Oprah described Tonya Pinkins as one of the “Ten Women in America Who Will Take Your Breath Away in 2004.” This Tony Award-winning actress and modern day Renaissance woman most recently starred on Broadway in Tony Kushner’s critically acclaimed, hit Broadway musical “Caroline, or Change.”
A single mother of four, Pinkins plays “Livia Frye Cudahy” on the ABC daytime drama, All My Children, Pinkins made her mark on stage as “Sweet Anita” in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” for which she received a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle and Clarence Derwent Award. She also starred in “Play On!” and “The Wild Party.” Additionally, Pinkins starred in the Jeff Pollack/Benny Medina feature film Above The Rim alongside Bernie Mac, Tupac Shakur, and Marlon Wayans. And this fall, Pinkins can be seen in John Turturro’s film Romance and Cigarettes with James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, and Mandy Moore, among others.
In the spring of 2004, Pinkins was again nominated for a Tony Award for “Caroline, or Change” in which she portrayed a long-suffering maid living in the South who is befriended by a Jewish schoolboy in Louisiana. Written by playwright-librettist Tony Kushner (“Angels in America,” which was just adapted by HBO), “Caroline, or Change” takes place in 1963 and addresses issues such as race, class, grief, death, and most importantly money just before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Pinkins describes this as “the most exciting show of her career.”
As a native of Chicago, Illinois, Pinkins was born to hardworking, civil servant parents. Although her father was a police officer and insurance salesman and her mother, a postal worker and now a CTA driver, Pinkins always saw herself as an artist. In high school, she studied acting at the Goodman Theatre Young People’s Program and a star was born. Over the next 15 years, she performed on Broadway, television, and regionally. Between jobs, this overachiever returned to college, earning her undergraduate degree from Columbia College in Chicago, attending Carnegie Mellon’s music theater program, and even a year at law school in California.
Similar to “Caroline,” Pinkins is also a devoted single mother of four, who started her family early at age 25. “In every way, I identify with Caroline,” Pinkins said. “I have known financial struggle, and what it is like to have had an abusive relationship with an ex-husband.” This contemporary woman also represented herself in a custody battle with her first husband and successfully fought to have the judge removed because of his bias against women.
In addition to her theatre work, Pinkins was invited to perform her one-woman cabaret show, at the Allen Room, in the new Jazz at Lincoln Center Facility. She recorded an album from that soldout show, which is a part of the American Songbook Series. The album, titled My Shining Hour, is devoted to the works of Harold Arlen and celebrates the 99th anniversary of the composer, who penned such classics as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Stormy Weather,” and “Paper Moon.”
Tonya also teaches “The Actorpreneur Attitude,” a course for actors that teaches no acting — because its premise is that theatrical achievement is not so much about vocal technique or sense memory or looks as about removing “hidden emotional blocks to success.” Pinkins developed the workshop from principles she learned as an adherent of the Agape Church of Religious Science. According to the church's teachings, success and prosperity are “spiritual attributes” that belong to all people, if only they knew how to use them. Her book Get Over Yourself: How to Drop the Drama and Claim the Life You Deserve is based on this workshop. Pinkins is also a strong champion of positive thinking and “making things happen.” She is an activist for and co-creator of Operation Z, an organization that stands for zero tolerance of violence against women and children.