Written by Kristen Lopez
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson is set to receive a Peabody Award for Career Achievement. The awards, handed out by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, seek to recognize those in television, radio, and online media that invigorate, inspire or educate.
In Ms. Tyson’s case, the Career Achievement Award seeks to honor those “whose work and commitment to broadcasting and digital media have left an indelible mark on…American culture.” Tyson has a career spanning all the way back to the 1950s and received the award for being a figure in the advancement of programming that changes the culture, and specifically transformed how black Americans are considered, both in media and off-screen. “Cicely Tyson’s uncompromising commitment to using her craft to address the big issues of her time—gender equality, racial and social justice, equity and inclusion—places her in rare company. And she did so when speaking up and speaking out invited stigma, isolation, and retribution,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, executive director of Peabody in a statement. “She was a seminal figure of her time, and ahead of her time.” Also making a statement via video tribute, Oprah Winfrey thanked Tyson for “not just paving the way for me and every other black woman who dared to have a career in entertainment, but being the way—standing for the truth in your art in all ways. And allowing us to be lifted by the light of your illustrious life.” In discussing their reason for giving her the award, the Peabody Jury championed Tyson’s social justice, as well as “challenging our ethical and moral bearings.”
Despite her lengthy work in film and television Tyson has only been nominated once for an Oscar and Golden Globe, both for her performance in the 1972 feature “Sounder.” She would receive an honorary award from the Motion Picture Academy in 2019. She has also been nominated 15 times for Primetime Emmys, winning once in 1974 for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Her last four nominations have been for her role as Ophelia Harkness on ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.” MORE ABOUT MS. TYSON
Cicely L. Tyson (December 19, 1924) was born in New York and raised in Harlem. As an American actress and former fashion model. Ms. Tyson's career spans more than seven decades, and became known for her portrayal of strong black women.
Ms. Tyson was discovered by a photographer for Ebony magazine and became a popular fashion model. Her first acting role was on the NBC series Frontiers of Faith in 1951. She played her first stage role in 1950 and her first film role in Carib Gold in 1956, then went on to television, such as the celebrated series East Side/West Side, in which she became the first African American to star in a television drama, and the soap opera The Guiding Light.
In the early 60's (first performed May 4th, 1961, St. Marks Playhouse in NYC) Tyson played the role of Stephanie Virture Secret-Rose Diop in The play "The Blacks (Les Negres): A Clown Show", an absurd play written by Jean Genet, first published in France in 1958. Other actors in this work included Maya Angelou Make, James Earl Jones, Godfrey Cambridge, Louis Gossett Jr, and Charles Gordone. In addition to her screen career, Tyson has appeared in various theater productions. And she received a Drama Desk Award in 1962 for her Off-Broadway performance in Moon on a Rainbow Shawl.
On March 25, 1963, Ms. Tyson appeared on the game show To Tell The Truth as a decoy contestant for Shirley Abicair. 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). Ms. Tyson had a featured role in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968), and appeared in a segment of Roots. Ms. Tyson also starred as Carrie Watts in the Broadway play The Trip to Bountiful, winning the Tony Award, the Outer Critics Award, and the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Play in 2013.
Ms. Tyson has continued to act in film and on television in the 21st century. In 2011, she played the role of Constantine Jefferson in the award-winning film The Help. She has also played the role of Ophelia Harkness in American Broadcasting Company's legal drama How to Get Away With Murder since the show's inception in 2014, for which she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series four times.
Ms. Tyson is the recipient of three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, an honorary Academy Award, and a Peabody Award.Tyson was named a Kennedy Center honoree in 2015. In November 2016, Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian honor in the United States.