Debbie Allen was honored with the 2021 Governors Award on Sunday at the 73rd annual Emmy Awards for her contributions to television as an actress, writer, producer, director, dancer and choreographer. She’s also being lauded by the Television Academy for inspiring and mentoring youth from marginalized communities in the arts.
“Let this moment resonate with women across the world and across this country, from Texas to Afghanistan,” said Allen during her acceptance speech. “For young people, who have no vote, who can’t even get a vaccine—they’re inheriting the world that we live in and will leave them. It’s time for you to claim your power. Claim your voice, sing your song, tell your stories. It will make us a better place. Your turn.”
The multihyphenate has a total of 20 Emmy nominations under her belt, including five wins and tonight’s special honor. Last weekend she took home two Creative Arts Emmys for her contributions to Netflix’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square: one individual for Outstanding Choreography For a Scripted Program, and one shared as an executive producer when the special won Outstanding Television Movie.
Allen, who is also a two-time Tony Award winner, began her career as a Broadway performer in the early ’70s with roles in Purlie, Raisin and West Side Story.
Hollywood came calling in 1976 with a role in Good Times; her own NBC variety show, 3 Girls 3; and a role in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generation from Alex Haley.
Her career was on the verge of exploding after she was cast as Lydia Grant in the film Fame. Though the role was small on the big screen, it was expanded in a TV adaptation of the same name that ran from 1982-1987.
Allen blossomed behind the scenes after Fame, which began as producer and director of A Different World. The series, a spinoff of The Cosby Show starring her sister Phylicia Rashad, followed the lives of students at a historically Black college. Allen herself is a graduate of Howard University, the HBC where she earned a B.A. in classical Greek literature, speech and theater.
Allen, an artist in residence at the Kennedy Center for over 15 years and who founded the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, has choreographed for the likes of Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Gwen Verdon, Carmen de Lavallade, Diane Carroll, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Dolly Parton and Savion Glover, as well as 10 times for the Academy Awards ceremony.
Her directing, producing, and acting credits also include the likes of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, Jane the Virgin, Empire, Insecure, Everybody Hates Chris, Stompin’ at the Savoy, Polly, That’s So Raven, Cool Women, Quantum Leap, and The Fantasia Barrino Story, Grace and Frankie, and The Ms. Pat Show.
In 2020, Allen was a recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.
Watch her speech in full above.