News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Jan. 28, 2021: Cicely Tyson, the New York-born, daughter of Caribbean immigrants, who went on to become an iconic and Oscar-nominated actress, passed away Thursday at the age of 96. Here are five things you may not have known about the award-winning actress:
1: Tyson was born in Harlem on December 19, 1924 to Caribbean immigrant parents Theodosia Frederica Tyson, a domestic worker, and William Augustine Tyson, who worked as a carpenter, painter, and at any other jobs he could find. Both her parents were born in Nevis in the West Indies. Her father arrived in New York City at age 21 and was processed at Ellis Island on August 4, 1919.
2: Tyson contributed to the household by selling shopping bags on street corners. Her parents divorced early in life and her mother became the sole caretaker. She had a daughter, Joan, when she was 17 years old and got married at age 18 to Kenneth Franklin. By 1956 she was divorced, saying her husband abandoned her after less than eighteen months of marriage. Tyson did not get remarried again until 1981 when she married long time love, Miles Davis in a ceremony conducted by Atlanta mayor Andrew Young at the home of actor Bill Cosby. She filed for divorce in 1988 and Davis died in 1991. She maintains she has never loved anyone the way she loved Davis and noted he apologized for all the pain he caused her on his deathbed.
3: After graduating from Charles Evans Hughes High School, she became a secretary. But she later quit that job and began modeling in the 1950s after a photographer stopped her walking down the street one day and asked who her agent was. She went on to become a top featured model for Ebony, Jet and other popular magazines. Tyson also walked various runways and was featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other major magazines.
Her first acting role came in 1951 on the NBC series, ‘Frontiers of Faith.’ Her first film was in 1956 in ‘Carib Gold,’ a maritime-themed B-movie, written and filmed almost entirely in Key West, Florida, with locally-cast musicians and extras. It was headlined by Ethel Waters also featured and Geoffrey Holder in his first film role. She experienced challenges along the way, including her staunchly religious mother kicking her out of the house for pursuing acting.
3: In 1963, she became the first Black actress to star in a television drama when she starred in the celebrated series East Side/West Side (1963–1964). She also had a role in the soap opera The Guiding Light. In the early 1960s, Tyson appeared in the original cast of French playwright Jean Genet’s, ‘The Blacks,’ where she played the role of Stephanie Virtue Secret-Rose Diop. Other notable cast members included Maya Angelou, James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge, Louis Gossett Jr, and Charles Gordone. The show was the longest running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade, running for 1,408 performances.
4: In 1972, Tyson played the role of Rebecca Morgan in the critically acclaimed film, ‘Sounder.’ She was subsequently nominated for both the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her work in Sounder, and also won the NSFC Best Actress and NBR Best Actress Awards. Her career exploded after with numerous films including: The Blue Bird, The River Niger, A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich, The Concorde, Bustin’ Loose, Fried Green Tomatoes, Hoodlum, Because of Winn-Dixie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, Fat Rose and Squeaky, Idlewild, Mother, Rwanda Rising, Why Did I Get Married Too?, Alex Cross, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, Showing Roots, Last Flag Flying and her last movie last year, A Fall from Grace. After not speaking for two years, Tyson eventually proved her mother wrong and their relationship was repaired. When she won her Emmy for Miss Jane Pittman, she looked into the camera smiling and said, “You see, Mom, it wasn’t really a den of iniquity after all.”
In addition to her Screen Actor Guild Award, her Tony Award, her Emmy Awards, and her Black Reel Awards, Tyson has received several other honors. She received honorary degrees from Clark Atlanta University, Columbia University; Howard University; and Morehouse College, an all-male historically black college.
In 1977, Tyson was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame; in 1980, she received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement and in 1982, was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award. In 1988, Tyson received a Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. In 1997, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
5: Tyson was a vegetarian and a fashionista, whose classy dressing was consistently lauded. She, however, recalled being sexually assaulted by well-known acting coach Paul Mann but said she let nothing stop her. Known for her intentionality when selecting roles, Tyson was brave enough to reject work in a time when Black people were often relegated to portraying negative stereotypes onscreen.
The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was named after her in 2009. Tyson was awarded the NAACP’s 2010 Spingarn Medal for her contribution to the entertainment industry, her modeling career, and her support of civil rights. She was also the first cousin of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan, born Louis Eugene Walcott on May 11, 1933, in The Bronx, New York City, was the son of Sarah Mae Manning and Percival Clark, immigrants from the Caribbean islands of Saint Kitts and Jamaica, respectively. Her godson is singer, Lenny Kravitz.
Tyson was also a recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 2015. She was awarded the United States’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama in November 2016. In September 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Tyson would receive an honorary Academy Award. On November 18, 2018, Tyson became the first African-American woman to receive an honorary Oscar. In 2018, Tyson was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fam and she was chosen to be inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in 2020. She died just two days after her first memoir, “Just As I Am,” was released.
She is pictured on a $3.25 postage stamp issued by her parents’ native island of Nevis on January 1, 2014.
Premier of Nevis, Mark Brantley in a statement, reminisced that he was privileged to represent Tyson as a lawyer and later to meet her backstage on Broadway when she played the lead role in ‘Trip to Bountiful’ for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress. Tyson had visited Nevis in 1983 and in 2004.