in “The Blacks” which ran for two years at the St. Mark’s Playhouse and essentially ignited her stage career. She was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977.
After a 30-year absence from Broadway, she returned with a role in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful. The actress traveled to Texas in an effort to better understand her part in the production. Her dedication paid off when her performance won the 2013 Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play. She became the oldest actress to win a Tony Award.
On January 26, 2021, her memoir, Just as I Am, was published. She promoted the book during the last weeks of her life. When she was asked how she wanted to be remembered in an interview with Gayle King, Cicely said, “I’ve done my best. That’s all.”
Cicely died on January 28, 2021, at the age of 96. Her funeral was held February 16th at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem where she was an active member. Her funreal was attended by her godson Lenny Kravitz, Tyler Perry, and the Clintons.
HONORS & AWARDS:
|1972||Kansas City Film Critics Award||Best Actress|
|National Board of Review Award||Best Actress|
|National Society of Film Critics Award||Best Actress|
|1974||British Academy Film Award||Best Actress in a Leading Role|
|Emmy Award||Actress of the YearOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama|
|1994||Emmy Award||Outstanding Supportive Actress in a Miniseries|
|2011||Screen Actors Guild Award||Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture|
|Black Film Critics Circle Award||Best Ensemble|
|Black Reel Award||Best Ensemble|
|Broadcast Film Critics Association Award||Best Cast|
|Hollywood Film Festival Award||Ensemble of the Year|
|National Board of Review Award||Best Cast|
|Satellite Award||Best Cast-Motion Picture|
|Southeastern Film Critics Association Award||Best Ensemble|
|Women Film Critics Circle Award||Best Ensemble|
|2013||Tony Award||Best Actress in a Play|
|2014||NAACP Image Award||Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-series, or Dramatic Special|
|Black Reel Award||Best Actress:TV Movie/Cable|
|Online Film & Television Association Award||Best Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries|
|2015||Kennedy Center Honor Award||Kennedy Center Honor|
|2016||Presidential Medal of Freedom Award||Presidential Medal of Freedom|
|2018||Academy Award||Academy Honorary Award|
|2020||Peabody Award||Career Achievement Peabody|
|Television Hall of Fame Award||Television Hall of Fame|
“You always seek to control others when you are not in full ownership of yourself.”
“Death is a love note to the living, to regard every day, every breath, as sacred.”
“I learned that I could speak through other people. I was a very shy child. I was an observer. … I never spoke … but I was a great observer.”
“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch, what make you go beyond the norm.”
“Age is just a number. Life and aging are the greatest gifts that we could possibly ever have.”
“I have learned not to allow rejection to move me.”
“That is, in this life, who we are for one another–fellow sojourners and witnesses. We are here to see and hear one another.”
“The lie of Black inferiority was built right into America’s infrastructure, and to this day, that framework remains stubbornly intact.”
“We may never realize the extent to which our behaviors impact our children, how they seek validation in our every word and smile, gaze and gesture.”
“When you don’t know your true value, you see the world through the lens of how you don’t measure up.”
“God is the Master of the unlikely.”
“When you give yourself away, when you surrender yourself as a divine vessel, … you impact lives eternally.”
“Healing, as I see it, is not the absence of pain. Rather it is a gradual reduction in the ache. The lessening of that hurt eventually makes room for fond memories to surface.”
ReCreate Model: Jasmine Boyd
ReCreate Photographer: Jasmine Mallory