Actress Cicely Tyson has had a pretty legendary career, which has just been enhanced with a bit of gold as she has become the first black woman to receive an honorary Oscar by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the age of 93 — soon to be 94 — she’s still working her magic.
Veteran music producer Quincy Jones presented the award to Cicely on Sunday, Nov. 18, commenting, “Her work, grace, dignity, class, humility, and profound professionalism firmly placed her on the pedestal of Hollywood royalty, and now, at long last, I could not be more honored to say that tonight, Cicely Tyson receives her more than well-deserved Oscar.”
For her part, Vanity Fair reports the actress as saying, “I don’t know that I would cherish a better gift. This is the culmination of all those years of haves and have not.”
Born on Dec. 19, 1924, in NYC, Cicely began her career as a model when she was discovered by a photographer for Ebony magazine. She began acting in 1951, initially appearing as a guest star on some shows and as a regular on East Side/West Side. The more she went on, the more acclaimed her performances became in TV miniseries like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Roots, King, and The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. On the big screen, she achieved great acclaim for 1972’s Sounder, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, and, many years and movies later, was a part of 2011’s highly-acclaimed film The Help. Between 1957’s Dark of the Moon and 2015’s The Gin Game, she was also a part of 15 stage productions.
Through all of this, she has won three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award and, of course, her Honorary Academy Award, which pays tribute to her longevity as a performer and her career in general.
The irony of all of this? “I didn’t want to be an actress,” Cicely once related to Elle. “I never thought of being an actress, because as children there were three of us — I was the middle child — and we spent our time in church from Sunday morning to Saturday night. Any movies we saw were shown in our church on Thursday night, when they put up a bed sheet and got a projector. Plus, I was too shy. If I were in a room with you for this length of time, the best you would get out of me was, ‘Hello. How are you? I’m fine, thank you.’ That would be it. Although we performed in church all the time — myself, my sister, my brother. I played the organ, I played the piano, I sang in the choir. The church was really where, subconsciously, I was sopping up all of this — whatever I use now — to perform.”
We wouldn’t be the first to say that it looks like it all worked out okay for her.