The late playwright, director and actress Vinnette Justine Carroll was born on this day in 1922, and accomplishing much over the course of her celebrated career. Carroll is the first Black woman to direct a Broadway play, and is currently the only Black woman ever to be nominated for a Tony Award for Directing. Carroll, the daughter of Caribbean parents, was born in New York City and raised until the age of 10 in Jamaica.
Her father, a dentist, and her mother instilled in Carroll and her sister strong values and the importance of education. Carroll’s father wanted his children to become doctors like himself, but some accounts say Carroll couldn’t stand the sight of blood. As a compromise, she chose the field of psychology. After obtaining an undergraduate degree from Long Island University and a master’s from New York University, Carroll began pursuing a Ph. D candidate at Columbia University.
But in 1946, just short of obtaining her doctorate degree Carroll changed course and began studying drama and theater at the New School of Social Research. Carroll somehow also studied clinical and industrial psychology and was given a scholarship to do postgraduate work at the New School in 1948. But acting came first for Carroll, and she first took the stage in 1948 as part of a New School’s drama class.
Her professional debut took place that same year and she continued acting in small off-Broadway productions across New York. In 1955, she became an educator and taught at the Performing Arts High School in New York for 11 years. During that time, Carroll created her own one-woman show and toured across the West Indies and then starred as Sophia Adams in the play Moon On A Rainbow Shawl in London, winning an Obie Award. She continued acting throughout the ’60’s on stage and in television, winning an Emmy Award in 1964 for her role in Beyond The Blues.
In 1972, Carroll made history by directing the gospel revue Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope on Broadway. The play earned four Tony Award nominations, including Carroll for Best Director For A Musical. She followed that success with the 1976 hit Your Arms Are Too Short To Box With God, which also earned her a Tony Award nod in the same category. Carroll retired from the big stage in 1980 and operated a theater company in Fort Lauderdale.
Carroll never married or had children. She died in Florida in 2002 at age 80.