The highly acclaimed and awarded stage and screen actress Cicely Tyson died on Jan. 28.
Ms. Cicely Tyson was intention, precision, dedication, activism, beauty, style, grace and humanity. She was music. She was Truth. She was strength. She was an icon, an inspiration to many and a beacon to generations.
Her purpose was powerful: It resonated in everything she did, and her art will continue to carry us forward. She brought each of her characters to life truthfully and completely. She was mesmerizing to watch onstage. She could guide an audience’s every breath and open hearts and minds with her bravery of soul and commitment to the truth. She was luminous. She was Cicely Tyson, and there will never be another.
I had the distinct privilege of meeting her when I first moved to New York, and everything about her was larger than life. Just to meet her, I felt my dreams were coming to fruition. She allowed so many to dream wildly. She let us know what was possible. She made it possible.
She created legacy and paved the way for future generations, from co-founding the Dance Theatre of Harlem to her beloved Cicely L. Tyson High School for the Performing Arts. She deservedly won almost every award there was to win for acting, and was also honored with a Kennedy Center Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ms. Tyson was deliberate in her femininity, deliberate in her Blackness, and deliberate with her privacy. The dignity, grace, and truth she carried for her people was in everything she did. She had the audacity to say no in a time of scarcity. And when she committed to something, she committed fully. She committed with her entire body. Her arms seemed to reach way beyond her tiny frame. She had the most magnificent hands. Her physical presence, her hands, her posture, her command of voice and body, her immediate access to every emotion and every lived experience—extraordinary.
In 2015, I was blessed with the theatrical gift of working with Ms. Cicely Tyson and Mr. James Earl Jones on Broadway as an associate director on The Gin Game. Early in the process, she began calling me the angel, which meant someone else in the room was the devil. Ms. Tyson was complicated. Words are not big enough to convey how deliciously difficult she could be, and how she could delight in another’s discomfort. She certainly knew how to steal a scene and she loved to play. She was extremely demanding of everyone who was fortunate enough to be in her presence.
Cicely Tyson saw people fully. She was tough as nails, with a magnetic grace and an expansive spirit. Her conviction was powerful; it affected great change. She demanded the world to see each of us truthfully and she was profound in her caring. The young and the elderly alike were incredibly important to her, and when she was with them you saw her full generosity of spirit. During The Gin Game we took a field trip to Isabella Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care, where she held my hand the entire time, which she often did. We went through the building, room by room and from person to person. The time and grace she gave to each person on that day displayed her full generosity of spirit, which was most evident when she was not being asked for something. One didn’t often hear her described as nice, but her kindness was given with open ears and an open heart.
The truth of humanity came through her voice with intentional conviction. She also always knew when to take a nap. Then she would have an avocado, do a plank, and get back to rehearsal. I can hear her voice and laughter so clearly. She breathed with an audience, but her breath was always with her community. Her trust and faith imbued everything. Her mother, daughter, and God were with her always and in everything she did.
She was alive, she was timeless, and she continues to shape our future.
Rest easy, Ms. Tyson.
Jade King Carroll (she/her) is a theatre director.
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