Cicely Tyson- An African American Legend

“Cicely Tyson owes her career to a good haircut. In a beauty salon, her hairdresser asked Tyson to model at a hairstyle show. At the hair show, she was spotted by a photographer from Ebony magazine, and began her successful career as a model. Within a few years, she was among the most successful black models in America.”

Cicely Tyson, born December 19, 1933, is an African American actress.  A successful stage actress, Tyson is also known for her Oscar-nominated role in the film Sounder and the television movies The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Roots.

Cicely Tyson was raised in Harlem, New York by devoutly religious parents from the Caribbean island of Nevis. She was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine and, 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) in 1968. Four years later, Cicely was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her sensational performance in the critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974) (TV), which earned her two Emmys. While Cicely has not appeared steadily onscreen because of her loyalty to only portray strong, positive images of Black women, she is without a doubt one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen.

Tyson made her stage debut in a mid-1950s YMCA production of Dark of the Moon, and her first film was an uncredited role in Carib Gold with Ethel Waters in 1957. In 1963 she played George C. Scott’s secretary in a gritty drama about social workers in Harlem, East Side/West Side. The show had abysmal ratings, and was canceled midway through its first and only season, but Tyson’s was the first black female character in an American TV series who wasn’t written as a nanny, maid, or menial worker. In 1966, she joined The Guiding Light, becoming one of the first black actresses to win a regular role on a soap opera. In 1972, she starred with Paul Winfield in Sounder, and was nominated for an Oscar. She won Emmys for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She has also played Coretta Scott King and Harriet Tubman.

She is one of 9 African-American actresses to be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. The others in chronological order are: Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Gabourey Sidibe and Viola Davis.

My favorite quote of Cicely Tyson is definitely the following one. It is from the movie Madea’s Family Reunion. She plays the Character Myrtle:

Myrtle: “William–that’s my husband’s name. We had a love so strong that it just seemed like we were one. I mean I would get ready to tell him something and he would open his mouth and say the very thing that I was fixing to tell him. You know how frustrating that was sometimes? Oh lord, I couldn’t stand it. And then there were those moments when I would just lay my head on his chest just to listen to his heartbeat. And then one night I realized that his heartbeat matched mine. Lord have mercy. Rhythms off, now he’s gone…

I have had an opportunity that few people ever get on this Earth. God has blessed me to share time and space with a man that he designed himself just for me. I have not only been blessed, I have been divinely favored.”

What I also found very interesting is one statement she made asked about her choices of roles:

“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 . . . The choices of roles I made had to do with educating and entertaining. And as a result I found myself working only every two or three years.

One lady told me that before she saw Sounder (1972), she didn’t believe black people could love each other, have deep relationships in the same way as white people.”

It is incredible that people like her still exist; People with values and role model ideas. This is very hard to find in a society like ours and especially in the glitz and glam world where everything seems to only be about money nowadays.

Cicely and “The Help”

In the Help Cicely Tyson plays the role of Skeeter’s loving old nanny, Constantine Bates, who passed away after getting send away by Skeeter’s mum. Tyson got nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for this movie.


~ by Colorful Soul on 03/22/2012.

One Response to “Cicely Tyson- An African American Legend”

  1. I feel privileged to be living to witness a most talented actress.

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