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Coloring the Great White Way

In the early 1900s, Broadway was known as The Great White Way for good reason. Since then, however, the African-American community has made great inroads. Over the years, African-American actors and actresses have won over 70 Tony awards, Broadway’s highest honor, in numerous categories, displaying their talents on the stage as brightly as the lights on Broadway. Here’s the who’s who of Broadway’s African-American royalty.

Juanita Hall

In 1950, during the fourth Tony awards, Hall became the first African-American winner when she won Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in “South Pacific.” A Juilliard-trained actress, she played the role of Bloody Mary, the island woman who does business with American sailors. She later went on to reprise her role in the 1958 movie version.

Harry Belafonte

You may know Harry Belafonte for his music, his television and movie work, and his efforts as a civil rights activist. But, at age 26, he was also singing and dancing on the stage, and in 1954 danced away with a Best Featured Actor in a Musical award for “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac.”

Diahann Carroll

In 1962, while the South was still rife with segregation, the glamorous Carroll played opposite a white actor, depicting the first interracial relationship on Broadway in “No Strings,” and took home the Best Actress in a Musical award. Her role as a high-couture fashion model in Paris also helped break the stereotypical role of African-Americans as hired help.

James Earl Jones

Who can forget the melodic voice of James Earl Jones behind Darth Vader? But before that, in 19??,he took to the stage playing Jack Johnson, the first black boxer to become heavyweight champion of the world, in “name???”. Jones’s portrayal as so convincing that he earned the Tony for best actor in a play. He later won in this category again in 1987 in the original cast of “Fences,” a play about ?????.

Denzel Washington

In 2010, Washington, with two Oscar wins under his belt, reprised Jones’s role as Troy Maxson in the revival of “Fences” and went on to win the Best Lead Actor in a Play award. In the same play, Viola Davis, an Oscar nominee and 2001 Tony winner (for August Wilson’s “King Hedley II”), won her second Tony for Best Featured Actress as Washington’s wife.

Nell Carter

In 1978 Carter proved to the Broadway community that you can play a character just as well on the stage as on television. That year, she won the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and went on to win an Emmy for playing the same part on television.

Jennifer Holliday

Holliday brought down the house with her huge pipes when she sang “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going” as Effie in “Dreamgirls.” She took home the Tony in 1982 for Best Actress in a Musical, a role Jennifer Hudson later reprised in the movie version, which nabbed Hudson an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Audra McDonald

The talented and versatile McDonald has long dominated Broadway with brilliant performances in musicals and dramas, and also by playing roles that were originally written for white actresses. The recipient of four Tony Awards, she won her first in 1994 for the musical “Carousel,” and in 1998, received one for her work in “Ragtime.” She also won Tonys for her work in the plays “Master Class” (1996) and “A Raisin in the Sun” (2004). She is currently appearing on Broadway in the revival of “Porgy and Bess.”

Hinton Battle

Another Broadway veteran, Battle, well-known for his song and dance routines, snagged three Tonys for Best Featured Actor in a Musical: the first in 1981 for “Sophisticated Ladies,” and later for “The Tap Dance Kid” (1984) and “Miss Saigon” (1991).

Phylicia Rashad

Rashad is best-known for playing Claire Huxtable, Bill Cosby’s wife on “The Cosby Show,” yet the television screen was not big enough for this talented actress. She was cast in the role of Lena in the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” and won a Tony in 2004 for Best Actress in a Play, the first African-American to win this award.

Audra McDonald also won a Tony for the same play.

“A Raisin In The Sun” was the first Broadway play by an African-American woman and also the first to be directed by an African-American, NAME?????. The legendary Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier, who starred in the play, also went on to star in the movie in 1961.

Rashad’s daughter, Condola Rashad, has followed in her footsteps and has hit the stage in a much acclaimed performance in the play “Ruined,” and is in currently appearing in “Stick Fly.”

Whoopi Goldberg

Goldberg is in a class of her own. The actress, comedian, producer, talk show host is part of the elite group EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). She is one of a handful of actors and actresses who have won an Emmy (2002), Grammy (1985), an Oscar (1990) and a Tony (2002).

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