ABOVE: Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad receives City of Houston proclamation from Councilwoman Amanda Edwards while visiting students at Jack Yates
She was in town as part of the Houston Symphony’s cast of its newest semi-staged, concert version of Beethoven’s Fidelio, the composer’s only opera, but Tony Award winner and three-time Emmy Award nominee, actress Phylicia Rashad, made it a point to stop by the high school where her illustrious career all began – Jack Yates High School in Houston’s Third Ward.
The Houston-native stopped by Yates to walk the halls of the school she once called home, and to visit the theater students at Yates, under the tutelage of Margo Hickman. After viewing a powerful theatrical performance on gun violence and a soul-stirring performance by several other students, Rashad delivered some sage wisdom to the current students about the role of theater.
“Don’t be shy to really be heard,” said Rashad. “If you really mean what you say when you are performing, and if you really want people to believe what you’re saying, put your all into it.”
Rashad encouraged them to embrace theater and to use their talent to make a difference.
“When I sat in these seats as a student, our hope and belief was that everything was going to be smooth and okay, but somehow a ball was dropped,” said Rashad. “I apologize to you that my generation didn’t leave you something better, but you all are very smart. There is something in you and your generation that is very, very strong, and you are strong enough to face the issues of today. What you all are doing through theater is so important on so many levels, and your efforts through theater will help you do something about these issues.”
The wisdom shared by Rashad could not have come from a better example, in that she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Howard University, and is one of the entertainment world’s most extraordinary performing artists.
Of course, most people are familiar with Rashad because of her portrayal of “Claire Huxtable” on the hit television series The Cosby Show, but she has done so much more.
As mentioned before, she came to Houston this past week to join the Houston Symphony orchestra and Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada as a narrator in a streamlined production of Beethoven’s masterpiece, a politically-charged drama that follows the heroic struggles of a devoted wife who disguises herself as a man to rescue her husband, a political prisoner. Although the music remains central in this version of Fidelio, the spoken German-language dialogue in the original score is replaced with Rashad’s narration of excerpts from iconic speeches, poetry and literature that engage with the timeless themes of the opera.
However, the list of other awards and accolades that the graduate from Jack Yates High School has received is impressive.
Outside of teaching Master Classes at esteemed institutions of higher learning such as Julliard, Howard University, Carnegie Mellon and others, Rashad serves on several prestigious Boards and has appeared both on and off Broadway – having appeared in various projects that showcase her musical talent such as Jelly’s Last Jam, Into The Woods, Dreamgirls, and The Wiz.
In 2016, Ms. Rashad was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, received the 2016 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play for her performance as “Shelah” in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Head of Passes at the Public Theater, and performed the role of George Seurat’s mother in the highly acclaimed New York City Center production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, starring Jake Gyllenhal.
Respected in the academic world, Rashad is the first recipient of the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre at Fordham University. She received an Honorary Doctorate from Spelman College where First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the 2011 commencement address. Ms. Rashad conducted Master Classes at the prestigious Ten Chimneys Foundation for the 2015 Lunt Fontanne Fellows. She also holds Honorary Doctorates from Fordham University, Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Providence College, Morris Brown College, Clark Atlanta University, Barber Scotia College, St. Augustine College, and Brown University.
Upon leaving the school, Rashad informed students that tearing down the school building, which is a part of the legacy of Jack Yates, should motivate them to remember the legacy of the school and always fight to protect and preserve that legacy no matter what.