Before there was #BlackExcellence, there was Cicely Tyson. Diminutive in stature, Tyson was a powerhouse actress and advocate for civil rights, who embodied an incomparable mix of grace and dignity. She found her passion and purpose through the artistry she brought to life onscreen throughout the whole of her career, withholding nothing.
A native of Harlem, New York City, Tyson described age as “just a number,” and life as “one of the greatest gifts that we could possibly ever have.” With the news of her passing on Jan. 28 at the age of 96, she was the personification of a life well-lived. Empower Magazine celebrates the titan in both the arts and culture that Tyson became for our generation, and the body of work that will live on in tribute to her spirit of excellence.
A supreme actress, Tyson poured her heart and soul into every character she brought to life from her Oscar-nominated role as Rebecca Morgan in Sounder to her Emmy-award winning portrayal of Jane Pittman in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, becoming the first African-American actress to win a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a television movie. Tyson was awarded a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play for her role as Carrie in The Trip to Bountiful, along with countless other awards througout her career.
President Barack Obama awarded Tyson the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 for her contributions to the arts and American culture. She received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997 and in 2019 received an Honorary Oscar in tribute to her supreme artistry throughout her career. One of the 12 sound stages at Tyler Perry’s Atlanta-based film studio is named in honor of the iconic actress.
Empower Magazine pays tribute to Tyson with the words that framed and guided her career and life – words that give us a peek into a soul who touched and moved audiences worldwide through the brilliance of her gift.
“When I told my mother that I wanted to be an actress, she said, you can’t live here and do that, and so I moved out. I was determined to prove her wrong because she was so sure that I was going to go astray. And that’s the juice that kept me going,”
“I am not a quitter. I will fight until I drop. It is just a matter of having some faith in the fact that as long as you are able to draw breath in the universe, you have a chance.”
“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch, what make you go beyond the norm.”
“I saw that I could not afford the luxury of just being an actress. So I made a choice to use my career as a platform to address the issues of the race I was born into.”
“I think when you begin to think of yourself as having achieved something, then there’s nothing left for you to work towards. I want to believe that there is a mountain so high that I will spend my entire life striving to reach the top of it.”
Tyson exuded authenticity, dignity, and passion, and blazed an empowering trail for others to follow in both the arts and culture. As we pay tribute to her life, it won’t be how many awards she won that we will remember the most, but it will be how she elevated audiences through her craft and how she made us feel.