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Cicely Tyson: An Accomplished African American Actress

Updated on May 13, 2013
Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson | Source

The first thing I would like to say about Cicely Tyson is that this woman looks AMAZING for her age. In writing this hub, I kept searching for a recent picture of her, because I always like to start my biographical hubs with a picture of what the person looks like now. During my search, I realized that most of the pictures I came a cross were recent. Cicely Tyson was born on December 19, 1933 but in my opinion, she looks like she's in her fifties, or sometimes even her forties. The photo I used above came from a CBS interview with her, which I've provided the link to the interview because the video type isn't supported in the hub. The interview was from April of this year, and you can see how amazing she still looks at 79 years old.

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Child to Young Adult Years

Cicely Tyson is a model and actress and was born in Harlem, NY. Her parents, William and Theodosia Tyson, were very religious people from the Caribbean island of Nevis. As a child, she spent most of her free time at church. She sang on the choir and played piano. Tyson graduated from Charles Evans Hughes High School and found a job as a secretary for the Red Cross. She eventually grew unhappy with her job and quit to pursue a modeling career. She took some modeling courses and quickly became one of the most prominent and successful black models of that time, appearing in magazines such as Vogue and Harpar's Bazaar.

Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson

From Modeling to Acting

Cicely Tyson was not satisfied with her modeling career. She once stated that "she felt like a machine". She decided to become an actress, and after enrolling in acting school, she began landing roles in Off-Broadway plays. While performing in an Off-Broadway play called The Blacks, Tyson was offered a role by George C. Scott in a television series called Eastside/Westside. She started the series in 1963 and played the role of Jane Foster. It was the first time a black woman had landed a regular recurring role on a drama series. From there, Tyson landed many more television roles, including the reoccurring character Martha Frazier in a soap opera called The Guiding Light in 1966.

Tyson's first major movie screen credit was in 1966 in a film called A Man Called Adam. Tyson continued to land roles, but would also refuse many roles because they portrayed black women negatively. She would only accept roles for strong black women and still holds that value to this day. In 1972, Tyson became famous for her heart-warming performance in a film called Sounder, where she was a woman who was struggling to keep her sharecropper family together while her husband was in jail. This performance lead her to a nomination for an Oscar and a Golden Globe award.

Cicely Tyson playing the role of Stephanie St. Clair in "Hoodlum", 1997
Cicely Tyson playing the role of Stephanie St. Clair in "Hoodlum", 1997

Boom of Black Movies in the 70's

Tyson became the go-to actress for the explosion of movies about black people's life and heritage. During the 70's, Tyson landed many movie roles for strong black women. In 1974, she gave another groundbreaking performance in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, a film that follows the life of a 110-year old woman from her childhood during slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. Tyson won two Emmy awards for this performance: The Best Actress Award and The Best Actress of the Year Award. Tyson became the first black woman to win an Emmy for The Best Actress. After this, Tyson continued to land hit role after hit role, including the famous role of Kunta Kinte's mother in Roots (1977).

Interview from 2012 with Cicely Tyson

Personal Life

Cicely Tyson has two siblings; a brother named Issac Tyson and a sister named Sandra Tyson, both of whom died of cancer. Cicely Tyson was married to a famous jazz trumpeter named Miles Davis. They were married for seven years, from 1981-1988. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and received an honorary degree from an all male college, Morehouse College. In East Orange, New Jersey, there is a performing arts school named after her--The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts.

Still Going Strong

Cicely Tyson has won 28 major awards for her performances, and has played more than 80 roles.Tyson has continued to act in television and movies, with her latest role being the character Mama Kay in the movie The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia which is set to release this year. As far as the world knows, Tyson has no intentions of retiring or slowing down. She is as beautiful and vibrant as ever and continues to amaze the world with her talent.

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      Anya 3 years ago

      Cicely Tyson sister Sandra Tyson is still alive. That's my mom if anyone can contact us so they can reunite will be great. Email djasauce5@gmail.com

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      BJ 22 months ago

      What are your grandparents names (your maternal Gm maiden name)

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      Dani Alicia 22 months ago from Paterson, NJ

      maiden name Wideman

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      Tarae Smith 5 months ago

      Cicely Tyson sister is still alive an living well i would hope for them to be reunited, sandra tyson is my grandmother im the 4th born grandchild from sandra living well with 7 kids 16 grandchildren including myself an 2 great grands, lets get the word out that her sister is still alive email me so we can reunite our disconnected family with her sister who she thinks has past smithtarae3@gmail.com Please this is very important to us.

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