February 27, 2013
Debbie Allen, a BFA graduate of Howard University with a minor in Classics, and a holder of three honorary doctorates in Fine Arts from the North Carolina School of the Arts, Spelman College and Howard University, is regarded as one of the most relevant and sought after directors in Hollywood and Theater.
Ms. Allen played Beneatha in the 1973 Tony Award winning production Raisin, and her fiery portrayal of Anita in the 1980 Tony Award winning revival of West Side Story won her the coveted Drama Desk award as best Actress in a Musical. She is world-recognized as a dance icon in her portrayal of Lydia Grant in the 1980 film Fame and on the ensuing television series of the same name. Ms. Allen was honored as the first recipient of the Astaire Award as Best Dancer for her work in the title role of Sweet Charity, which also won the 1986 Tony Award for Best Revival. She worked with Joe Papp’s Public Theater and Woody King’s New Federal Theater, developing her skills early on as a director and choreographer. Her influences are the legendary artists who directed and trained her: Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins, Donald McKayle, Gil Cates, Alan Johnson, Derek Walcott, Twyla Tharp, Tatiana Semenova, Louis Johnson, Jo Jo Smith, Mike Malone, Henry LeTang and Willie Covan.
Allen has a long list of directing and producing credits for television, including Fame, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Quantum Leap, That’s So Raven, All of Us, Girlfriends, Everybody Hates Chris, Disney’s Polly, Twilight Zone, CBS’s Stompin’ At The Savoy, Lifetime’s The Fantasia Barrino Story, PBS's Old Settler, Hellcats and Grey’s Anatomy. Ms Allen has worked with Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., James Earl Jones, Don Cheadle, Terrance Howard, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Phylicia Rashad, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson. She produced the Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg epic film Amistad in 1997.
Allen’s critically acclaimed Broadway directorial debut, an all-African-American production of Tennessee William’s classic, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, went on to win the Olivier Award in the London.
She has been Artist in Residence at the Kennedy Center for over 15 years developing major works. Representing America as Cultural Ambassador for Dance, Ms. Allen has fulfilled missions in China, India, and the Middle East. She has choreographed the Academy Awards a record 10 times.
As a true devotee of Arts Education for young people, she has worked tirelessly to engage, enlighten, inspire and touch young people around the world through the Art of Dance and Theater Arts. She has used her talents to narrow the gulf between cultures. Recently and most outstanding is Allen's original production of Oman...O Man!, a Kennedy Center commission which used the Art of Music and Dance to bridge the gap between Muslim and Christian cultures. After seeing the inaugural performance of this production that dispelled the myths of Middle Eastern culture, First Lady Michelle Obama declared, "Every child in America needs to see this production."
Allen is the founder of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles. She is the daughter of Vivian Ayers and Dr. Andrew A. Allen, wife of NBA All Star Norman Nixon, mother of Vivian Nichole and Thump, and sister of Tex, Phylicia, and Hugh. She devotes most of her life’s work to the development and inspiration of young people in the Arts.