Celebrating Cicely Tyson: 7 Outstanding Performances By The Late Icon

When I think about Cicely Tyson, I remember, with fondness, her compelling speech in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion.  The world over is paying tribute to a life well-lived, ended at 96.

In a career that spanned over seven decades, Cicely Tyson lived a life that touched millions, lending a strong voice: Black and female. From a Fashion Model to a Hollywood Actress, she dazzled on and off-screen. Today, she has left behind a memoir, a legacy, and several fantastic screen performances to her credit.

Take a look at 7 outstanding performances from the Award-winning Actress who constantly broke stereotypes with her uncompromising roles.

1. The Trip To Bountiful – 2014

On set with co-star Blair Underwood.

After her outstanding role in the Broadway revival of the classic play by Horton Foote, Cicely Tyson brought this story to television as a Co-Producer and Lead Actress. The Trip To Bountiful tells the story of Carrie Watts (Tyson) who makes a trip to her beloved hometown, Bountiful, despite her son’s staunch refusal.

Stream or purchase on Amazon here.

2. How To Get Away With Murder – 2014-2020

How to get away with murder
With co-star Viola Davis.

In the popular ABC Legal drama, Cicely Tyson played Ophelia Harkness, a brutally outspoken mother to Annalise Keating (played by Viola Davis). This role got Tyson a record for the most Emmy nominations ever accorded a guest actress.

Watch on Netflix here.

3. Sounder – 1972

Photo snippet from the movie.

Set in the 1930s, this follows the story of a family of Black sharecroppers struggling to stay afloat amidst the Great Depression. Tyson’s character (Rebecca Morgan) was notably resilient and she gave the role a remarkable performance. It earned her an Oscar nomination.

Stream or purchase on Amazon here.

4. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman – 1974

Tyson’s metamorphosis for the role of Jane Pittman using makeup.

Cicely Tyson did not only take on the role of Jane Pittman, she became it. In this film adaptation of a novel by Ernest J. Gaines, She played the 110-year-old lead character. As the title suggests, this is a profound journey into the remarkable life of Jane Pittman, a former slave. Tyson’s performance earned her two Emmy awards, making her the first Black woman to win an Emmy as a lead actress.

Stream or purchase on Amazon here.

5. Roots – 1977

Tyson and Maya Angelou on set.

Tyson played the pioneering role of Binta, Kunta Kinte’s mother, in Alex Haley’s phenomenal miniseries. Although she appeared only in the first episode, her crucial role resonates throughout the film. Roots is an odyssey into a rich family history of slavery and emancipation.

Stream on HBO here.

6. Fried Green Tomatoes – 1991

fried green tomatoes
Snippets from the film.

In this moving story about the lives of Black women in a sleepy Alabama town, Tyson’s role as maid turned killer is powerful. There is silent brutality and legendary finesse in the way that she delivers this performance.

Stream or purchase on Amazon here.

7. Saturday Night Live – 1979

cicely-tysonCicely Tyson was the first Black woman to host American comedy series, Saturday Night Live. On-stage with Garrett Morris (the only other Black cast member at the time), they were a ruckus! From trading jokes about racial issues to poking fun at her own image, Tyson showed us her witty and fun side. Plus, she sings.

Stream on Hulu here.


Her memoir, Just as I am, released just 2 days before her death, is topping America’s bestseller lists. It encompasses a profound insight into her life’s journey. Live on, Cicely Tyson.


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