This Day in History: June 19th

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The First African-American Woman To Win a Tony Award Was Born

Award-winning actress, Phylicia Rashad was born on June 19, 1948, in Houston, Texas. Rashad is best known for her iconic role as Clair Huxtable on the NBC sitcom, The Cosby Show, but she has also established a distinguished acting career over the years.

She was born Phylicia Ayers Allen and was the second oldest of her siblings. Her father was a dentist and her mother was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet. The Allen children embraced the arts. Her older brother went on to become a jazz musician and her sister, Debbie Allen, is also a dancer, actress and television producer and director.

Rashad attended Howard University and graduated with honors in 1970. She received her B.F.A. degree in Theater and was able to find work with the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City. She was able to get her start on Broadway in 1972, and she had minor roles in musicals like The Wiz and Dreamgirls before she found success in television. 

By the 1980s Rashad made her transition to television and she had a recurring role in the daytime soap opera One Life to Live. Shortly after she was cast for the role of attorney Clair Huxtable, in The Cosby Show which ran from 1984 to 1992. Rashad became a sitcom mother to millions of viewers and she even earned two Emmy Award nominations. She also played Cosby’s wife in the lesser-known series Cosby.

Rashad made her return to the theater stage and in 2004 she starred as Lena Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. For her performance, Rashad won a Tony Award for best actress and also received a 2004 Drama Desk Award.  She became the first African-American woman to win a Tony Award. In addition to her work on-screen, Rashad is an acclaimed stage director. She made her directorial debut with the production of Gem of the Ocean and followed it with Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof the next year.

In the world of academia, Rashad is also a respected voice. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from institutions such as Tuskegee University, Carnegie Mellon University, Fordham University and Spelman College

Phylicia Rashad continues to make appearances in both television shows and movies. She was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2016.

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