Cicely Tyson was born in New York to deeply religious parents from the island of Nevis. Her father arrived at Ellis Island in August of 1919. Cicely’s career in show business began when she was discovered by a photographer from Ebony Magazine. As a result, she became a popular and successful fashion model. However, she got bitten by the acting bug and got her first acting role on the TV series, Frontiers of Faith in 1951. Her first film role was in the 1956 feature, Carib Gold.
In a career spanning sixty-plus years, Ms. Tyson has appeared in over 25 films, 60 television projects, and fourteen theatre productions. She was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977. Cicelyn became the first African-American actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Television Movie for her performance in the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
She has been nominated for many other awards including the Oscar, Golden Globe, The SAG Awards, BET, Black Reel Awards and the Critics’ Choice among others. In 2010, NAACP awarded Cicely the 95th Spingarn Medal, given to African-Americans who have reached significant levels of achievement.
Ms. Tyson is well known for only portraying strong, positive images of Black women. As a result, she has not been featured as much as other American actresses of her caliber but is no less celebrated. At an estimated 90 years old, she continues to accept quality roles.
In 2011, she co-starred in the critically acclaimed feature, The Help. Also, she won a Tony and Drama Desk Award in 2013 for Best Actress in The Trip to Bountiful, becoming the oldest person to win an acting Tony. Her 2015 guest starring role, in ABC’s runaway hit, How to Get Away With Murder, earned her yet another Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination which is still pending.
Cicely actively supports a complex of performing arts schools named after her in East Orange, New Jersey, an underserved community. She attends meetings and events, and occasionally teaches a master class. In 2014 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Columbia University.
Source: Institute of Caribbean Studies newsletter