Cicely Tyson (born December 19, 1933) is an 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.
Tyson was born and raised in Harlem, New York, the daughter of Theodosia, a domestic, and William Tyson, who worked as a carpenter, a painter, or any other jobs he could find. Her parents were immigrants from the island of Nevis of the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies; Her father arrived in New York City at the age of 21 and was processed at Ellis Island on August 4, 1919.
Tyson married legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis on November 26, 1981. The ceremony was conducted by Atlanta mayor Andrew Young at the home of actor Bill Cosby. Tyson and Davis divorced in 1988.
She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. On May 17, 2009, Tyson received an honorary degree from Morehouse College, an all-male college.
In 2010, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.
Tyson was discovered or found by a photographer for Ebony magazine and became a popular fashion model. Her first credited film role was in Carib Gold in 1956, but she went on to do television such as the celebrated series East Side/West Side and the soap opera The Guiding Light. In 1961, Tyson appeared in the original cast of French playwright Jean Genet’s The Blacks, the longest running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade, running for 1,408 performances. The original cast also featured James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett, Jr., Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou and Charles Gordone. She appeared with Sammy Davis, Jr. in the film A Man Called Adam (1966) and starred in the film version of Graham Greene’s The Comedians (1967). Tyson had a featured role in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968) and was in a segment of the movie Roots.
In 1972, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the critically acclaimed Sounder. In 1974, she won two Emmy Awards for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Other acclaimed television roles included Roots, King, in which she portrayed Coretta Scott King, The Marva Collins Story, When No One Would Listen and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All for which she received her third Emmy Award. On February 10, 1979 she hosted episode 11 of the fourth season of Saturday Night Live. In the opening monologue, Garret Morris came out dressed in female clothes doing an impression of Cicely, until the real Cicely joined him onstage pretending to be angry at the impression and at the way Morris was demeaning all black actors with such “base” comedy.
In 1982, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
In her 1994-1995 television series Sweet Justice, Tyson portrayed a feisty, unorthodox Southern attorney named Carrie Grace Battle, a character she shaped by consulting with and shadowing the legendary Washington, D.C. civil rights and criminal defense lawyer Dovey Johnson Roundtree.
In 2005, Tyson co-starred in the movies Because of Winn-Dixie and Diary of a Mad Black Woman. The same year she was honored by Oprah Winfrey at her Legends Ball.
The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts, a magnet school in East Orange, New Jersey, was renamed in her honor. She plays an active part in supporting the school, which serves one of New Jersey’s most underprivileged African-American communities. In 2010 Ms. Tyson narrated the “Paul Robeson Award”-winning documentary Up from the Bottoms: The Search for the American Dream. In 2010 she appeared in the Tyler Perry movie Why Did I Get Married Too. In 2011, Tyson appeared in her first music video in Willow Smith’s 21st Century Girl.