Whether it was crotchety old Fred Sanford gripping his heart for “the big one,” Oprah Winfrey screaming “you get a car!,” Cicely Tyson as Miss Jane Pitman taking a hard-fought sip from a desegregated water fountain, or the Cosby kids lip-synching to Ray Charles, the contributions that African Americans have made to the medium that is television are vast and all-encompassing. Last night (October 26), the Paley Center for Media—a nonprofit institution dedicated to the discussion of the cultural, creative and social significance of television, radio and emerging platforms—recognized those contributions during their Hollywood Tribute to African-American Achievements in Television.
Quite a few Black, beautiful faces adorned the ballroom of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. The room was filled with the biggest Black stars in Hollywood for a fabulous ceremony, which also honored BET for celebrating its 35th anniversary and commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Regina King, Tyler Perry, Ava DuVernay, Anthony Anderson, Tichina Arnold, Brandy, Tyra Banks, 50 Cent, Louis Gossett Jr., Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Niecy Nash, Don Cheadle, S. Epatha Merkerson, Terrence Howard and Ice-T were just some of the big names in attendance presenting honors.
The night also included presentations from Black Hollywood talent across generations, who paid homage to creative visionaries from the entertainment community. Acknowledgements of nearly seven decades of African-American excellence and achievement in the fields of drama, comedy, news and talk, sports and music were all celebrated with vignettes of iconic moments in television produced to perfection.
The room collectively cheered watching Michael Jackson bust out the moonwalk for the first time on Motown 25, and held their breath as Whitney Houston belted out “I Will Always Love You” at the 1994 Grammy Awards. They roared with laughter as Flip Wilson appeared as slick-talking Geraldine and were overcome with emotion as Stuart Scott shouted “booyah!”
Diahann Carroll, who shined in TV shows like Julia, Dynasty and A Different World, as well as TV movies like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Roots: The Next Generation, was presented a special award for her vast achievements on the small screen. During her acceptance speech, the legendary entertainer gushed about how happy she was that the achievements of young Black actors were being recognized. She also spoke about how honored she was to be receiving an award for her television contributions.
“I love this profession and I love how fantastic we are in it,” she said, as the room broke into applause. “You make me feel extremely proud. I’m about to have my 81st birthday. It’s been very hard hanging on to these strings so long, but I’ve had a hell of a good time.”
Quincy Jones, 82, was also honored for his tremendous and legendary contributions to TV in both music and producing. From the iconic theme song for Sanford and Son to the soul-searing soundtrack to Roots, Jones has composed the themes to 13 network television shows from 1966 to 1986, including Ironside and The Bill Cosby Show. “I’ve been so blessed to have been able to contribute… We’ve come a long way from the times when you didn’t even see faces of color on the TV,” Jones said.
As recently at 2006, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne was the only Black show on television. The landscape of television is ever changing, and today more than ever, shows are beginning to represent the lives that we all live through a collection of unique and different experiences. With Empire, Being Mary Jane, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Black-ish and more, African-American achievements in television are being displayed like never before.
Quincy Jones summed it up best last night when he said, “Today, we got wonderful young talent both in front of the scenes and behind the cameras and in the writer’s room and in the executive offices: Young men and women who are tearing it up and contributing to the industry in every way, from the creative side and making decisions in the front office. We still got a long way to go. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go. And we’re going to go too!”—Crystal Shaw King
Crystal Shaw King is a seasoned TV, radio and online entertainment writer. She's also a contributing editor for a social justice foundation in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @crystalamberbam.