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Debbie Allen
Debbie Allen.jpg
Allen in 2012
Deborah Kaye Allen

(1950-01-16) January 16, 1950 (age 71)
EducationHoward University
OccupationActress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, television director, television producer
Years active1968–present
Win Wilford
(m. 1975⁠–⁠1983)

(m. 1984)
Children3, including Vivian Nixon
RelativesPhylicia Rashad (sister)
Condola Rashad (niece)
Awards1982 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography (Fame)
1982 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy (Fame)
1983 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography (Fame)
1991 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography (Motown 30: What's Goin' On!)
WebsiteDebbie Allen Dance Academy
Debbie Allen Twitter

Deborah Kaye Allen (born January 16, 1950) is an American actress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, director, producer, and a former member of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.[1][2] She has been nominated 20 times for an Emmy Award (winning five),[3] two Tony Awards,[4] and has also won a Golden Globe Award[5] and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.

Allen is best known for her work in the musical-drama television series Fame (1982-1987), where she portrayed dance teacher Lydia Grant, and served as the series' principal choreographer. For this role in 1983 she received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy and two Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography and was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Allen later began working as director and producer, most notably producing and directing 83 of 144 episodes of NBC comedy series A Different World (1988-1993). She returned to acting playing the leading role in the NBC sitcom In the House from 1995 to 1996, and in 2011 began playing Dr. Catherine Avery in the ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy also serving as an executive producer/director.[6] She has directed more than 50 television and film productions.

In 2001, Allen opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles,[7][8] where she currently teaches young dancers. She also taught choreography to former Los Angeles Lakers dancer-turned-singer, Paula Abdul. She is the younger sister of actress/director/singer Phylicia Rashad.

Early life

Allen was born in Houston, Texas, the third child to orthodontist Andrew Arthur Allen and Pulitzer Prize-nominated artist, poet, playwright, scholar, and publisher, Vivian (née Ayers) Allen.[9] She earned a B.A. degree in classical Greek literature, speech, and theater from Howard University and studied acting at HB Studio in New York City.[10] She was a member of Chi Delta Mu Health Professional Fraternity.[11] She holds honoris causa doctorates from Howard University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Challenges with racism

Debbie Allen auditioned at the Houston Ballet Academy at the age of twelve. Even though her audition performance surpassed the standard for admission, Debbie Allen was denied admission to the school. A year later, Allen was given another chance and admitted by a Russian instructor who accidentally saw Allen perform in a show.[citation needed] Once admission recruiters from the academy became aware of the situation, they allowed Allen to stay in the institution because they were pleased with the talent she had showcased. While at the academy, she trained under Suzelle Poole.

Allen in 1983
Allen in 1983

Her experience at the Houston Ballet Academy is not the only time Allen had experienced racism. When she was sixteen, she had a successful audition for the North Carolina School of the Arts, and was given an opportunity to demonstrate dance techniques to other prospective students applying to the institution. Unfortunately, Allen was refused admission, and was told her body was not suited for ballet.[12][13] In many cases, African American dancers were discouraged from dance because they were told their body structure did not fit the preferred stereotype ballet dancer's body. This prejudice effectively barred many talented and skilled dancers from ballet.[14][15] After receiving numerous rejections, Allen decided to mainly focus on her academics and, from then on, was well on her way to the start of her career.[16]


1970–1981: Early works

Allen began her career appearing on Broadway theatre. Allen had her Broadway debut in the chorus of Purlie in 1970.[4] She later created the role of Beneatha in the Tony Award-winning musical Raisin (1973), and appeared in Truckload, and Ain't Misbehavin'. In 1980, she received critical attention for her performance as Anita in the Broadway revival of West Side Story which earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and won her a Drama Desk Award.[4]

In 1976, Allen made her television debut appearing in the CBS sitcom Good Times in a memorable 2-part episode titled "J.J.'s Fiancée" as J.J.'s drug-addicted fiancée, Diana. The following year, she went to star in the NBC variety show 3 Girls 3.[17] Allen later was selected to appear in the 1979 miniseries Roots: The Next Generations by Alex Haley where she plays the wife of Haley. Also that year, she made her big screen debut appearing in a supporting role in the comedy film The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. In 1981, she had the important role of Sarah, the lover of Coalhouse Walker (Howard E. Rollins) who is killed while trying to defend him in the movie version of the best-selling novel Ragtime. The same role earned a Tony Award for Audra McDonald, for her performance in the Broadway musical.

With The Kids from "Fame" (1983). Debbie Allen is center, with sunglasses on top of her head.
With The Kids from "Fame" (1983). Debbie Allen is center, with sunglasses on top of her head.

1982–1987: Fame

Allen was first introduced as Lydia Grant in the film Fame (1980). Although her role in the film was relatively small, Lydia became a central figure in the television adaptation, which ran from 1982 to 1987. During the opening montage of each episode, Grant told her students: "You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat." Allen was nominated for the Emmy Award for Best Actress four times during the show's run.[3] She is the only actress to have appeared in all three screen incarnations of Fame, playing Lydia Grant in both the 1980 film and 1982 television series and playing the school principal in the 2009 remake. Allen was also lead choreographer for the film and television series, winning two Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography and one Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy.[5] She became the first Black woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Series—Musical or Comedy.[18]

In 1986, Allen received a second Tony Award nomination, at that time for Best Actress in a Musical, for her performance in the title role of Bob Fosse's Sweet Charity.[4] Also that year, she had supporting role in the comedy-drama film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling directed, produced by and starring Richard Pryor.


After Fame, Allen began focus on working off-camera. In an article from the Museum of Broadcast Communications, The Hollywood Reporter commented on Allen's impact as the producer-director of the television series, A Different World. The show dealt with the life of students at the fictional historically black college, Hillman, and ran for six seasons on NBC.[19] The Hollywood Reporter is quoted as stating that when Debbie Allen became the producer (and usually director) of A Different World after the first season, she transformed it "from a bland Cosby spin-off into a lively, socially responsible, ensemble situation comedy."[20] She directed total 83 episodes.

Allen at the Kennedy Center in 1998
Allen at the Kennedy Center in 1998

Allen has released two solo albums, Sweet Charity (1986) and Special Look (1989), which also produced several singles.[21] Also that year, she directed musical film Polly. She later directed crime drama film Out-of-Sync (1995) and well as number of television films. She was choreographer of The Academy Awards Show for ten years, six of which were consecutive. In 1995, Allen lent her voice (as well directing the voice cast) to the children's animated series C Bear and Jamal for Film Roman and Fox Kids. Also that year, she went to star in the NBC sitcom In the House that ran two seasons. She co-produced the 1997 Steven Spielberg historical drama film Amistad receiving a Producers Guild of America Award.

In 2001, Allen founded the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, a 501(c)3 non profit organization.[8] Since 2007, Allen was participated as a judge and mentor for the U.S. version of So You Think You Can Dance. She had to step aside at the end of Vegas week in Season 4 to avoid perception of bias, as one of her former dancers, Will, made it to the top 20.

In 2008, Allen directed the all-African-American Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring stage veterans James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), her sister Phylicia Rashad (Big Mama) and Anika Noni Rose (Maggie the Cat), as well as film actor Terrence Howard, who made his Broadway debut as Brick. The production, with some roles recast, had a limited run (2009 – April 2010) in London.[22] She also directed and starred in the 2001 play and its television adaptation The Old Settler.

In 2000s and 2010s, Allen directed television shows, including 44 episodes of All of Us, as well as Girlfriends, Everybody Hates Chris, How to Get Away with Murder, Empire, Scandal and Jane the Virgin. In 2011, she joined the cast of ABC medical drama Grey's Anatomy playing the role of Dr. Catherine Fox. As of 12th season, she served as an executive producer.[6] In 2020, she directed the musical film Christmas on the Square starring Dolly Parton for Netflix.[23][24]

Awards and honors

Personal life

Allen is married to former NBA player Norm Nixon;[31] the couple have three children: dancer Vivian Nichole Nixon, basketball player Norman Ellard Nixon Jr. (Wofford College & Southern University), and DeVaughn Nixon. Allen was previously married to Win Wilford from 1975 to 1983.[32][33][34] She is the sister of actress/director/singer Phylicia Rashad (she guest starred in an episode of The Cosby Show & Rashad in an episode of In the House and also Greys Anatomy), and Tex Allen (Andrew Arthur Allen III, born 1945), a jazz composer.[9]

Vivian played Kalimba in the Broadway production of Hot Feet.



Year Title Role Notes
1979 The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh Ola
1980 Fame Lydia Grant
1981 Ragtime Sarah
1986 Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling Michelle
1994 Blank Check Yvonne
1995 Out-of-Sync Manicurist Director and producer
1997 Amistad Producer
Producers Guild of America Visionary Award – Theatrical Motion Pictures
Nominated—Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture
Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture, Drama
2000 Everything's Jake Librarian
2001 All About You Ruth
2001 The Painting Bertha Lee Gilmore Executive producer
2005 Confessions of an Action Star Herself / Deity
2007 Tournament of Dreams Rhonda Dillins
2009 Next Day Air Ms. Jackson
2009 Fame Principal Angela Simms
2013 A Star for Rose Rose Producer
2020 Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker Herself


Year Title Role Notes
1976 Good Times Diana Buchanan Episodes: "J.J.'s Fiancée: Part 1 " and "J.J.'s Fiancée: Part 2"
1977 3 Girls 3 Herself 4 episodes
1977 The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened Julie Sutton Television film
1979 Roots: The Next Generations Nan Branch Haley Episode: "Part VI (1939-1950)"
1979 Ebony, Ivory & Jade Claire 'Ebony' Bryant Television film
1982 Alice at the Palace Red Queen Television film
1979–1983 The Love Boat Reesa Marlowe / Selena Moore 3 episodes
1983 Women of San Quentin Carol Freeman Television film
1983 Live... And in Person Herself TV special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
1984 Celebrity Regina Brown Miniseries
1985 Motown Returns to the Apollo Herself TV special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics
1986 An All-Star Celebration Honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Herself TV special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
1982–1987 Fame Lydia Grant Series regular, 136 episodes, also producer
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy (1983)
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography (1982-1983)
Golden Apple Award for Female Discovery of the Year (1982)
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy (1984-1985)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1982-1985)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography (1984-1985)
1988 The Cosby Show Emma Episode: "If the Dress Fits, Wear It"
1991 Quantum Leap Joanna Chapman Episode: "Private Dancer - October 6, 1979"
1991 Motown 30: What's Goin' On! Herself TV special
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1991 Sunday in Paris Sunday Chase Unsold TV pilot, also executive producer
1992 64th Academy Awards Herself TV special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1992 Stompin' at the Savoy Estelle Television film, also director
1988–1993 A Different World Dr. Langhorne/Herself 122 episodes, showrunner and producer
1993 65th Academy Awards Herself TV special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1995 67th Academy Awards Herself TV special
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Choreography in Film or Television
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1995–1996 In the House Jackie Warren Series regular, 26 episodes
1996 Touched by an Angel Valerie Hill Episode: "Sins of the Father"
1997 Cosby Debra Episode: "Dating Games"
1999 71st Academy Awards Herself TV special
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1999 Michael Jordan: An American Hero Deloris Jordan Television film
2001 The Old Settler Quilly Television film, also executive producer
2003 The Division Wanda Episode: "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"
2004 All of Us Kate Episode: "Parents Just Don't Understand"
2007–2014 So You Think You Can Dance Herself - Guest Judge 21 episodes
2011 Grace Helen Grace Unsold TV pilot, also executive producer
2011–present Grey's Anatomy Dr. Catherine Avery Fox Recurring role, also executive producer
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2014)
2013 Let's Stay Together Cougar Episode: "Kita's Got a Gun"
2016 Dance Moms Herself Episodes: "Abby's Replaceable" and "Debbie Allen to the Rescue"
2016 Jane the Virgin Beverly Flores Episode: "Chapter Forty-Three"
2018 Raven's Home Aunt Maureen Episode: "Switch or Treat"
2018–present S.W.A.T. Charice Harrelson Recurring role
2020 Grace and Frankie Dorothy Episode: "The Short Rib"


Year Title Notes
1984 Janet Jackson: Dream Street
1984–1987 Fame 11 episodes
1987 The Bronx Zoo Episode: "Lost and Found"
1987–1989 Family Ties Episodes: "The Play's the Thing" and "Higher Love"
1989 The Debbie Allen Special Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1989 Polly Television film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography
1990 Melba Moore: Lift Every Voice and Sing
1990 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Episodes: "Bang the Drum, Ashley" and "The Fresh Prince Project"
1990 Polly: Comin' Home! Television film
1992 The Boys Unsold TV pilot, also executive producer
1992 Stompin' at the Savoy Television film
1991–1993 Quantum Leap Episodes: "Revenge of the Evil Leaper - September 16, 1987" and "Private Dancer - October 6, 1979"
1993 Sinbad: Afros and Bellbottoms
1988–1993 A Different World 83 episodes, producer in 122 episodes
1993–1994 The Sinbad Show 7 episodes
1997 Between Brothers Episodes: "The List" and "The Big Three-Oh"
1997–1998 The Jamie Foxx Show Episode: "Soul Mate to Cellmate" and "Misery Loves Company"
1998 Linc's Episode: "March on Washington: Part 1"
1998 Martin Luther King Special One Day Television film, also executive producer
1999 Kirk Franklin: The Nu Nation Tour
2001 The Old Settler Television film, also executive producer
2002 Cool Women Nominated—Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Directing
2003 The Twilight Zone Episode: "The Monsters Are on Maple Street"
2003 The Parkers Episode: "The Good, the Bad, and the Funny"
2004–2006 That's So Raven 5 episodes
2006 Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story Television film
2006 I Was a Network Star Documentary film
2003–2007 All of Us 44 episodes
2005–2008 Girlfriends 9 episodes
2008 The Game Episode: "Oh, What a Night"
2006–2009 Everybody Hates Chris 10 episodes
2010–2011 Hellcats Episodes: "Land of 1,000 Dances" and "Pledging My Love"
2010–present Grey's Anatomy Also executive producer
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series[35]
2013 The Client List Episode: "Heaven's Just a Sin Away"
2013 Army Wives Episode: "Adjustment Period"
2013 Let's Stay Together 3 episodes
2014 Witches of East End Episode: "Boogie Knight"
2014 How to Get Away with Murder Episode: "He Has a Wife"
2015 Empire Episode: "Who I Am"
2014–2015 Scandal 3 episodes
2014–2015 Jane the Virgin Episodes: "Chapter Four" and "Chapter Twenty"
2015 Survivor's Remorse Episode: "Guts"
2016 Insecure Episode: "Guilty as Fuck"
2018 Step Up: High Water Episode: "Solo"
2020 Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming
2021 The Ms. Pat Show Episode: "Pilot: Duck"


  • Movement magazine, regular columnist since 2006
  • Dancing in the Wings paperback, by Debbie Allen (Author), Kadir Nelson (Illustrator)


  • Special Look (1989)


  1. ^ "Current Members". President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Archived from the original on January 16, 2005. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
  2. ^ "Debbie Allen, Culver City, California". President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. 2008. Archived from the original on January 17, 2009. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
  3. ^ a b "Debbie Allen". Television Academy.
  4. ^ a b c d "Debbie Allen – Broadway Cast & Staff | IBDB".
  5. ^ a b "Debbie Allen".
  6. ^ a b Andreeva, Nellie (May 6, 2015). "Debbie Allen To Serve As Executive Producer/Director On 'Grey's Anatomy'".
  7. ^ Gibson, Cynthia (February 19, 2016). "Black History Profile: Debbie Allen, 'Born To Dance'". Los Angeles Wave. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  8. ^ a b de Luna, Marcy (January 15, 2019). "Houston-born actress and choreographer Debbie Allen turns 69". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Lawrence, Muhammad. "One-woman dynamo". The Courier-Journal, September 12, 1999
  10. ^ "HB Studio - Notable Alumni | One of the Original Acting Studios in NYC".
  11. ^ 1971 Bison Yearbook p 238
  12. ^ "Allen, Debbie (1950- ) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed". Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  13. ^ Dunning, Jennifer. "TELEVISION; Debbie Allen Chips Away At the Glass Ceiling". Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  14. ^ "Breaking Barriers on Stage: African American Ballet Dancers Who Made History".
  15. ^ Woodard, Laurie A. (July 15, 2015). "Opinion | Black Dancers, White Ballets" – via
  16. ^ "Famous Biographies & TV Shows -". Biography. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  17. ^ O'Connor, John J. (30 March 1977). TV: It's Instant Stardom for '3 Girls 3', The New York Times
  18. ^ "34 Years Ago Debbie Allen Took Home a Golden Globe". BOTWC.
  19. ^ Darnell Hunt. "A Different World- U.S. Situation Comedy". Archived from the original on February 10, 2006. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  20. ^ "A Different World". Encyclopedia of Television. The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Archived from the original on February 10, 2006. Retrieved November 11, 2013.
  21. ^ "Special Look - Debbie Allen | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic.
  22. ^ Michael Billington (December 2, 2009) "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof", The Guardian
  23. ^ "Dolly Parton Is Releasing a BRAND-NEW Christmas Musical This December!".
  24. ^ "Dolly Parton Is Releasing a New Christmas Movie Next Winter on Netflix". Southern Living.
  25. ^ Transcript: Debbie Allen. Tavis Smiley PBS, March 21, 2008
  26. ^ "Debbie Allen – Hollywood Walk of Fame".
  27. ^ "Calendar & Events: Spring Sing: Gershwin Award". UCLA.
  28. ^ "The Carnival: Getting The "Groove On" For 10 Years". February 2, 2009. Archived from the original on March 21, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
  29. ^ "Debbie Allen". Biography.
  30. ^ "Debbie Allen". Award.
  31. ^ Peter Vecsey (March 13, 2007). "BASN's Hometown Hero". Archived from the original on December 11, 2007. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  32. ^ PEOPLE: "AND BABY MAKES FOUR". – The Dallas Morning News. – September 2, 1987.
  33. ^ Dave Mackall (May 31, 2007) "Nixon fondly remembers Duquesne". – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  34. ^ Joseph Schiefelbein (October 17, 2008) "Spivery, Jaguars to begin practice", The Advocate.
  35. ^ "NAACP Image Awards 2020 Winners: The Complete List". E! Online. February 22, 2020.

External links

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