publisher’s Note: Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on January 28, 2021 at the age of 96. This interview, which was conducted in December 2020, will be published in our upcoming March issue. We run it online today in the face of Tyson’s death.
When does an icon know that it has really made it? For Cicely Tyson, who earned two Emmys – for the autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman who made her the first African American woman to win for Best Actress – a Tony and the Presidential Medal of Freedom has not yet arrived that day. “Even at 96 I can still get there,” she explains in her new memoir. The way I amwhat the New York Times calls “a balm for those affected”.
The book examines the interplay between civil rights activism and art. Food too. Before she married Miles Davis, the famous musician courted her with meals. “He always invited me when someone was cooking. First of all, this man loved to eat. Second, he didn’t like being alone. Lots of people were coming in and out of his house, the smell of oxtails mingling with the sound of laughter. “With Tyson willing to reflect, we asked her a few questions for our opening Dream dinner party Pillar.
In the book you describe casual dinner parties that Maya Angelou throws, almost as if she always had a pot with something on the stove. But in your memories you never cook; you are busy to work! If you were to throw a great dinner party – I know we all miss the get-together – would you have someone to cook for you?
My friends B Michael and his partner Mark-Anthony Edwards are great hosts. Mark-Anthony would cook and B would dress an elegant table.
Which dish must be served?
The main course is one of my favorite dishes: roast duck, served with roasted heirloom carrots, fingerlings Lyonnaise and a portion of port jus made from black cherries. We finish with a black cherry clafoutis along with vanilla sorbet.
If you could invite someone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I am fortunate to have many friends whose stamp is public in history:
- Valerie Simpson-Ashford, singer-songwriter for Ashford & Simpson
- Lenny Kravitz, singer-songwriter, also my godson
- Dr. E. Faye Williams, National President of the National Black Women Congress, Inc.
- Diahann Carroll, an actress and close friend. In the book I describe them as “swelegant”.
- Miles Davis, jazz trumpeter, ex-husband, my dream guest
- B Michael, my couturier, one of the greats
- Mark-Anthony Edwards, CEO and Co-Founder of B Michael Global
- Faye Wattleton, a dear friend. She made a huge impact on the pro-choice movement and the reproductive health world, and is now the co-founder and director of the quantum computer company EeroQ.
- Tyler Perry, close friend, father of one of my godson sons and founder of Tyler Perry Studios, home of the Cicely Tyson Soundstage
Is it casual or elegant?
It’s elegant, and guests are invited to wear purple.
Which topic needs to be discussed?
Every guest would be invited to share a thing about themselves that no one else knows.
Shop for her memoir Just As I Am published by HarperCollins in January Amazon or Bookstore.