An Original Influencer, Cicely Tyson

| Written by Melony F. Carter | February 7, 2021|

A Broadway performer, a multi-generational award-winning actress, a former Ebony magazine model, the dignified Cicely Tyson, (1924 – 2021) was a pathfinder.   

Since the early 1950’s— a prominent figure in the film community, Cicely Tyson, purposefully made it her true intention to represent a positive image of Black women in film and media. An early trendsetter and supporter of the natural hair movement, Cicely, was one of the first women to wear an afro on the TV series East Side West Side (1963). She would later go on to wear cornrows in the film Sounder (1972), which gained her a nomination for best actress for an Academy Award.  

As an actress, Cicely considered roles that displayed the progression of the Civil Rights movement to be necessary. In 1978, she went on to act in both TV mini-series King as Coretta Scott King, and as Harriet Tubman in A Woman Called Moses.

She was best known for roles like, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1994) which won her two Emmy Awards, Roots (1977), Harlem (1997), and the 1968 film version of Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and her Emmy winning TV movie Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994).  

Growing up in Harlem, Cicely’s parents were immigrants from the Caribbean island of Nevis that helped to ground her in her religious roots.  

With a strong passion in gospel music, she eventually developed her very own Cicely Tyson Community School for Performing and Fine Arts located in East Orange, NJ. In 2015— Tyler Perry, opening his 330-acre lot production facility in the heart of Atlanta, named one of his sound stages after Cicely Tyson in her honor.  

Cited:

Biography, Editors of Biography. “Cicely Tyson.” Biography, January 28, 2021. https://www.biography.com/actor/cicely-tyson

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Cicely Tyson.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 28, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cicely-Tyson.

The First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald

 

Written by, Melony F. Carter

Picture: Creative Commons
Date: February 27, 2019
Elegant, harmonious, jazz legend; this tribute is for, “The First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald!With a singing career that lasted nearly 50 years, it is no wonder her artistic talent helped her overcome hard times to become an uncompromising, renowned award-winning jazz, swing and scatting musician.

Her Courage

Born in 1918 in Newport News, Virginia Ella Fitzgerald was privy to the jazz era that began in the 1920’s. As this new genre blossomed into a new musical concept its style was established with roots in “Spirituals, blues, field hollers, African rhythms, folk songs, and marches.” As the new form of music developed popularity, Ella would soon become a part of its impact.

In 1934, at the age of 16, ready to showcase her talents; originally Ella had agreed to dance for the first-time during amateur night at Harlem’s own Apollo Theater. But once it was time to entertain the crowd due to a bad case of stage fright Ella had become so nervous that she could not perform her routine. Overwhelmed by the pressure, unrehearsed she had courageously decided to sing instead. Recalling her mother’s tunes by the Boswell Sisters, “Believe it, Beloved” and “Judy”— she sang. Her last-minute decision was brilliant enough to actually win $25 that night gaining her the reputation as a singer.

Afterwards, she continued to enter talent shows singing around town. She eventually landed herself jobs performing in 1934 with saxophonist Benny Carter, and in 1935 she would professionally sing with the Tiny Bradshaw band making $50.

Overcoming Tragedy

Orphaned at the age of 17, by the passing of her mother in 1935, bandleader Chick Webb and his wife Sallye Webb adopted Ella. Overcoming the lost, Ella would soon go on to record her first song with the Chick Webb Orchestra entitled, “Love and Kisses” which opened up doors for various songs like, 1935 and her first hit, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket, Porgy and Bess (1957), and many others. She also toured with the Philharmonic and in 1958 Fitzgerald won a Grammy for her work, The Irving Berlin Songbook.
Today in Honor Of 
Said by Bing Crosby, “Man, women or child, Ella is the greatest singer of them all” today she is still acknowledged as one of the best vocalists in history. To honor her remarkable deeds an excellence, on December 2, 1979 in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Fitzgerald was honored by President Jimmy Carters wife, Rosalynn Carter at the Kennedy Center. In 1987 she was also awarded the National Medal of Arts by Ronald Reagan.

Before she passed away in 1996, she also had the opportunity of working with other jazz musicians such-as Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie who is seen here in this infamous photograph gazing at Ella as he is captivated by her singing the song, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

Works Cited:
Kliment, Bud. Ella Fitzgerrald. Grolier Incorporated, 1990.

Ella