Veteran Broadway singer-actress Audra McDonald walked away with a piece of Great White Way history Sunday night when she won her sixth Tony Award, rendering her a Tony award-winning record breaker. No actor or actress in the history of the awards ceremony has ever taken home a Tony in each of the four performance categories.
At only 43-years-old, McDonald took the coveted lead actress in a play award, garnering her a rousing standing ovation from an entire auditorium of her peers. She won the award for her portrayal of legendary jazz singer, Billie Holiday, in the hit play Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.
McDonald tearfully accepted the honor, thanking her deceased father, and thanking her parents for deciding not to medicate her for being hyperactive, but to instead nurture her interests. McDonald also thanked her husband; actor Will Swenson, and her stepsons. McDonald then thanked her 13-year-old daughter Zoe who sat grinning as McDonald declared that she is absolutely nothing without her.
McDonald also paid homage to the women who paved the way for her, citing the names of Lena Horne, Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Diahanne Carroll, and finally Billie Holiday to whom she dedicated the award, noting that Holiday deserved much more than she was given while she was alive.
The record-breaking Tony Award for McDonald was preceded by her past five Tonys. The first came in 1994 win for best featured actress in a musical for Carousel. Then a 1998 win for best featured actress in a musical for Ragtime. Followed by a 1996 win for best featured actress in a play for Master Class. A 2004 win for best featured actress in a play for A Raisin in the Sun, and a 2012 win for best lead actress in a musical for Porgy and Bess.
In a recent interview McDonald noted how she had to change her vocal approach in capturing the style of Billie Holiday. She explained that she borrowed from her grandmother’s voice which reminded her of Holiday, and that it took her a year and a half to finally blend Billie’s voice into her own. McDonald also revealed that she went to sleep listening to Holiday via earphones.
McDonald was born in 1970 in West Berlin, Germany. Her father was a military man. Later her family settled in Fresno, California. Both of McDonald’s parents were musicians. Along with her aunts, her family formed a gospel group called The McDonald Sisters. Young McDonald began performing in her grade school years. She and her sister, Allison performed in local theaters. McDonald then attended a performing arts high school, and finally went on to Julliard. She graduated Julliard in 1993.
While at Julliard, McDonald was expected to adopt a classical background and grew increasingly unhappy, as it muted her creative passion for contemporary expression. For a brief time she became suicidal and was hospitalized for a month.
The record-breaking Tony award winner, Audra McDonald, has also made her mark in television. Her appearances include the tv shows; Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, and the recent television special, The Sound of Music Live.
By Janet Walters Levite