Cicely Tyson dead at 96; Emmy-winning actress broke racial barriers for African American entertainers

January 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emmy-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on January 28, 2021. She was 96. According to the Associated Press, no further details were released about her death, which was announced by her family through Tyson’s manager Larry Thompson. The family issued this statement: “With a heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy.”

Tyson broke racial barriers for African American entertainers. She was one of the first black actresses to be nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Her nomination was for the 1972 movie “Sounder.” (Diana Ross was also Oscar-nominated for Best Actress for a 1972 movie: “Lady Sings the Blues.”) Tyson’s last movie role was in filmmaker Tyler Perry’s 2020 Netflix drama “A Fall From Grace.”

Tyson was also the first African American woman to win two Emmys in the same year: For her starring role in the 1974 TV-movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” she was awarded Emmys for Best Lead Actress in a Drama and for Actress of the Year – Special. She then went on to win a third Emmy (for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special), for the 1994 miniseries “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” Throughout her career, Tyson received 16 Emmy nominations, including three wins. Her last five Emmy nominations were for her guest appearances on the drama series “How to Get Away With Murder.”

She also excelled in theater, including winning a Tony Award in 2013, at the age of 88, for Best Leading Actress in a Play, for the revival of “The Trip to Bountiful.” Tyson starred in and produced a TV-movie version of “The Trip to Bountiful,” which earned her two Emmy nominations. Her memoir “Just as I Am” was published on January 26, 2021—just two days before her death.

Tyson, who gave birth to a daughter at age 17, was married twice, with both marriages ending in divorce. She and her first husband, Kenneth Franklin, were married in 1942, separated 18 months later, and didn’t officially divorce until 1956. Tyson had a volatile, on-again/off-again relationship with jazz legend Miles Davis, whom she began dating in the 1960s. Davis and Tyson married in 1981 and divorced in 1988.