Cicely Tyson on Celebrating Her 96th Birthday Into the Morning Hours

Zoomer magazine contributor Ashante Infantry interviewed Cicely Tyson over Zoom on Dec. 21, 2020 — two days after the trailblazing actress celebrated her 96th birthday in New York — for the February/March issue, on newsstands now.

In the wake of Tyson’s passing on Jan. 28, we have published the cover story here in its entirety, along with two portraits taken by photographer Gabor Jurina exclusively for Zoomer at a socially distant photo shoot at the atelier of her close friend and designer, B Michael.

And for more, Infantry takes a closer look at how acting became Tyson’s activism in the legend’s memoir, Just as I Am, which came out Jan. 26.


Cicely Tyson
Cicely Tyson’s Just As I Am.

Within days of Tyson’s death, her memoir shot to the top of the bestseller lists, with physical copies of the book even selling out on Amazon.

Just As I Am, which is Tyson’s literary debut, was co-written with Michelle Burford, a founding editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. The striking image of Tyson on the cover was captured by none other than famed photographer — and ex-husband of Princess Margaret — Antony Armstrong-Jones around the time of the release of the actress’s 1972 film Sounder for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

The audiobook is narrated in part by the award-winning actress herself, along with Robin Miles and her How to Get Away With Murder co-star and close friend Viola Davis.

Portrait of Academy Award winning American actress Cicely Tyson smiling and raising her arms in the air during a visit to London.
Portrait of Academy Award winning American actress Cicely Tyson during a visit to London in 1973. Photo: Dennis Oulds/Central Press/Getty Images


Tyson, who made history in 2018 as the first African-American woman to receive an honorary Academy Award, has received accolades from Hollywood greats to President Barack Obama — who awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

“Just As I Am is my truth,” she writes in the book. “It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage for six decades.

“Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.”

The memoir was dedicated to her daughter, who Tyson refers to simply as Joan in an effort to protect her privacy, saying she is “the one who has paid the greatest price for this gift to all.”