Pirate's Alley Faulkner SocietyWords & Music

Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson as Jane Pittman

Star of Film Adaptations


A Lesson Before Dying


The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittmen

About the Artist

Cicely Tyson was born and raised in Harlem, NY, the daughter of Theodosia, a domestic, and William Tyson, her father, who worked as a carpenter, a painter, or any other jobs he could find. Her parents were immigrants from the island of Nevis of the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. Her father arrived in New York City at the age of 21 and was processed at Ellis Island on August 4,   Ms. Tyson married legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis on November 26, 1981. The ceremony was conducted by Atlanta mayor Andrew Young at the home of actor Bill Cosby. Tyson and Davis divorced in 1988. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. On May 17, 2009, Tyson received an honorary degree from Morehouse College, an all-male college.In 2010, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP.


Cicely Tyson owes her career to a good haircut. In a beauty salon, her hairdresser asked Tyson to model at a hairstyle show. At the hair show, she was spotted by a photographer from Ebony magazine, and began her successful career as a model. Within a few years, she was among the most successful models in America. Tyson made her stage debut in a mid-1950s YMCA production of Dark of the Moon, and her first film was an uncredited role in Carib Gold with Ethel Waters in 1957. In 1963 she played George C. Scott's secretary in a gritty drama about social workers in Harlem, East Side/West Side. The show had abysmal ratings, and was canceled midway through its first and only season, but Tyson's was the first black female character in an American TV series who wasn't written as a nanny, maid, or menial worker. In 1966, she joined The Guiding Light, becoming one of the first black actresses to win a regular role on a soap opera. In 1972, she starred with Paul Winfield in Sounder, and was nominated for an Oscar. She won Emmys for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. She has also played Coretta Scott King and Harriet Tubman. In 1961, Tyson appeared in the original cast of French playwright Jean Genet's The Blacks, the longest running off-Broadway non-musical of the decade, running for 1,408 performances. The original cast also featured James Earl Jones, Roscoe Lee Browne, Louis Gossett, Jr., Godfrey Cambridge, Maya Angelou and Charles Gordone. 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). Tyson had a featured role in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968) and was in a segment of the movie Roots.

In the camp classic The Concorde: Airport '79 with Robert Wagner, George Kennedy, and Charo, Tyson played a mother rushing a heart to her ailing son.In 1983, Tyson appeared on Broadway in a production of The Corn Is Green which was poorly reviewed and closed after only two weeks. She was fired when she took a night off to attend a tribute to her then-husband, legendary jazz musician Miles Davis. Tyson sued the producers, maintaining that she was entitled to payment in full as stipulated in her contract, about $750,000, and won.


The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts
, a magnet school in East Orange, NJ, was renamed in her honor. She plays an active part in supporting the school, which serves one of New Jersey's most underprivileged African-American communities.

Faulkner Society events are made possible in part by important support from The Arts Council of New Orleans, the City of New Orleans, and the Decentralized Arts Funding Program of The Louisiana Division of the Arts; the J. J. and Dr. Donald Dooley Fund and administrator, Samuel L. Steele, III; Bertie Deming Smith and the Deming Foundation; the Hearst Corporation and Debra Shriver, Vice President; the Law Firm of Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles;Dorignac's & Butch Steadman; the English Speaking Union; Rosemary James, Joseph DeSalvo and Faulkner House, Inc; Randy Fertel and The Ruth U. Fertel Foundation; Arthur & Mary Davis, Quint Davis, and Pam Friedler; Alexa Georges; the Louisiana State Museum; Elizabeth McKinley; Hotel Monteleone; Mr. & Mrs. Hartwig Moss, III; Theodosia M. Nolan, Tia and James Roddy, and Peter Tattersall; Parkside Foundation; Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre; Anne and Ron Pincus; Other Press, a Division of Random House; E. Quinn Peeper and Michael Harold; Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture: Nancy Cater, Editor; the State Library of Louisiana; Judith "Jude" Swenson in memory of her late husband, James Swenson.

Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society
624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, LA 70116
phone: (504) 586-1609 or (504) 525-5615
fax: (504) 522-9725
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