The Kennedy Center

Debbie Allen



Biography

Debbie Allen was born in Houston, Texas and began her dance training by studying privately with a former dancer of the Ballet Russes and later danced with the Ballet Nacional de Mexico. In 1964, Allen auditioned for the Houston Foundation for Ballet, where she was admitted on a full scholarship and became the company’s first black dancer. In 1971, after graduating from Howard University with a concentration in theatre, she appeared on Broadway as a chorus member of Purlie. Two years later, she played a principal role in Raisin, the musical adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun. Then, in 1979, she played Anita in a Broadway revival of West Side Story, earning her a Drama Desk Award and a Tony Award nomination.

In 1981, she made her film debut in Ragtime and then appeared in the movie Fame as dance teacher Lydia Grant. When the movie became a television series, Allen developed the role of Lydia Grant more fully, bringing her international recognition, two Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award. Allen remained with the show until 1987, serving as choreographer, director and producer. Allen returned to Broadway and received her second Tony nomination with a 1986-87 performance in Sweet Charity. In 1988, she became director of the television series, A Different World, and the following year hosted her first television special, The Debbie Allen Show. From 1991-1994, Allen was choreographer for the Academy Awards show and, in 1992, produced and directed the television movie Stompin’ at the Savoy.

In 1997, Allen produced the highly acclaimed film Amistad, bringing to life the heroic story that she had wanted to do for over a decade. Featured among her Kennedy Center productions from 1995-2000 are Pepito’s Story, Soul Possessed, Pearl, and Brothers of the Knight. In 2001, Allen opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles -- harkening back to the days when she played the title role of dance instructor in Fame. In recognition of her career in entertainment, Allen has been honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Ms. Allen, daughter of Vivian Ayers and sister to Tex, Hugh and Phylicia Rashad, resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Norman Nixon, and their two children, Vivian and Norman "Thump" Jr.
Photo of Debbie Allen

Additional Resources