While the term “legend” tends to get tossed around often, only a select few can truly own that designation. Cicely Tyson is one such individual. The three-time Emmy Award winner— and recent Tony Award recipient for her
lead role as Carrie Watts in A Trip to Bountiful— is a revered survivor of the old regime of Black pioneering entertainers. These trailblazers didn’t just kick down doors; they had to build the entire passageway.
But for Tyson, her latest career victory is more than a personal feat; it’s a statement to the progress made on Broadway by African-Americans as a whole. The New York native’s body of work— which includes pivotal roles in many of our culture’s most relevant films, such as Roots, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and The Help— speaks to her commitment to choosing purpose-driven projects. “It’s never too late,” beams the 79-year-old. “I really hope people realize that.”
After spending six decades in the business, the actress continues to add on to her legacy with her standout performance in Horton Foote’s American classic, Bountiful. Originally a 1953 teleplay revived into a 1985 feature film with an all-White cast, the updated play features a multiracial ensemble that includes Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and previous Tony Award nominees Vanessa Williams, Condola Rashad and Tom Wopat. It centers on the longtime wish of an elderly woman to return to her childhood home in Texas— and everything she endures to get there.
“I sometimes get a little uncomfortable when I’m asked, ‘What do you think of this show, since it’s written for Whites?” Tyson confides. “The question that comes to my mind is, ‘Is being Black any less human?’ A Trip to Bountiful is a humanistic story. There are very few who are on the face of this universe that cannot, in some way, identify with that story. So I don’t look at it from the perspective of Black or White. I look at it as just being human.”
TO READ MORE PICK UP THE NEW ISSUE OF JET MAGAZINE, ON SALE MONDAY, JULY 1.