Cicely Tyson Played Roles of 'Real Substance'

Groundbreaking actor starred in 'Sounder' and 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 28, 2021 7:00 PM CST
On Every Stage, Cicely Tyson Brought 'Convictions and Grace'
Cicely Tyson's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.   (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Cicely Tyson, the pioneering Black actor who received an Oscar nomination for her role as a sharecropper’s wife in Sounder, won a Tony Award in 2013 at age 88, and touched TV viewers’ hearts in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, died Thursday at age 96. Tyson's death was announced by her family, her manager said. A onetime model, Tyson began her screen career with bit parts but gained fame in the early 1970s when Black women were finally starting to get starring roles. Besides her Oscar nomination, she won two Emmys for playing the 110-year-old former slave in the 1974 drama The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Tyson's memoir, Just As I Am, was published this week. "I'm very selective as I’ve been my whole career about what I do. Unfortunately, I'm not the kind of person who works only for money. It has to have some real substance for me to do it," she said in 2013.

In 2018, Tyson she was given an honorary Oscar statuette. "This is a culmination of all those years of haves and have-nots," she said. In 2016, Tyson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. At that ceremony, President Obama said, "Cicely's convictions and grace have helped for us to see the dignity of every single beautiful memory of the American family." Sounder, based on the William H. Hunter novel, confirmed her stardom in 1972. Tyson was cast as the Depression-era loving wife of a sharecropper, played by Paul Winfield, who is confined in jail for stealing a piece of meat for his family. She is forced to care for their children and attend to the crops. She later recalled that she had been asked to test for a smaller role but wanted to play the mother, Rebecca. She was told: "You're too young, you're too pretty, you're too sexy, you're too this, you're too that," Tyson said. "And I said, 'I am an actress.'" (Tyson's Medal of Freedom class included Tom Hanks and Michael Jordan.)

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