On a Monday, May 7, 2018 in Beverly Hills, the almost 5-year-old Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts celebrated and honored the Tale of Two Sisters, Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen. The two creative forces have dazzled and inspired audiences with their artistic gifts for generations. True living ICONS, they have had remarkable careers as performers, creators, arts educators, and mentors.
“Their contributions to stage, film, and TV are immeasurable, as is their leadership in generating opportunities and recognition for women and artists of color.” – said Michael Nemeroff, The Wallis’ Board of Directors Chairman.
The Wallis’ Spring Celebration benefits the artistic, education and outreach programs at The Wallis which serve more than 70,000 audience members annually, including thousands of underserved students from throughout the greater Los Angeles area with limited access to the arts.
Guests enjoyed the evening in Three Acts, showcasing the multi-faceted and impressive lives and work of Allen and Rashad. Act I included a Sister Soiree where guests mingled over lively entertainment and Wolfgang Puck Catering culinary delights while sipping and toasting sparkling bubbly from Mumm Napa. A wine bar offered party-goers exceptional whites and reds; most notable were the bold and spicy Cabernet Sauvignon from Pine Ridge Vineyards in the Napa Valley and Pinot Noir from Chamisal Vineyards. Phylicia and Debbie’s countless Playbills (i.e. West Side Story, The Wiz, Raisin, Sweet Charity) were painted on the walls and photos of their days in Fame, The Cosby Show, and hanging out with other legends were displayed during this cocktail food hour.
Act II was center stage as a star-studded theatrical and musical tribute featured moving performances by Maurice Hines, Arturo Sandoval and tap dance sensations Syncopated Ladies. Grammy and Golden Globe Award-winning rap recording artist and actor Common rapped a tribute to the women, while “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight sang numerous songs so sweetly. Tony and Grammy Award-winner Jennifer Holliday made the hair stand up on our bodies as she belted passionate lyrics. Two little kid actors stole the show as they took us through the night as if they were Rashad and Allen as children, on their journey to greatness. Glowing tributes were offered by Norman Lear and a former teacher from Rashad’s acting days who gave a heartfelt speech of the role Rashad played in her own life.
Act III was the encore hour as guests strolled through seasonal and decadent desserts by Wolfgang Puck catering and a champagne reception on the Promenade Terrace. Guests flitted about the valet while devouring espressos, and artistically designed handcrafted small-batch Philip Ashley Chocolates in exotic flavors.
More About Debbie Allen:
Debbie Allen has earned three Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, five NAACP Image Awards, a Drama Desk, an Astaire Award (for Best Dancer), and the Olivier Award. She holds four honorary Doctorate degrees and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was appointed by President George W. Bush to represent the United States as a Cultural Ambassador of Dance. She has been artist-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for more than 15 years, creating original works with the legendary Arturo Sandoval and James Ingram, such as Pepito’s Story, Brothers of the Knight, Dreams, Alex in Wonderland, Soul Possessed, Pearl, Dancing in the Wings Oman O Man.
Her long list of directing and producing credits include television classics such as “Fame,” “Grey’s Anatomy”(where she also recurs as Dr. Catherine Avery), “Scandal,” “How To Get Away With Murder,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Empire,” “Insecure,” “A Different World,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” “Polly,” “That’s So Raven,” “Cool Women,” “Quantum Leap,” “The Fantasia Barrino Story,” and on stage, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (on Broadway and London’s West End). She is currently the directing Executive Producer on “Grey’s Anatomy” for Season 14 of the program.
Ms. Allen has directed and choreographed such legendary artists as Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Will Smith, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Gregory Peck, Mariah Carey and Queen Latifah. With her keen eye for talent, Ms. Allen discovered entertainers such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Gary Dourdan, and Jasmine Guy. She was responsible for giving Mia Michaels her first job choreographing for television.
A true devotee of Arts Education for young people,she has trained some of the most dynamic young talent on the scene today—Vivian Nixon, William Wingfield, Jada Grace Gordy, Taylour Page, Dion Watson, Danny Tidwell, Corbin Bleu, Hannah Schnieder and The Crewe, a dynamic, multi-cultural group of young singer/dancers.
She has worked tirelessly to enlighten, inspire and engage young people around the world through dance and theater arts. She recently debuted her anti-violence dance musical, Freeze Frame…Stop the Madness during John F. Kennedy Center’s Centennial Celebration.
In 2001, she founded the non-profit Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles. The school’s mission is to fill a void for youth who have an interest in learning dance and performance technique. A native of Houston, Texas, she is the daughter of Vivian Ayers and Dr. Andrew A. Allen. She is the wife of NBA All-Star Norman Nixon and mother of Vivian Nichole and Thump.
More About Phylicia Rashad:
Whether she is bringing laughter to millions of television viewers around the world, moving theatre-goers to tears, thrilling movie fans, offering new insights to students by teaching Master Classes at renowned learning institutions that include Howard University, Julliard, and Carnegie Mellon, serving on Boards of prestigious organizations, or breaking new ground as a director, Phylicia Rashad is among the entertainment world’s most extraordinary performing artists.
A native of Houston, Texas, Rashad graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University. Rashad became a household name when she portrayed Claire Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” a character whose appeal has earned her numerous honors and awards for over two decades. She teamed up with Bill Cosby again on television as Ruth Lucas on “Cosby.” Currently, she has a recurring role as Diana Dubois on the popular Fox TV series “Empire” and appears in the Amazon series, “Jean Claude Van Johnson.”
While television was a catalyst in the rise of Rashad’s career, she has also been a force on the stage, appearing both on and Off-Broadway, often in projects that showcase her musical talents such as Jelly’s Last Jam, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls and The Wiz.
In 2016, Ms. Rashad was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, received the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play for her performance as Shelah in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes at the Public Theater, and performed the role of George Seurat’s mother in the highly acclaimed New York City Center production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
On Broadway. Ms. Rashad has performed as Violet Weston in August Osage County, Big Mama in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (a role that she reprised on the London Stage), Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem Of The Ocean, (Tony Award nomination) and Queen Britannia in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline at Lincoln Center.
Ms. Rashad received both the Drama Desk and the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her riveting performance as Lena Younger in the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun. She appeared in Ryan Coogler’s Creed, Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, and starred in Perry’s highly acclaimed version of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf.
Phylicia made her directorial debut at the Seattle Repertory Theater with August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. Critics gave her first foray into the directing world rave reviews, saying “Rashad steers Seattle Rep’s show with great sensitivity and understanding – for both the text and actors.”
Of her work at the helm of The Ebony Repertory Theatre’s production of A Raisin in the Sun in the Spring of 2011, the Los Angeles Times hailed Rashad’s California directing debut by stating that she “…nails the play’s rich humor in a solidly rendered production.” She remounted the production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles and at the Westport County Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut. Ms. Rashad has also directed August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (2014 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Director) and Fences at the Longwharf Theatre and the McCarter Theatre. She returned to the Mark Taper Forum in 2015 to direct Paul Oakley Stovall’s Immediate Family.
Respected in the academic world, Rashad is the first recipient of the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre at Fordham University. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Spelman College where First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the 2011 commencement address. Ms. Rashad conducted Master Classes at the prestigious Ten Chimneys Foundation for the 2015 Lunt-Fontanne Fellows. She also holds Honorary Doctorates from Fordham University, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Providence College, Morris Brown College, Clark Atlanta University, Barber Scotia College, St. Augustine College, and Brown University.
In 2015, Ms. Rashad received the BET Honors Theatrical Arts Award, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Spirit of Shakespeare Award, and the Inaugural Legacy Award of the Ruben Santiago-Hudson Fine Arts Learning Center. Among the other awards that decorate her walls and shelves are the 2014 Mosaic Woman Legend Award of Diversity Woman Magazine, the Texas Medal of Arts, the National Council of Negro Women’s Dorothy L. Height Dreammaker Award, AFTRA’s AMEE Award for Excellence in Entertainment, the Board of Directors of New York Women In Film and Television’s Muse Award for Outstanding Vision and Achievement, Dallas Women In Film Topaz Award, Peoples’ Choice Awards, several NAACP Image Awards, and the Pan-African Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rashad serves on the Advisory Board of the PRASAD Project and the Board of Directors of True Colors Theatre, the Broadway Inspirational Voices, The Actors Center, the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, and the ADEPT Center which is steering the restoration of the historic Brainerd Institute. Phylicia Rashad is also the mother of two adult children.
It was incredible to witness the achievements of these two women that span more than three decades.