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*Vinnette Carroll was born on this date in 1922. She was a Black actress, playwright, and director from New York City.
Her parents were Florence and Edgar Carroll. When she was three, the family moved to Jamaica; and consequently, young Carroll spent much of her childhood in the West Indies. She received a B.A. from Long Island University in 1944; and an M.A. from New York University in 1946, followed by doctoral work in psychology at Columbia University. Carroll’s father encouraged his daughters to become physicians, and as a compromise, she chose psychology. Carroll worked as a clinical psychologist with the NYC Bureau of Child Guidance before pursuing acting.
In 1948, she accepted a scholarship to attend the Erwin Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research and studied with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Margaret Barker, and Susan Steele. She made her professional stage debut at the Falmouth Playhouse acting in Androcles and the Lion. Later, in due to the shortage of roles, Carroll created a one-woman show and toured the United States and the West Indies. For eleven years she taught theater arts and directed productions as a member of the faculty of the high school of Performing Arts in New York City.
Her Broadway acting debut came in 1956 when she appeared in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1967, she founded the Urban Arts Corps in New York City, an organization assisting minority performers in all theatrical disciplines. Serving as Artistic Director, Carroll selected and directed all of the Urban Arts Corps’ productions, concentrating in works by Black writers and composers, sometimes writing the material herself. In 1972, Carroll began her collaboration with songwriter Micki Grant. She became the first African American woman to direct a production on Broadway when Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope opened at the Playhouse Theatre.
Carroll and Grant collaborated on other pieces such as Your Arms Too Short to Box with God and Ups and Downs of Theophilus Maitland. A talented actress, playwright, and director, Carroll received numerous honors and awards including an Emmy Award, an Obie Award, three Tony Award nominations, and was inducted into the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame in 1979. She was a member of Actors Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild and was the Producing Artistic Director, as well as the founder, of the Vinnette Carroll Repertory Company, which has its permanent home in a church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Vinnette Carroll, Broadway’s first Black woman director, died on November 5, 2002 in Lauderhill, Florida.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York