Tonys: A Look Back at Black Actors Who Have Won

2:21 PM 6/10/2018

by Zoe Haylock

As the entertainment industry strives for more inclusive representation, The Hollywood Reporter highlights performers of color handed Broadway's top honors during its seven-decade history.

Tony Award - Featured Actor in a Musical - 2016 - Daveed Diggs, Hamilton  - Getty - H 2018
Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Daveed Diggs accepts the award onstage for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical for his work in Hamilton during the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City.  

Amid a greater push for inclusiveness across the entertainment industry, the number of people of color who have won the top awards has received increased scrutiny, particularly following two years of #OscarsSoWhite.

While only 16 black actors have won Oscars (including Halle Berry as the lone black woman to win best actress), the Tony Awards has a more inclusive history. Trophies have been handed out to more than 50 black actors, starting in 1954 with Juanita Hall, recognized just seven years after the Tonys began.

Many of these inclusive Tony award winners also boast Oscar, Grammy or Emmy wins, like Viola Davis who has two Tonys, an Oscar and an Emmy. In recent years, as more diverse casts hit the stage, actors of color are seeing themselves represented in the winner's circle with more frequency. In 2016, the year of Hamilton, all four musical performance awards went to black actors. However, in 2017, just five out of the Tonys' 40 acting nominees were black and none of them won. In 2018, there were eight black acting nominees -- including Denzel Washington and LaChanze, who were up for their second acting Tonys -- but none of them won.

Take a look below at 47 of the black actors* to win a Tony.

  • Juanita Hall

    Juanita Hall was a film and musical theater actress. Her role as Bloody Mary in the original production of Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific won her a Tony award for best featured actress in a musical. She was the first black person to win a Tony Award and went on to reprise the role in the 1958 screen version.

  • Harry Belafonte

    Actor, singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte was the first black man ever to win a Tony Award. John Murray Anderson's Almanac was a music revue featuring Belafonte, Hermione Gingold, Polly Bergen and more. He took home the Tony for best featured actor. 

  • Diahann Carroll

    In 1962, Diahann Carroll became the first black woman to win a Tony for best actress in a lead role of a musical. She starred in No Strings, the first musical Richard Rodgers produced after the death of his longtime collaborator Oscar Hammerstein II. 

  • Leslie Uggams

    Leslie Uggams won her award for best leading actress in a musical. She played Georgina, an ambitious woman making it through the Great Depression, in Hallelujah, Baby.

  • James Earl Jones

    James Earl Jones has actually won the Tony for best lead actor in a play twice. He earned the first for his performance in The Great White Hope in 1969, then a second in 1987, for August Wilson's Fences. In addition, Jones received a 2017 Tony for lifetime achievement in the theater.

  • Melba Moore

    A veteran of the historic original production of Hair (who would later appear in the Milos Forman film version), Melba Moore won best featured actress in a musical for her role as Lutiebelle in Purlie, based on Ossie Davis' Purlie Victorious.

  • Cleavon Little

    In Purlie, Melba Moore's Lutiebelle helps Cleavon Little's Purlie Victorious Judson try to save his town's church and emancipate cotton pickers on a nearby plantation. Little won the best leading actor Tony for this performance. The actor would find wider fame four years later onscreen as the black sheriff in Mel Brooks' classic Western spoof, Blazing Saddles.

  • Ben Vereen

    Veteran musical theater performer Ben Vereen, whose credits span from the 1968 premiere of Hair through Jesus Christ Superstar, Jelly's Last Jam, Fosse and Wicked, won best actor in a musical for Bob Fosse's iconic original production of Pippin, in which he originated the role of the Leading Player. 

  • Virginia Capers

    Virginia Capers won lead actress in a musical for her role as family matriarch Lena Younger in Raisin, the musical version of Lorraine Hansberry's classic drama A Raisin in the Sun. In addition to her work on the stage, Capers' career as a television and film actor spanned seven decades. 

  • Dee Dee Bridgewater

    Celebrated jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater won her Tony award for featured actress in a musical. She played Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz, the African-American musical that reimagines The Wizard of Oz with soul music. 

  • Ted Ross

    Ted Ross won best featured actor in a musical for his role as one of Dorothy's Oz sidekicks along the yellow brick road, the Lion, in The Wiz. Three years later, he reprised the role in Sidney Lumet's film adaptation, which starred Diana Ross (no relation) and Michael Jackson. 

  • Trazana Beverly

    Trazana Beverly is the first black woman to win an award for best featured actress in a play. She won for her role in Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf — a series of poetic monologues backed by dance and music. Later, Beverly joined the television production of for colored girls. She previously had won an Obie Award for the off-Broadway premiere of the same ground-breaking work.

  • Nell Carter

    Nell Carter won her featured actress in a musical award for Ain't Misbehavin', a rousing tributre to black artists who drove the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s. She later won a Primetime Emmy Award for her reprisal of the role on television in 1982. From 1981 to 1987, she played Nell Harper on the show Gimme a Break, for which she won two Emmys and two Golden Globes. 

  • Zakes Mokae

    Zakes Mokae, who was born in South Africa and moved to the United States in 1969, won the Tony for best featured actor in a play for his role in Athol Fugard's seminal anti-apartheid drama, "Master Harold"...and the Boys.

  • Cleavant Derricks

    Cleavant Derricks won a Tony Award for his featured role in Dreamgirls, as well a Drama Desk Award. He was the original James "Thunder" Early on Broadway in the smash musical, directed by Michael Bennett. After his big wins, he started a career in film and TV, becoming best knonw for his role as Rembrandt Brown on the sci-fi/fantasy series Sliders.

  • Jennifer Holliday

    Alongside Cleavant Derricks on stage was Jennifer Holliday, who had appeared in Your Arms Too Short to Box With God the previous year. She won a Tony for best actress in a musical for her performance as Effie White in Dreamgirls. That year, she also won a Grammy Award for her powerrhouse number from the show, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." The same role would later win Jennifer Hudson an Oscar for Bill Condon's screen version.

  • Ben Harney

    Last but not least of the Dreamgirls original cast, Ben Harney won a leading actor award for his portrayal of Curtis Taylor Jr. 

  • Ron Richardson

    As Jim in Big River, a bluegrass-country reinterpretation of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ron Richardson won a featured actor in a musical Tony. Just ten years later, Richardson died of an AIDS-related illness. 

  • Mary Alice

    Mary Alice originated the role of Rose Maxson in the Broadway production of August Wilson's Fences — the same role that won Viola Davis an Oscar in 2017. For her performance, Alice won the best featured actress in a play Tony, going on to have a full career in television and film.

  • Laurence Fishburne

    Laurence Fishburne is a Tony, Emmy and Academy Award nominee, scoring wins in the former two award races. He earned his Tony for best featured actor in a play for the 1992 premiere of Two Trains Running by August Wilson, winning the Drama Desk Award for the same portrayal.

  • Gregory Hines

    Beloved dancer, singer, actor and choreographer Hines received three Tony nominations (for Eubie!, Comin' Uptown and Sophisticated Ladies) before finally winning for Jelly's Last Jam, about pioneering jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton. Although he won for best leading actor in a musical, Hines also choreographed the tap numbers with Ted L. Levy.

  • Audra McDonald

    Broadway royalty Audra McDonald has more performance Tonys than any other actor with six wins under her belt. She is the only person to win all four acting categories. She won her first Tony for best featured actress in 1994 for the musical Carousel. Two years later, she won the featured actress in a play for Master Class. Then, two years after that, she earned a second best featured actress in a musical award for Ragtime. In 2004, she doubled her featured actress in a play award with A Raisin in the Sun, in a production that marked Sean Combs' Broadway debut. McDonald won her first leading actress Tony in 2012 for her role as Bess in the classic Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess. Most recently, the Theater Hall of Famer snagged the best performance by a leading actress in a play award as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

  • Jeffrey Wright

    Jeffrey Wright, currently on the hit HBO show Westworld, in 1993 made his Broadway debut as Norman "Belize" Arriaga in Tony Kushner's epic masterwork Angels in America. A gay nurse forced to take care of closeted arch-conservative political fixer Roy Cohn as he dies of AIDS, the role of Belize earned Wright the Tony for best featured actor in a play. Angels in America is comprised of the two parts Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, which won best play Tonys in 1993 and 1994, respectively. In 2003, Wright reprised his role in Mike Nichols' television movie of the play for HBO. 


  • Ruben Santiago-Hudson

    In 1996, August Wilson's Seven Guitars helped Ruben Santiago-Hudson win the Tony for best featured actor in a play. Santiago-Hudson has worked as an actor, playwright and director, winning awards for all three. His television credits include The West Wing, Law & Order, Designated Survivor and Castle. In recent years, he has established himself as a leading director of Wilson's work, most recently with the 2017 production of Jitney, which won that year's Tony for best revival of a play.

  • Ann Duquesnay

    Duquesnay co-wrote Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk with Daryl Waters and Zane Mark in 1996. She also played the roles of 'Da Singer and Chanteuse in the musical revue, which explored black American history from slavery to the present through tap dance and its influence on hip-hop and funk. Not only did she win best featured actress in a musical but Duquesnay also was nominated for best original score. 

  • Lynne Thigpen

    Thigpen earned her Tony Award for her portrayal of Dr. Judith Kaufman in Wendy Wasserstein's An American Daughter. Alongside her featured actress in a play award, the stage veteran earned Emmy nominations for her work in the children's series Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego and Bear in the Big Blue House.

  • Lillias White

    Lillias White has appeared on Broadway in Cats, Carrie, Once on This Island, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Chicago and Fela! She received her Tony for her role as street-smart hooker Sonja in Cy Coleman's The Life, for which she also won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards.

  • Chuck Cooper

    As the pimp, Memphis, in The Life, Chuck Cooper won best performance by a featured actor in a musical 14 years after his Broadway debut. Later, he appeared in Chicago, Caroline, or Change, Finian's Rainbow, Act One, Amazing Grace and Prince of Broadway.

  • Heather Headley

    Born in Trinidad, Heather Headley has received Tony, Grammy and Drama Desk awards. She earned her best leading actress Tony for originating the title role in Disney's Aida. She also originated Nala in The Lion King musical. In 2012, she played Rachel Marron in London in the musical adaptation of the Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard, a performance that earned her an Olivier Award nomination.

  • Brian Stokes Mitchell

    Mitchell earned his first Tony nomination for his role in Ragtime in 1998, but he wouldn't win the Broadway award for two more years, when he appeared in the revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate as Fred Graham/Petruchio, winning best actor in a musical. He received two more lead actor nominations in the two years that followed, first for the August Wilson play King Hedley II and then for the musical Man of La Mancha.

  • Viola Davis

    In 2001, Viola Davis won her first Tony Award (and a Drama Desk Award to go with it) for playing Tonya in August Wilson's King Hedley II. Seven years later, she was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for best supporting actress in Doubt, a film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley play of the same name. She earned her second Tony for best featured actress in a play for her role as Rose Maxson in Fences. Davis reprised that role in Denzel Washington's film adaptation of Fences, winning the Oscar for best supporting actress. That was her third nomination (the second was for The Help), making her the first black actress to be nominated three times, a record she now shares with Octavia Spencer. 

  • Anika Noni Rose

    Anika Noni Rose won the Tony award for best featured actress in a musical for her role as Emmie Thibodeaux in Caroline, or Change. Rose returned to Broadway in 2014 for a revival of A Raisin in the Sun. She received a best featured actress in a play Tony nomination for her role as Beneatha Younger. 

  • Phylicia Rashad

    Phylicia Rashad's Broadway credits include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jelly's Last Jam, Into the Woods, The Wiz, Dreamgirls and more. She won a Tony for lead actress in a play for her role as Lena Younger in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and was nominated again for the same award the following year for August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean.

  • Adriane Lenox

    Despite relatively brief stage time in a single indelible scene, Lenox won the Tony Award for best performance by a featured actress in a play for her role in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt. She received a second nomination for the musical revue After Midnight in 2014.

  • LaChanze

    LaChanze earned her first Tony Award nomination, for best featured actress in a musical, for her work as Ti Moune in the premiere of Once on This Island in 1990. In 2005, she played Celie in the musical The Color Purple, winning best actress for the stirring role. She made a return to Broadway in 2014 as Kate in If/Then, also starring Anthony Rapp and Idina Menzel; and in 2018 is one of three performers playing the title figure at various ages in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, earning her another lead actress nomination.

  • Roger Robinson

    Roger Robinson made his Broadway debut opposite Al Pacino in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? in 1969. Forty years later, Robinson won a Tony Award for best performance by a featured actor in a play for the 2009 revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone by August Wilson, a playwright whose gritty yet lyrical works have earned many black actors awards recognition over the decades.

  • Denzel Washington

    Denzel Washington played Troy Maxson to Viola Davis' Rose in the 2010 revival of August Wilson's Fences. The role landed him his first Tony, for best actor in a play, to stand alongside his two Academy Awards. The first was for Glory in 1990 and the second for Training Day in 2002. Washington earned his seventh Oscar nomination for reprising his Tony-winning role in the 2017 film version of Fences that he also directed, but he lost to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. He was also nominated for best picture as a producer, but that Oscar went to Moonlight producers Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. Washington earned his eighth Oscar nod in 2018 for best actor in Roman J. Israel, Esq. Also in 2018, he scored another Tony nom for lead actor in a play for the demanding role of Hickey in Eugene O'Neill's epic barfly drama, The Iceman Cometh.

  • Nikki M. James

    The Book of Mormon dominated the 2011 Tony Awards, winning in nine of its 14 nominated categories. Along with the best musical, book, original score and direction of a musical awards, the show's sweep included best featured actress in a musical for Nikki M. James. She made her Broadway debut in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, after playing Dorothy in a revival of The Wiz. From 2014 to 2015, she played Eponine in Broadway's Les Miserables. 

  • Billy Porter

    Billy Porter is a singer, actor, vocal coach and performer. He originated the role of drag queen Lola in Kinky Boots on Broadway, which has music by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein. For this role, Porter won a Tony Award for best actor in a musical. He has since started a music career and released three albums. In September of 2017, Porter returned to Kinky Boots for a 15-week engagement. More recently, he landed a key role in the Ryan Murphy series Pose.

  • Patina Miller

    Before becoming a series regular on Madam Secretary, Patina Miller earned her first Tony nomination for her role as Deloris Van Cartier in the Broadway production of Sister Act in 2011. She later won best actress in a musical for her Leading Player performance in the revival of Pippin, the same role that had won Ben Vereen a Tony the first time around in 1973.

  • Cicely Tyson

    Esteemed veteran Cicley Tyson, who made her Broadway debut in 1959, won the Tony for best actress in a play in 2013 for her role in Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, a performance she reprised the following year in the Lifetime TV movie. The award came after the actress had already racked up a plethora of film, TV and theater credits, including for big-screen roles in movies like Fried Green Tomatoes and The Help. She received an Oscar nomination in 1973 for Sounder and played iconic TV roles in the original version of Roots and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

  • Courtney B. Vance

    After three nominations, Courtney B. Vance finally won a Tony for best featured actor in a play for his performance as Hap Hairston, appearing opposite Tom Hanks in Nora Ephron's posthumously produced newspaper play, Lucky Guy. Before that, Vance was nominated in the same category for his role as Cory Maxson in the 1987 production of Fences. He nabbed a best actor nod in 1991 for his role in Six Degrees of Separation.

  • James Monroe Iglehart

    Iglehart gave a Tony-winning performance, for best featured actor in a musical, for his show-stopping role as the Genie in the Broadway production of Disney's Aladdin. He left the role in February 2017 to take over as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway company of Hamilton and also has made occasional appearances on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

  • Renee Elise Goldsberry

    Goldsberry originated the role of Angelica Schuyler in Lin-Manuel Miranda's blockbuster hip-hop historical musical, Hamilton, winning for best featured actress, one of 11 Tonys bagged by the game-changing show.

  • Leslie Odom Jr.

    Leslie Odom Jr. first worked with Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Encores! Off-Center production of Tick, Tick...Boom! as Michael. In 2015, he was nominated for Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel awards for best featured actor in a musical for his role as Aaron Burr in the off-Broadway premiere of Hamilton at the Public Theater. He continued in the role after the show transferred to Broadway, beating out co-star Miranda for the best actor in a musical Tony. Odom, along with the other original cast members, earned Grammy awards for the Hamilton cast album. He left the role in July 2016 and has since appeared on the big screen in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express remake.

  • Cynthia Erivo

    British actress Cynthia Erivo made a star-is-born Broadway debut in the 2015 reimagining of The Color Purple. She played Celie alongside Jennifer Hudson and Danielle Brooks. Among many other awards, Erivo won the Tony for best actress in a musical — the same honor won by LaChanze in the original production ten years earlier. In 2017, Erivo and the rest of the cast won a Daytime Emmy Award for their performance on Today, marking the first time a Broadway musical had won recognition in that category.

  • Daveed Diggs

    Daveed Diggs didn't just originate the role of Thomas Jefferson in the off-Broadway production of Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda invited him to workshop early versions of the musical, then called The Hamilton Mixtape. They did a performance at Vassar Reading Festival in 2013, at that time with Anika Noni Rose as Angelica Schuyler and Utkarsh Ambudkar as Aaron Burr. The cast changed over time, but Diggs stayed on for the Broadway production, earning a Tony for best featured actor in a musical for his dual-track role as Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette. When Diggs left in July 2016, previous Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart took over. 

    *Winners not pictured are Lillian Hayman from Hallelujah, Baby!; Linda Hopkins from Inner City; Hinton Battle, who won three Tonys; Leilani Jones from Grind; L. Scott Caldwell from Joe Turner's Come and Gone; Delores Hall from Your Arms Too Short to Box With God; and Ruth Brown from the musical revue Black and Blue.