Editor’s note: Award-winning actress Cicely Tyson died January 28, 2021, at the age of 96. This interview, which was done in December 2020, will be published in our upcoming March issue. We’re running it online today in light of Tyson’s passing.
When does an icon know she’s truly made it? For Cicely Tyson, who’s earned two Emmys—for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which made her the first African American woman to win for Best Actress—a Tony, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, that day has yet to arrive. “Even at 96 I am still arriving,” she explains in her new memoir, Just As I Am, which the New York Times calls “a balm for the afflicted.”
In the book, the interplay between civil rights activism and the arts is explored. So too is food. Before she married Miles Davis, the famed musician courted her with meals. “He’d invite me over anytime there was cooking. First of all, that man loved to eat. Second, he did not like to be alone. His house bustled with folks coming in and out, the smell of oxtails mixing with the sound of laughter.” Since Tyson is ready to reflect, we asked her a few questions for our inaugural Dream Dinner Party column.
In the book you describe casual dinner parties thrown by Maya Angelou almost as if she always had a pot of something on the stove. But in your memoir you never cook; you’re busy working! If you were to throw a great dinner party—I know we all miss gathering—would you have someone cook for you?
My friends B Michael and his partner Mark-Anthony Edwards are terrific hosts. Mark-Anthony would cook and B would dress an elegant table.
What dish must be served?
The main course is one of my favorites: roast duck, served with roasted heirloom carrots, fingerlings lyonnaise, and black cherry port au jus. We’ll end with a black cherry clafoutis along with vanilla sorbet.
If you could invite anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I’m lucky enough to have many friends whose stamp on history is public:
- Valerie Simpson-Ashford, singer-songwriter of Ashford & Simpson
- Lenny Kravitz, singer- songwriter, also my godson
- Dr. E. Faye Williams, national president, National Congress of Black Women, Inc.
- Diahann Carroll, an actress and close friend. In the book I describe her as “swelegant.”
- Miles Davis, jazz trumpeter, ex-husband, my dream guest
- B Michael, my couturier, one of the greats
- Mark-Anthony Edwards, CEO and cofounder, B Michael Global
- Faye Wattleton, a dear friend. She had a big impact on the pro-choice movement and the world of reproductive health, and is now the cofounder and director at quantum computing company EeroQ.
- Tyler Perry, close friend, father to one of my godsons, and founder of Tyler Perry Studios, home to the Cicely Tyson Soundstage
Is it casual or dressy?
It’s dressy and the guests are invited to wear purple.
What subject must be discussed?
Each guest would be invited to share one thing about themself that no one else knows.