- Search The Registry
- Teacher’s Forum
- Youth Programs
- About Us
- Creating Support
- My Account
*Ethel Ayler was born on this date in 1930. She was a Black character actress.
She was born Ethel Spraggins Ayler in Whistler, Alabama and attended Fisk University, majoring in voice. While there she learned to sing in French, Spanish, Italian and German. Ayler moved to Chicago for a singing career and began acting when she won a role in a touring company of Porgy and Bess. In 1957, she made her off-Broadway debut in the Langston Hughes musical, Simply Heavenly. Later that year, she debuted on Broadway in the multiple Tony Award-nominated musical, Jamaica as an understudy for Lena Horne (also making her Broadway debut).
Another notable early performance was in Jean Genet's play, The Blacks: A Clown Show, which ran off-Broadway for 1,408 performances and received three Obie Awards, including Best New Play. The impressive cast of Black actors included three future Academy Award nominees: James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson and Louis Gossett, Jr. Throughout her career, Ayler appeared frequently with the Negro Ensemble Company. This included notable performances in The First Breeze of Summer, Eden and Nevis Mountain Dew.
On television, Ayler had a recurring role as Carrie Hanks, Claire Huxtable's mother on The Cosby Show. She also had performances in the films To Sleep with Anger (1990) and Eve's Bayou (1997). For her work in To Sleep with Anger, Ayler received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best supporting female. Her last Broadway appearance was in another Tony-nominated production, The Little Foxes, in 1997. Ethel Ayler with a career spanning over five decades that included stage and television and film died on November 18, 2018.