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The Award-Winning Actress Cicely Tyson 96, was known for her excellent portrayal of Ophelia Harkness in How to Get Away with Murder and the many TV, Film and Broadway Plays spanning from 1948 – 2021 which impressive in itself. It was sad to hear the news that Cicely Tyson passed away on 28th January in Haarlem Netherlands.
Cicely Tyson was born on 19th December 1924 in East Harlem New York United States, her parents were originally from Nevis in the West Indies, but they both settled in Harlem New York, Cicely’s mother was called Fredericka Huggins and her father William Augustine Tyson worked as a Carpenter, Painter and Domestic Worker, he arrived in the United States at the age of 21, and was processed at Ellis Island. Cicely’s parents married and had their children Cicely, Issac and Sandra Tyson.
Cicely grew up in a religious household with good morals, discipline and principles, Cicely often attended prayer meetings and she sung in the choir at the Episcopal Church in East Harlem. Cicely wanted to be an actress but she was discovered by an Ebony Magazine Photographer and became very successful.
In 1942 Cicely was married to Kenneth Franklin who’s father was a Reverend, she met Kenneth through her own Pastor, they were so in love and had a beautiful daughter (who has privacy rights respectfully) the marriage was resolved in 1944. In 1981. Cicely was later married to Jazz Trumpeter Miles Davis in Malibu California they later moved to New York City, they divorced in 1989 and Miles passed away in 1991.
Cicely appeared in various TV, Films, Theatre Productions and Plays. In 1950 after appearing in a play, Cicely graced our screens for the first time in 1951 when she appeared in Frontiers of Faith which was a TV series on NBC. In 16 Cicely’s started in her first film role was when she appeared in Carib Gold. In 1958 Cicely was featured in her first stage performance at the Harlem YMCA in Vinette Carroll’s production of Dark of the moon. In 1959, Cicely appeared in Odds Against Tomorrow and The Last Angry Man which were short roles. Cicely appeared in the original cast of The Blacks by French Playwright Jean Genet, she played the role of Stephanie Virtue Secret-Rose alongside Maya Angelou, Charles Gordone, James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge and Louis Gossett Jr. The show was running for an amazingly 1,408 performances which was the longest running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade.
In 1961 Cicely appeared in a recurring role in The Guiding Light which was a Soap Opera, In 1962 Cicely was awarded a Vernon Rice Award (which is now known as the Drama Desk Award) for her appearance in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl which was an off Broadway performance. Cicely also won the Tony Award when she starred as Carrie Watts in the Broadway play The Trip to Bountiful. In 1963, Cicely was working at a Social Services Agency she was discovered by Producer David Susskind, Cicely was cast in the popular series East Side/West Side CBS TV Series, she was the only African American character. In 1966 Cicely appeared in the film A Man Called Adam alongside the Legendary Actor Sammy Davis. In 1967 Cicely appeared in the film version of Graham Greene’s Novel The Comedians. In 1968 Cicely appeared in Roots which is a very insightful and moving movie which is memorable, Cicely also appeared in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.
In 1972, Cicely was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Movie, and the Academy Award for Best Actress for her amazing portrayal of Rebecca Morgan in Sounder. which garnered a lot of attention and praise. In 1974 Cicely was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, she won two Emmy Awards and other accolades for her role in the Film called The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman which was based on the novel by Ernest j Gaines. In 1977 Cicely was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
In 1980, Cicely received the Golden Plate of the American Academy of Achievement. In 1982, Cicely received the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women. In 1988 Cicely received received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. In 1991 Cicely started in Fried Green Tomatoes. In 1994-95 Cicely had her own TV series called Sweet Justice, the character she portrayed was called Carrie Grace a Battle who was an Attorney and Civil Rights Activist. In 1997 Cicely was awarded her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It’s impressive how Cicely career spanned further throughout the 21st century also, as she continued to act in film and in TV. In 2005, Cicely was honoured at Oprah Winfrey’s Legend Ball, she was also honoured by the National Association of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Council of Negro Women, in that same year Cicely starred in Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Because of Winn-Dixie. In 2009, Cicely was honoured with a magnet school named after her called The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts. In 2010, Cicely was awarded the NAACP’s Springarm Medal for her contribution to the entertainment industry, her Career as a Fashion Model and her support of civil rights, in that same year Cicely was the Narrator in Up from the Bottoms: The Search for the American Dream which was Paul Robeson’s Award-Winning Documentary. Cicely also appeared in Why Did I Get Married Too?
In 2011 Cicely played the role of Constantine Jefferson in the Award-Winning film The Help. Cicely also appeared in her first appearance in a Music Video in Willow Smith’s 21st Century Girl. In 2013, Cicely won a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her role as Miss Carrie Watts in The Trip to Bountiful, in that same year Cicely appeared in The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, which was a horror film. Cicely was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series five times for the recurring role that she played Ophelia Harkness in How to Get Away With Murder since it started in 2014. In 2015, Cicely was named a Kennedy Center Honoree. In 2016 she was Awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom which is the highest civilian Honor in the United States it was presented to Cicely by President Barak Obama. In 2018, Cicely was the first African American Women to receive an Honorary Oscar, in that same year, it was also announced that Cicely would receive an Academy Honorary Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Another highlighted moment is that one of 12 Soundstages was named after Cicely in her honour at Tyler Perry Studios. In 2020, Cicely was chosen to be inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame. Cicely’s had brilliant work ethics and a great outlook on life she was very successful throughout her career, she will be remembered as one of the greatest black American Actresses to pave the way as she consistently played great roles on TV, Films and plays spanning over many years.
Cicely Tyson’s Awards and Nominations.
Cicely was a 3X Primetime Emmy Award Winner, and the first ever African American Women to be awarded an Honorary Oscar, Cicely received the Screen Actors Guild Award, 4 Black Reel Awards. Cicely was honoured at Oprah Winfrey’s Legend Ball, and also honoured by the National Association of Colored People, the Congress of Racial Equality and the National Council of Negro Women. Cicely was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, and has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Cicely won a Tony Award, a Candace Award a Peabody Award and nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Cicely was chosen to be inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame. Cicely was named a Kennedy Center Homoree and President Barak Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. One of 12 Soundstages was named after Cicely in her honour at Tyler Perry Studios. Cicely received honorary degrees from Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University and Morehouse College and Cicely was honoured with a magnet school named after her called: The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts. Cicely has been awarded various other accolades and she leaves a lasting legacy.
Cicely is the Godmother of Singer Lenny Kravitz as she was good friends with his actress mother Roxie Roker. Cicely is also a Godmother to Tyler Perry’s son Aman and Denzel Washington’s daughter Katia.
Cicely received honorary degrees from Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University and Morehouse College which is an all male historically black college. Cicely was honoured with a magnet school named after her called: The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, she was also an honorary member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, her memoir Just As I Am was published 26th January 2021. Cicely was still promoting her book during her final weeks. In an interview with Gayle King when asked about her life and how she wanted to be remembered she replied:
I’ve done my best. That’s all. – Cicely Tyson
Rest in Power Cicely Tyson 1948-2021