4 Black Actors Took Home Tony Awards Tonight - Only The Second Time In History

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by Tambay A. Obenson
June 10, 2013 12:08 AM
12 Comments
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It was indeed a good night for black actors at the 2013 Tony Awards event, broadcast on CBS, with Neil Patrick Harris hosting once again, as a total of 5 black artists took how trophies tonight, which I believe may actually be a record. I'll return to this in a minute.

First, what I can confirm with certainty is that tonight's 4 wins by black actors happens to be the 2nd time in the Award's 66-year history that 4 black actors have taken home trophies in the same year - 2013 and 1982.

2013's winners were:

Cicely Tyson, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play (A Trip To Bountiful).

Billy Porter, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical (Kinky Boots).

Patina Miller, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Pippin).

Courtney B. Vance, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play (Lucky Guy).

Tonight's 5th black winner was not an actor, but a producer - Ron Simons (also a producer of several films we've covered on this site). A play that he is one of the producers of - Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - won the Tony Award for Best Play. This is Ron's second Tony nomination and win. Last year he received a Tony for producing Porgy & Bess.

And finally, 1982's winners were:

Ben Harney, Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical for Dreamgirls.

Jennifer Holliday, Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical also for Dreamgirls.

Cleavant Derricks, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical also for Dreamgirls.

Zakes Mokae, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for Master Harold...and the Boys.

A little history there...

Regarding tonight's 4 major wins by black actors, I should also note that Cicely Tyson, who returned to Broadway this season for the first time in 30 years, won her very first Tony Award. It's also the first time she's been nominated - so she's one-for-one. 

The same goes for Billy Porter - first time nominee, and win.

Tonight was Courtney B. Vance's first win, although he's been nominated twice before. Prior to 2013, he was nominated in 1991 for Six Degrees of Separation (Best Performance by an Actor in a Play), and in 1987 for Fences (Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play).

Patina Miller has been nominated twice, and tonight's win was her first. Previously, she was nominated in 2011 for her work in Sister Act, in the same category in which she was nominated for this year - Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

The other nominees of African descent this year, who didn't win in their individual categories are:

Shalita Grantnominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike).

Condola Rashad, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play (The Trip to Bountiful).

Charl Brown, nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical (Motown, The Musical).

- Valisia LeKae, nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical (Motown The Musical).

- Keala Settlenominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical (Hands on a Hardbody).

George C. Wolfenominated for Best Direction of a Play (Lucky Guy).

So the "4 wins" record remains intact. I actually thought Condola Rashad might win in her category (she seems to be something of a Broadway darling right now), and make it 5 actor wins this year, which would've been history-making. 

Alas, I'll take the 4. And I'm sure they will too.

Now let me go research whether tonight's 5 total wins (including Ron Simon's Best Producer nod) is indeed a record. The challenge here is in sifting through all the technical awards - those that just don't get the same kind of pomp and circumstance that the so-called *major* awards do. And also, one show can have a dozen (or even more) producers. So the challenge there would be identifying those who are of African descent, which can be a monumental task, especially if one has to go through 66 years of history.

Also worth noting, which only makes the challenge more of one, is that black producers don't necessarily produce only *black shows.* For example, Ron Simons is just one of almost 2-dozen producers of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (according to the Tony Awards website), and it's not a *black show,* as in, a show that tells a story that centers primarily around a character of African descent, to keep it simple.

So one would literally have to sift through every single producer of every single show (not just *black shows*) that won in the Best Play, Best Musical, Best Revival of a Play, and Best Revival of a Musical (at least) categories, each year, over the last 66 Tony Awards ceremonies.

In the meantime, congrats to all the winners, as well as the nominees who didn't win! 

See you next year!

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12 Comments

  • David | June 13, 2013 12:08 AMReply

    Tambay, thanks for the article and mention of Ron Simon as a producer. Another dimension to identifying producers, and Ron may attest, is that not all "producers" are credited as producers as such, even though we bring investors/ money to shows. Broadway producers are sometimes a network of "favors." What I mean is, I was officially on the producer team for 2010's "The Scottsboro Boys," which received 12 Tony noms (and won 0, as did nearly every show competing against "Book of Mormon." Now, I also elected to help friends on 2011's "Mountaintop" and Porgy Bess" and brought investors to individuals officially on the teams, but I am not credited.

  • Ava | June 11, 2013 9:31 PMReply

    I was particularly pleased to see all of these actors step into the Winner's Circle. As a playwright, myself, I hope this will extend to us as well soon. And not just one every five years or so. Knowing the stories behind the plays and a bit of the journey that some of the actors took toward these roles, their acknowledgements are richly deserved. In an oft youth obsessed culture, the theater reminds me that I'm actually quite young in my chosen discipline. Seeing Cicely Tyson accept her first Tony award will remind me that as long as you have passion and will, you're never too old.

  • CC | June 10, 2013 1:42 PMReply

    YES! Great night for black actors, my hat is tipped in their direction.

    Now it behooves me to speak on other elements of the show which I particularly enjoyed.

    Although I haven't seen many Tony Awards, I believe last night's presentation was one of the best award shows that I've seen in quite some time. The production/direction was tight, crisp and not bogged down by pretentious speeches. Unlike the Oscar award shows and those of that ilk, last night's Tony winners seemed to be honestly grateful and appreciative of their wins.

    I also enjoyed the opening number. Is it me, or was that one of the best openings of any award show? Also, have I been missing something or did anyone else (except me) believe Neil Patrick Harris did a fantastic job? His timing, humbleness and wit carried the whole night, imo. And his skit (with Andrew Rannells, Megan Hilty and Laura Benanti ) on "you gotta have a TV series if you wanna be a star" was thoroughly entertaining.

    Also, I enjoyed how some of the winners dropped their personal messages on the floor without long-winded fanfare. Unlike Jodie Foster's "apology", I believe Billy Porter and another gentlemen expressed their sexual preference and then moved on.

    Finally, speaking of acceptance, diversity and forgiveness, in spite of Mike Tyson's past indiscretions, he was accepted for who he is now. And that, from my perspective, was-good-to-see.

  • Ron Simons | June 10, 2013 11:42 AMReply

    Nice article Tambay. And at the risk of sounding egotistical, last night was my second Tony nomination and win. Last year I received a Tony for producing Porgy & Bess. I'm just sayin! :-)

    Regardless though, thanks for noting our representing last night!

  • Sheila | June 10, 2013 2:19 PM

    Congrats, Ron! I wish you much continued success!

  • ska-triumph | June 10, 2013 1:09 PM

    Mister Simons, you are rockin' and rollin' this year. BLUE CAPRICE will have folks talking for sure. Congratulations!

  • Tambay | June 10, 2013 12:11 PM

    Thanks Ron. Change made! You may want to contact IBDB because they don't have you listed as a nominee and winner last year.

  • Roslyn | June 10, 2013 12:00 PM

    Congratulations Mr. Simons for this year and last year as well.

  • ALM | June 10, 2013 10:22 AMReply

    In looking at the list above, it's great to not only see so many people of color rewarded for their hard work, but to also see that they won for a variety of works. The works span in content. Back in 1982, "Dreamgirls" dominated, but the love was spread around this year.

  • adawn | June 10, 2013 12:50 AMReply

    and keala settle isn't black. her father is british and her mother is of maori descent, which would make her polynesian (pacific islander) and caucasian, no ties to the african population whatsoever.

  • Nadia | June 10, 2013 1:12 AM

    Aboriginals (including the Maori) are considered the "blacks" of the many island countries in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, and, like all Micronesian people, tend to identify with Black people all over the world.

  • kira-t-fresh | June 10, 2013 12:28 AMReply

    Two and a half years ago, my family went to NYC for Thanksgiving and we saw three "black" broadway plays - "Fela" with Patti Labelle, "Driving Miss Daisy" with James Earl Jones , and "A Free Man of Color" with Mos Def and Jeffrey Wright. It's difficult to see so many quality black actors in one weekend at the movie theatre. Thus, I think that weekend foreshadowed the Tony awards tonight--Broadway certainly appears to be support equal opportunity when casting honoring its actors and actresses.

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