Delta Divas of Distinction is a page dedicated to the dynamic women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, meant to spotlight the talents, service and achievements of these phenomenal women.
Trunks up, ladies!!!
Noted as the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead, Cecily L. Tyson is one of the most respected actresses of our time. She was born on December 18, 1924 in Harlem, New York to West Indian parents, Frederica and William Tyson who migrated from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Tyson got her start as a fashion model for The Grace Del Marco Agency, historically known as the first black modeling agency. As it turns out, modeling was the catalyst to her career as an actress, which officially began with a role on NBC’s Frontiers of Fashion in 1951. Just before Tyson’s career took off she suffered a personal set back when the relationship with her mother, a devoutly religious woman became strained. Tyson recounted in her appearance on Oprah’s Master Class, that her mother’s disapproval of her career led to her refusal to speak to her for several years, in protest of what she perceived to be an indecent profession. After several successful stints on television, which included a role on the Guiding Light (1961), Hollywood called and offered her a part in the 1956 film Carib Gold alongside Ethel Waters. Her break out role, the one that solidified her as a bonafied star, was her depiction of a 110 year old former slave woman in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Her performance in this film garnered lots of critical acclaim and earned Ms. Tyson her first Emmy win in 1972. In 1977, she joined an all-star cast in the ground breaking television mini-series Roots, where she played the mother of Kunta Kinte, an African boy captured and taken away from his home to be enslaved in America.
Cicely Tyson’s influence is evident today in such popular black actresses as Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, and Oprah Winfrey, who in 2005 honored the icon at her Legends Ball, a three day celebration of African-American women noted as trail blazers in various different medias. Screenwriter and producer Tyler Perry’s high regard for Ms. Tyson prompted him to cast her in his first film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005). A school was even renamed in her honor in East Orange, NJ now called The Cicely Tyson School for Performing Arts, where she not only lends financial support but her physical involvement to ensure the success of the students. A star was installed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in dedication to the stellar career of Cicely Tyson on August 21, 1997. She’s also received two honorary degrees, one from Morehouse College (2009) and a Doctorate from Columbia University in 2014. More recently she was exalted at the Kennedy Center Honors, where celebrities such as Tyler Perry, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis and Cece Winans paid tribute to the legendary thespian for her contributions to the performing arts. Cicely Tyson is also a member of the illustrious sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta, Sorority Inc.
The details of Cicely Tyson’s personal life read much life a fiery romance novel in that she was one half of a celebrity power couple for nearly a decade. Before there was Beyonce and Jay Z, there was Cicely and Miles. In 1981, Tyson married legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in a private wedding at the home of famed comedian Bill Cosby, who also walked the bride down the aisle. Specific accounts of the pair’s torrid but tumultuous relationship can be found in Davis’s memoir titled Miles: The Autobiography. Throughout the years there have been many speculations about Davis's drug abuse and infidelity as the cause of the stars divorce; however Tyson has always remained tight lipped in regards to their marriage. In a 2015 interview with Madame Noir, Tyson was quoted as saying, “I don’t really talk about it. No, I don’t. But I will say this. I cherish every single moment that I had with him.” Miles on the other hand spoke openly about their troubles and even described an incident where Tyson jumped on a white woman who lived in their building that she believed was having an affair with him. No matter what the couple’s relationship was like they became known in Hollywood as a glamorous and style conscience duo, who set trends and fascinated on lookers with their innate sense of style.
The beauty, dignity and class that eludes from this phenomenal woman transcends her numerous accolades and prolific characters she’s portrayed. Cicely L. Tyson is more than an celebrated actress she’s also a pioneer and an activist. Selflessly she used her talent and her fame as a platform to speak out against racism and inequality as it pertains to the plight of African-Americans. She chose to do meaningful work that would make a difference in the world or at the very least someone's life. Today, at 91 years old she's still captivating audiences with stellar performances in such roles as Miss Carrie Watts in the stage play, A Trip To Bountiful, in which a Tony award has now been added to her long list of accolades. Amazingly, her career has spanned well over a half a century, which is both impressive and rare for an actress of any hue. She can currently be seen on season 4 House of Cards. I salute you Soror!