A literary giant, and the mother of two indisputable icons, just celebrated her 100th birthday.
Vivian Ayers Allen is a poet and American classicist who was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for her collection of poems entitled Spice of Dawns (1952). She also studied classical Greek as well as works on Mayan culture that she was able to translate, and has received honorary doctorates from institutions like Bennett College and Wilberforce University. Despite her own accomplishments and work, which includes being an activist, she’s known by most for being a mother. In addition to sons Hugh and Andrew Allen Jr., she’s the mom of choreographer, actress, director and producer Debbie Allen, as well as actress and dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University, Phylicia Rashad. Their mother has been a major support to them, often photographed with the ladies at awards shows and premieres. She also taught them, among many other things, that there were no limits to what they could do and where they could go.
This was something the stars learned when she moved them to Mexico when they were growing up in an effort to remove them from the ugliness of segregation.
“This is something I always say to parents: Take your children with you wherever you go. No matter how difficult it is. That’s how Phylicia and I have become who we are,” Debbie shared in an Instagram Live a few years ago while calling her mother a true renaissance woman. “Mommy always told us that we were children of the universe, and we had no boundaries,” she added. “Once we got to Mexico, we were able to see it.”
Phylicia has also been open about the influence of Ms. Vivian on her love of the arts.
“It was my mother who taught us choral speech; it was my mother who taught us to tumble across the living room floor. It was my mother who gave us a real appreciation for art and literature as living things, not just as something hung on the wall or placed on the shelf — an appreciation for ideas and the power of thought and human intention,” she told NPR in 2010. “My mother gave us a lot — she gave us everything.”
Ms. Vivian has certainly lived quite the life in 100 years. See a few photos of her from over the years with two of her biggest accomplishments — her daughters.
Vivian is pictured with daughter Debbie and her ex-husband, the late Andrew Arthur Allen, at the Golden Globe Awards in 1983.
Another theater lover, Vivian is pictured with Phylicia at the opening of Fences in NYC in 1987.
She is all smiles (and matching) with Debbie as the multi-hyphenate received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame alongside husband Norman Nixon in 1991.
The matriarch stepped out with her daughters and son-in-law for the 65th annual Academy Awards in 1993.
Mother and daughter were spotted enjoying another play, checking out the Off-Broadway production Ruined on its opening night in 2009.
Debbie plants a kiss on her mother’s cheek while on the red carpet for her annual Hot Chocolate Nutcracker in 2011. This was taken at just the second annual event. It has since become a staple during the holiday season.
The beautiful sisters and their gorgeous mother stepped out in green for the opening night of the Broadway play, Saint Joan, in 2018. Phylicia’s daughter, Condola Rashad, starred in the revival of the play.
The ladies were joined by Hugh Allen at the Tale of Two Sisters event in LA.